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The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier [Paperback]

H Rheingold
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

11 Dec 2000
Howard Rheingold has been called the First Citizen of the Internet. In this book he tours the "virtual community" of online networking. He describes a community that is as real and as much a mixed bag as any physical community -- one where people talk, argue, seek information, organize politically, fall in love, and dupe others. At the same time that he tells moving stories about people who have received online emotional support during devastating illnesses, he acknowledges a darker side to people's behavior in cyberspace. Indeed, contends Rheingold, people relate to each other online much the same as they do in physical communities.Originally published in 1993, The Virtual Community is more timely than ever. This edition contains a new chapter, in which the author revisits his ideas about online social communication now that so much more of the world's population is wired. It also contains an extended bibliography.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (11 Dec 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262681218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262681216
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 739,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Howard Rheingold, an influential writer and thinker on social media, is the author of Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (both published by the MIT Press), and Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Virtual Look into Virtual Communities 10 April 2001
Howard writes this with the passion rarely seen in this type of book. Having been one of the earliest 'Internet' pioneers, his insights are often valuable. His sense of humour, as well as his outlook on life, make this a very good book to read and learn from. This is the wrong book if you're looking for a list of tools & software to start a Virtual Community. But a must if you interested in the social context these communities are based around.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A seminal 1992 work with update tacked on 3 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Rheingold provides a comprehensive, broad sweeping portrayal of the virtual communities landscape, particularly as it was in the early 1990s. In particular, the book provides a fascinating history of the development of virtual communities from back in the 1960s. The many stories of the development of virtual communities and of life in virtual communities provide a rich account.
The books' style is more journalistic that academic. It reads something like an extended newspaper article, with some fine writing. The book concentrates mostly on a kind of anecdotal and human accounting with a smattering of theory and stuff thrown in. Howard Rheingold eloquently lays out many of the salient issues and does an excellent job of arguing for the importance of recognizing the growth of online social groups. Also, he provides an intriguing treatment of cultural issues. The depth and breadth of his experience with the medium is clearly evident.
Generally, book is more historical than theoretical or practical. Howard admits to wanting to popularize the notion of virtual communities, which he does effectively. But, there is little that would help you set up a virtual community or really understand why they work that way. His basis is more in his experience than in theory or rigorous research.
The original book has been widely commented on, so perhaps just two comments on the 2000 version are in order. First, the book seems a little dated. The new material for this new version seems mostly added in the last two chapters, leaving the preceding 10 tinged with the state of affairs in 1992, which was pre-web and pre- a large bit of corporate development of e-business and virtual communities on the web. Of course, most of the issues are still relevant, but one has to keep the age of the material in mind. Second, the new material, although comprehensive and certainly based on Howard's considerable experience, seems a little rushed. Howard qualifies this by saying it would need another book, but this leaves the book feeling like an older book with a lengthy afterward tacked on later.
32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very honest 22 Jan 2002
By A Customer - Published on
The virtual community is, in reality, at best a bunch of people disagreeing and regularly indulging in shark-like small group attacks. The WELL, of which Howard speaks so much, hounded one of its early members - Blair - to his death by suicide, a matter described, but not really examined with much thoroughness. Yes, he touches on flaming, but does not examine a deeper pattern of common harrasment, particularly of outliers. How Howard himself participated in this type of online gang harassment activity, not understanding the man, Blair, and discounting his claims out of hand is a quite interesting story. He touches on this, and gives an account, which would be acceptable in a personal autobiography. But to leave it where he does in a book purporting to be a seminal piece on virtual community is truly remarkably remiss. Since the record is all there, or was, it could have been given serious consideration.
The conflicting interests, and the commonly irresponsible behavior of people online - viciousness, gratuitous, undeserved nastiness, intellectual dishonesty - looking for targets to vent on is not explored as it should be. This is quite common outside of the world of flaming.
This book is a gloss piece, advertising for something that doesn't really exist as he claims. Howard, while a pleasant guy personally, does not show himself a deep thinker, and may not be much of an observer either. Nor is the author ready, willing or able to take on anything that is likely to upset the herd of which he has become something of a starring member. The story of virtual community is not such a very nice one in many ways.
The underside of the story of virtual community is a story of psychological denial, denial about a great deal. It is a story of in-groups and out-groups, and a good deal more, something which requires an anhtropologists eye, and someone with more nerve.
Go ahead and read this book. But understand that the book itself is evidence of the degree of denial which pervades the "virtual community".
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prophet of Electronic Power to the People 29 Dec 2000
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Everyone seems to miss what I think is the most important the point of Howard's book. First published in 1993 and now in the expanded edition, the bottom line on this book is that the Internet has finally made it possible for individuals to own the fruits of their own labor--the power has shifted from the industrial age aggregators of labor, capital, and hard resources to the individual knowledge workers. The virtual community is the social manifestation of this new access to one another, but the real revolution is manifested in the freedom that cyberspace makes possible--as John Perry Barlow has said, the Internet interprets censorship (including corporate attempts to "own" employee knowledge) as an outage, and *routes around it*. Not only are communities possible, but so also are short-term aggregations of interest, remote bartering, on the fly hiring of world-class experts at a fraction of their "physical presence price". If Howard's first big book, Tools for Thought, was the window on what is possible at the desktop, this book is the window on what is possible in cyberspace, transcending physical, legal, cultural, and financial barriers. This is not quite the watershed that The Communist Manifesto was, but in many ways this book foreshadowed all of the netgain, infinite wealth, and other electronic frontier books coming out of the fevered brains around Boston--a guy in Mill Valley wearing hand-painted cowboy boots was there long before those carpetbaggers (smile).
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars visionary, lucid, entrancing 13 Oct 1997
By A Customer - Published on
The ironic thing about Rheingold's "Virtual Community" is that in the communities forming online aren't so virtual at all -- they are real in every sense of the word. From homesteads to the storefronts (like Amazon!), virtual communities are thriving. Rheingold weaves a fascinating tale of the development of several of these communitites, vividly describes the research carried out at places like PARC/Xerox (years ahead of its time), and emotionally involves the reader as he takes you on his journeys of new (virtual) worlds.
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading 19 Jan 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Howard Rheingold hits the nail squarely on the head in his assesment of the social and political issues surrounding the world "on line." As fellow Netizens, it is our responsibly to understand and ACTIVELY participate in the development and direction of this communications media.

I think every ISP and online service should require their customers to read this before allowing them online (much like the FCC requires a license before you can broadcast).
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