Virtual communities and feelings of influence: Four case studies
With more than one third of the world’s population online, the Internet has become part of modern living. Online,
communities of people aggregate, sharing common interests, ideas, and feelings over the Internet. In this article we focus on
such online communities, so-called virtual communities (VCs), and investigate how people in VCs experience influence, a
dimension of Sense of Community (SOC). Main research questions are: “Do users have some influence over what the VC
does?”, and “Does the VC have some influence over what users do?”. We used Porter’s typology of VCs to select four case
studies; a social VC (“GSCAI”), a professional VC (“Diarioclown”), a non-profit VC (“AZALEA”) and a commercial VC
(“F&G”) and conducted 49 in-depth qualitative interviews with their members. Our results show the positive effects but also
the limits of VCs in supporting feeling of influence (FOI). VCs can be cost-effective and powerful tools to support people’s
sense of influence, and – to a broader extent – sense of community. Nevertheless VCs can also “destroy” or “damage” a group.
On a theoretical level, our study points to the applicability and usefulness of Porter's typology for studying contemporary
online virtual communities.
Keywords- Virtual Communities, Web 2.0, Online Communities, Sense of Community, Feelings of Influence, Qualitative
Research, Multiple Case Study.