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The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier Paperback – November 1, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 447 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; revised edition edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262681218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262681216
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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By A Customer on January 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've worked with computers since 1961, Founded a successful time sharing service in the 1980s, yet I missed (sat out?) this homesteading revolution. An engineer-entrepreneur I valued action -- not talk -- and bulletin boards seemed to be for the talkers. But now that I am about to link a Facebook page to my 16 year old history website I looked for some guidance. Bought the book because a guide to developing effective Facebook pages put it high on its reading list. Don't buy this book for that reason. As another reviewer has noted, it won't help. Why three stars? Because it is a pioneer's story of a technological revolution.
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