Virtual communities - a virtual session on virtual conferences

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Swinburne University of Technology]On: 26 August 2014, At: 05:28Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Virtual communities - a virtual session onvirtual conferencesAhmet E. akirPublished online: 08 Nov 2010.

    To cite this article: Ahmet E. akir (2002) Virtual communities - a virtual session on virtual conferences,Behaviour & Information Technology, 21:5, 365-371, DOI: 10.1080/0144929021000048439

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  • Virtual communities a virtual session onvirtual conferences*

    AHMET E. C AKIR

    ERGONOMIC Institute for Social and Occupational Sciences, Berlin; Soldauer Platz 3, D-14055 Berlin,Germany; e-mail: ahmet.cakir@ergonomic.de

    Abstract. Virtual communities supported by computers andcommunication facilities have existed for about two decades.Virtual meetings around the world became technically feasibleonce there was a su cient number of satellites to relay datacommunication, and became commonplace at companies thatcould aVord computer-mediated communication (CMC). To-day, technological advances, coupled with social changes, meanthat virtual communities can be useful to many people. Thegoal of this session is to demonstrate how virtual communitiescan be established and kept going using inexpensive technicalmeans. The meeting will be held during a scientic conferenceon worldwide distributed work, by presenters who haveorganized and run at least one virtual event. It will itself be avirtual event, with contributions from Philadelphia in the westto Hong Kong in the east and South Africa in the south. Thephysical auditorium will be present in Berchtesgaden, a smalltown in the south of Germany; virtual participants may beanywhere.

    1. Introduction

    Human networks have existed throughout history invarious forms, such as clubs, sects, brotherhoods ,guilds, gangs, and political parties. Forming such net-works required sharing the same physical space, at leastfor a certain time. This meant members of a net-workneeded common space to develop social mores, but notalways for the entire lifespan of that network. Whensome members of a network had to leave the commonspace (clubhouse, city, country, etc.) but were able tomaintain the links to the community it started becoming`virtual. The community was held together by commoninterests and not by common space alone. However, themembers of such a community needed to meet from

    time to time to refresh their ties. The Inns of Court inLondon are an excellent example of forming networksin a common space. The Inns of Court are voluntarysocieties, unchartered and unincorporated. Hence, theirearly history is obscure. Since their inception in theMiddle Ages, they have been devoted to the technicalstudy of English law, rather than Roman law, as wastaught in the universities. The ties created by thiscommon interest were supported by common space,such as libraries that could be used by students as wellas attorneys. The main common space, `The Temple, aseries of buildings associated with the legal profession,lies between Fleet Street and the Embankment in theCity of London. When the members had to leave towork somewhere else in the vast empire, they becamemembers of a virtual community held together by ships,mail, and later telegraphy. Yet such means bythemselves would not be su cient to form a truecommunity.With the advent of videoconferencing during the late

    1970s, it was believed that people who had never seeneach other would be able to communicate usingtechnical networks. The experience of less than a decadewas su cient to demonstrate that the intensity of suchcommunications would not su ce to form communities.However, they could support existing human net-worksto a certain degree.The 1990s witnessed the birth of a new era in

    communication technologies with two outstandingcharacteristics: versatility and richness. While in 1985the most modern communication technology availableto the German public, Teletex (not to be mistaken forTele-text), was able to send plain text if typed in portraitformat but failed if it attempted to transfer a table inlandscape format, modern computers may transmit anydata that can be digitized, including text, sound,

    BEHAVIOUR & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, 2002, VOL. 21, NO. 5, 365371

    Behaviour & Information TechnologyISSN 0144-929X print/ISSN 1362-3001 online # 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journalsDOI: 10.1080/014492902100004843 9

    *An earlier version of this paper was published in the Proceedings of

    the World Wide Work with Display Units Conference in Berchtes-

    gaden, from 22nd to 25th May 2002.

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  • pictures, and movies. Will they enable us to form virtualcommunities by establishing ties between people whohave never shared common space at any time?

    2. Why a virtual meeting at a `real conference?

    2.1. Parallel universes in a universe, or the people of mytown

    Long before I studied telecommunication engineering,I was interested in the relationships of people who livedin small groups far away from their `mainland. The placeI was born into was full of such people.My town was partof a city, and the people there called it `our villagealthough in consideration of the size of its populationone could call it a `city. Just walking down the road fromour house, I might greet some Belarusians who had edLenins revolution long before I was born; buy somethingfrom aGreek whose ancestors had lived in what was oncethe most powerful empire east of Rome, Byzantium; andperhaps go shing with a Jew, a descendant of theSephardim who had arrived about 500 years earlier.Being the capital of two of the longest lasting empires inhistory, for a total of 1400 years, the city had attractedpeople from all over the world. So did our village.Finally, WWII had brought even more people because itwas one of the few places in Europe without war. `Mypeople were proud of ruling this place, but even they hadtheir origins somewhere else. For the citys rst twomillennia, other people had lived there.The relationships between the people in my town

    looked very much like the links Ted Nelson, the creatorof the Xanadu Project, draws between sets of documents(gure 1). The name Xanadu comes from a magicalplace in Coleridges poem `The Ballad of Kublai Khan.The project led to the hypertext structure of the Web(Nelson coined the term `hypertext), but Nelson isdeeply concerned because the links in the Web are one-way and may break (and the user then receives the code`404 Not found on this server!). His model establishesnon-breaking two-way links.Would it be possible to link groups of people to

    parallel `universes, like Ted Nelson tries to accomplishwith literature and documents? While planning thisvirtual meeting, I found many indications on the Webthat this could work much better than we can imagine.In less than a week, I was able to nd a vast variety ofvirtual events and communities that could never exist inphysical space anything between one real personjoining n communities without being restricted by timeor space and n persons remotely controlling the body ofa single human being (`Fractal Flesh by Stelarc, gure2). As a result, my answer was `Yes! We should try it!

