- Hardcover: 325 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books (September 20, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0201608707
- ISBN-13: 978-0201608700
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Virtual Community: Homesteading On The Electronic Frontier The Edge
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Written by the man known as the First Citizen of the Internet, this book covers Rheingold's experiences with virtual communities. It starts off with his home community, The Well, out of Sausilito, CA, and makes its way through MUDs and beyond. No one understands the compelling strength of online community like Rheingold.
From Kirkus Reviews
An enthusiastic tour of cyberspace by one of its pioneers. In Virtual Reality (1991), Rheingold explored one corner of the amazing new world created and accessed by computers; here, in an equally well-informed but even more messianic (and cautionary) survey, he reports on ``the Net,'' the ``loosely interconnected computer networks...that link people around the world into public discussions.'' Like a physical net, the Net contains myriad knots, or loci: Rheingold's home locus is the Well, a San Francisco-based network that he's been logging on to since 1985 for about 14 hours a week in order to ``talk,'' via modem, to hundreds of people in assorted ``conferences.'' To Rheingold, the Well is a paradigm of computer networking--decentralized, informal, eclectic, and self- governing, a ``virtual community'' in which people meet, collaborate, argue, even fall in love, but all without physical contact--and he devotes much space to its power and wonder (when one member of the Well's Parenting conference announced that his son had contracted leukemia, for instance, other members responded on-line with overwhelming emotional and informational support). Rheingold covers the haphazard history of the Net, not missing the irony of its roots in a Defense Department project (though here his discussion gets relatively technical and acronym-packed), and he examines how it operates overseas, particularly in Japan and France (where the government-sponsored network is dominated by sex ``chat''). Despite his conviction that the Net represents grass- roots ``groupmind'' in action, Rheingold recognizes its dark side- -most dramatically, in the popular ``Multi-User Dungeons'' in which networkers indulge in elaborate--and highly addictive--role-playing fantasies; and in the very real possibility that governments and megacorporations will eventually misuse the Net as a way to spy, or to download products, on a logged-on public. Rheingold's central point is that there's a revolution taking place on-line; with this thoughtful, supportive critique, he's continuing his fair bid to be its Tom Paine. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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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.
The Virtual Community already feels like a classic. Perhaps
this isn't too surprising given that its subject matter -
the social implications of computer networking - is based
on a technology that measures things in nanoseconds.
A long-time member of a California based BBS called the
Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (or WELL), Rheingold describes,
with sober affection, what that sort of connectedness has
meant to him and can mean for the rest of us, particularly
when it grows into an online community. Although he clearly champions
computer networking, however, his book doesn't
degenerate into one long Internet infomercial. On the
contrary, Rheingold makes his readers acutely aware of the
dangers to liberty and democracy that computer-aided
surveillance and the commercialization of networking can
pose. Despite this, the book remains hopeful, providing
a kind of blueprint for the distributed, grassroots,
on-going conversation that computer networking, at its
best, can make possible. Like all true classics, the book's
real value lies not in letting us remember how it was (back
when the Internet was simple), but in helping us imagine what
it can become again.