C y b e r s p a c e
is the "place" [...]
between the phones.
Bruce Sterling (1992)
For mathematical reasons everything in digitally created threedimensional space is composed out of twodimensional polygons, which in turn consist of triangles. To create round shapes, like a tube, theoretically would require to build the tube out of infinitesimally small polygons. But this is not at all practicable, as no game-engine would be able to cope with the immense load of calculation which is needed to render geometry like that in real-time. So a completely different path is taken. For example, to create a tube for the ingame-world of Max Payne, one makes a prism which has an octagon as its cross-section. Then all the polygons of the prism are defined to belong to a group of polygons, short polygroup. Now the editor is told to use a special algorithm to calculate the lightmaps for all the polygons of the polygroup. The result is an octagonal prism which on the screen looks like a perfect cylinder. So far for the metaphor.
In the scientific discussion on 'what happens in cyberspace?', there is a huge debate about whether or not aggregations of individuals which solely communicate online, can be called communities. After a review of the studies done so far, I have to say that the majority of the examined groups indeed do not constitute communities - In this respect it doesn't matter if the members of a group do themselves call their group a community, as there is a fundamental difference between the scientific concept community and its use as a household word. But 'my cyberian tribe', the people modificating "Max Payne", can be called a community - mainly because of the shared practice, norms, values, interests and mental associations. Not to mention the immense amount of time the members spend online, communicating with each other through a multitude of different channels.
The single individuals of the community are quite different, they live in different coun-tries, are students or work in different kinds of jobs and so on. But just like the polygons of a polygroup, which do not have to be of the same shape or size, but have to belong to the same mesh, they are joined together.
So, if straylight of the same wavelength shines on a polygroup of individuals assembled online, the observer clearly can see an online-community.
To choose a usenet-group or a mailing list as one's subject for research on "virtual communities" for sure is a convenience, as there is only one channel of communication the researcher has to follow - and by technical means all the information flowing through this channel can be saved, stored and therefore scrutinized as often as it is desired. But in my opinion a strategy like that is a big pothole, not to say a pitfall, as it rests on the assumption that cultural interaction online can be preserved.
-- WORK IN PROGRESS, to be continued --