    2.2. Some people have gone, but they are still here

    All of those people I had in mind while talking of mytown were living in an old city. They belonged to thesame big community and to a smaller part of it, ourvillage. At the same time, they were also part of variousother networks. Today, many of them live far away, andtry to maintain ties to their place of origin. They alsowould like to see that their children develop somerelationship to their parents world. This was little morethan a dream when a telephone call home cost a dayswages; and chatting over a phone line cannot show thechildren the blue ocean. This situation has changedfundamentally through versatile technical means thatoVer communication through diVerent channels forreasonable costs.

    A. E. C akir366

    Figure 1. Ted Nelsons model of relationships of docu-ments A model for groups of humans too?

    Figure 2. Stelarc writing with three hands. The third articialhand can be remotely controlled (Stelarc, 1996).

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  • Todays technologies oVer advantages that may evenbe more important than nancial benets. For example,the simple fact that people may use their e-mailaddresses anywhere enables other members of allcommunities to stay in contact regardless of where theyare. This is important, because we do not `call home tojust a place, but to a person at a given time.This session was planned to demonstrate how creating

    virtual communities could work using inexpensivetechnologies. I think there is no need to show thatexpensive equipment works because more than half ofthe world population was born after worldwide televi-sion production had already become a reality. Somecompanies started working with videoconferences twodecades ago and dont need a demonstration of the past.They may, however, be surprised that someone in a bushcamp can comment on a lecture given in a small town inGermany by somebody who is actually in Singapore, oreven decide to join the lecture without getting up fromher or his chair.

    2.3. Means for being active anytime and anywhere

    For most WWDU 2002 sessions, methods suitable forface-to-face meetings su ce. During the virtual sessions,we will use these techniques for those present in theconference room, while others will join the meetingusing other methods. The presentations during the

    session require that all participants be available at thesame time, but not necessarily present in the samelocation. Presenters and other participants may beanywhere.Some presentations discuss virtual events not requir-

    ing synchronicity, and of course not being present at acertain location. Thus, the participants may be anytimeand anywhere. Each means used for events, from face-to-face meetings to activities anytime and anywhere, hasspecic features, but also specic disadvantages . A shortrepresentation of such means is given in Figure 3.The WWDU 2002 virtual meetings will be `same time

    same place and `same time another place but willalso introduce others, `another time. . . . An example istext-e, the rst entirely virtual symposium dedicated toinvestigating the impact of the Web on reading, writing,and the diVusion of knowledge. The (asynchronous)symposium took place from October 2001 to March2002.

    3. Short notes on the presentations

    3.1. Time schedule

    Virtual meetings of the type `same time . . . requirespecial considerations because there is no `same timeacross the world. This fact has both positive and negativeeVects forWWW (WorldWide Work). While the positive

    Virtual communities a virtual session on virtual conferences 367

    Figure 3. Means and activities needed for being activeanytime and anywhere.

    Figure 4. Daylight time when the afternoon session com-mences (top) and ends (below) (calculations http://www.hea-vens-above.com/countries.asp).

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  • eVects, e.g., always performing a given task at the time ofthe day when workers are available or most e cient, willbe discussed in other sessions of WWDU 2002, the virtualsession should avoid the negative. Unfortunately, forpresenters inHongKong and theUSA andparticipants inGermany there is no common time window. Therefore,we had to divide the presentations into an afternoonsession (May 22, afternoon at 118 east) and a morningsession (May 23, afternoon at 1028 east).Remote participants will be able to join the session

    most conveniently in the time zone GMT+3 h (4).Others need to consider the time zone for the conferencevenue (GMT+1 h).

    3.2. Presentations of the afternoon session

    All presentations of this virtual session are reportsabout virtual events by persons who have organized orrun them. Both local and remote participants can judgeafter this experience whether or not the goals of suchevents are achievable.

    For a human science of the internet: the case ofwww.text-e.org(Gloria Origgi, University of Bologna)

    Text-e was the rst entirely virtual symposium on theimpact of new technologies on reading, writing, and thediVusion of knowledge. The project was a complexsynergy between a group of researchers in humanscience (myself and the other associates of the euro-edu association, www.euro-edu.com), a French institu-tion (the Bibliothe que Publique dInformation of theCentre Pompidou, www.bpi.fr), and a Franco-Americanstart-up (GiantChair, www.giantchair.com). A recon-struction of the main phases of the project (contentdesign, website design, etc.) and an analysis of thestatistics of access will be provided. Text-e is anexperience and a model of interactive research in humanscience. A more general framework for a human scienceof the Internet will be presented.

    Convergent interests and divergent perspectives: themarketplace of ideas and knowledge-sharing in a newmedia environment(Linda Greenwood, Dominique Monolescu, Gail Gallo,and Katia Lima, Temple University, Philad...

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