Understanding Online Communities – What types of online communities are there – Part 1

large__3213452409The number of online communities continues to increase and millions of people around the world participate in them. To better study this phenomenon, researchers have therefore attempted to classify them.

One of the most cited typologies is the one proposed by Armstrong and Hagel. They have made a distinction between four types of communities based on the needs they fulfil:  “communities of interests (where people interact extensively on a specific topic of their interest), communities of relations (through which members share life experiences and find social and emotional support), communities of fantasy (where visitors exercise their imagination and create new environments and personalities) and communities of transactions (which facilitate buying and selling transactions for consumers)” (16). A couple of years later, Porter came up with a typology that categorizes online communities on the basis of their purpose. She distinguished between “commercial and non-commercial company managed virtual communities” (6). Ben Yahia went a step further and created a typology that differentiates online communities on the basis of the specific focus or discourse among community members. She distinguished two types of communities: “those focused on the brand and its products and those centred on other topics that may or may not be related to the brand” (129). Blogger Richard Howard categorizes company-initiated communities (also called branded communities) into three distinct groups: “direct communities (owned and managed by a company), managed communities (started and managed by an organization but run on social media platforms) and participating communities (started and managed by individuals or groups of users who have an interest in the brand)”.

Richard Millington posted an article on his blog where he states that there are broadly speaking five different types of communities based on their content: “interest (communities of people who share the same interest or passion), action (communities of people trying to bring about change), place (communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries), practice(communities of people in the same profession or undertaking the same activities), and circumstance (communities of people brought together by external events/situations)”. Lee et al. reviewed several proposed typologies and concluded that “none of the classifications of virtual community covers every aspect, or fits under every circumstance” (52).

I decided to develop my own typology. Interested to see what classifications I make? See my next post for part 2!

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz


Photo credit: Aranda\Lasch via photopin cc

Photography: Aranda\Lasch

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