Security Issues of Online Communities Term Paper

Pages: 60 (15576 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 27  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Education - Computers

Security Issues of Online Communities

Online communities have emerged in recent years as a result of the rapid growth of the Internet, arousing intrigue in citizens, policy-makers and government officials. An online community is a group of people who interact in a virtual environment. They have a purpose, are supported by technology, and are guided by norms and policies. The problem with the term "online community" is that it often refers to a wide range of online activities, and has as a result, been subject to different definitions. Although online communities exist predominantly online, they vary depending on the software environment supporting them, purpose, size and duration of existence, culture of their members, and governance structure (Preece, et.al., 2003). The characteristics of an online community are determined by the social interactions of the members, and the policies that guide them, a concept known as sociability. Other characteristics include the economic and legal aspects of an online community. Attention to social policies and software design is therefore an important component in community development and evolution.

I. History of Online Communities & the Internet

The Internet is unlike any other type of communications medium the world has ever experienced, defined as "a unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication (Jacobson, 1999)."

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The Internet evolved from interactive computer technology as part of a networked system that began as an outgrowth of a military program called "ARPANET" in 1969 (Djavaherian, 1998). The system was designed to enable military computers to communicate with each other, even if some portions of the network were damaged during war, by communicating over redundant channels. This network, while no longer in operation, provided an example of the mass amounts of information that could be communicated over a network linking millions of people together. (Jacobson, 1999). In recent years, the Internet has experienced drastic growth, appearing in homes, schools, libraries, and the workplace.

Term Paper on Security Issues of Online Communities Assignment

Email, the first and currently remaining as the most frequently used communication tool on the Internet, was developed by ARPANET in 1972. Early systems were point to point; one person could send a note to just one other person (Preece, et.al., 2003). Listservers, which allow one to many postings, were not invented until 1975. The basic form of this technology has not changed much since that time, although email readers have improved greatly (Preece, at.al, 2003). Listservers are used in two ways: trickle through and digests. Trickle through systems distribute each message as it is received. Digests comprise a list of messages presented one after the other, usually in chronological order of receipt.

In the mid to late 1980s, systems with improved graphical user interfaces started to appear. Bulletin boards, in existence for a similar time, are designed based on the metaphor of a physical bulletin board (Preece, at.al., 2003). People post messages to the board and they are displayed in various ways. Usually the messages are threaded which means that messages on the same topic are associated with each other. The first message forms the beginning of the thread and later responses are stacked beneath it. During the last five years, systems have appeared that offer many fine enhancements: search engines enable users to search on topics, user name, date; emoticons; private conversation spaces; links to email, user profiles and web pages; and graphical two dimensional pictures and avatars (Preece, at.al., 2003). Email, listservers, bulletin boards and their web-based cousins, are asynchronous communication technologies, which means that communication partners do not have to be co-present in time (Preece, at.al., 2003). Messages can be read and then responded to, hours, weeks or months later. Chat systems, instant messaging and texting systems are synchronous, so correspondents must be co-present online. Typically, conversations are rapid and each individual comment is short.

In 1991, one year after ARPANET ceased to exist, the World-Wide Web, developed by Tim Berners-Lee, was released by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Preece, et.al., 2003). This event facilitated the widespread use of web sites and the development of online community groups supported by web pages and various forms of communications software. Online communities appeared in a variety of media, which were gradually integrated into single environments (Preece, at.al., 2003). Graphical, three-dimensional environments started to emerge, as well as highly sophisticated gaming worlds. In these worlds, participants represented themselves on the screen as graphical characters known as avatars, which can move through the world accompanied by sound, messaging, and streaming video (Preece, et.al., 2003).

With the rapid changes in technology, online communities have contended with smaller devices, and have become adaptable to accommodate various sizes of screen displays and bandwidth. Although the technology that supports online communities has changed tremendously over the years, the biggest change lies not in technology but in who is using it (Preece, et.al., 2003). Early online communities for education, networked communities and office communities were developed for groups of users with similar goals and experience and who used similar communications software (Preece, et.al., 2003). From the late 1990s, the combination of less expensive computing power, the Web, and several successful Internet service providers, enticed tens of thousands of people online (Preece, at.al., 2003).

According to a 2001 Pew Internet & American Life Project report, 84% of all Internet users indicated that they contacted an online community and 79% identified at least one group with which they maintained regular online contact (Preece, et.al., 2003). Many used the Internet to extend their contact with churches, schools, local clubs and organizations. The Internet provides virtual "third places" that allow people to hang out and engage in activities with others (Preece, et.al., 2003).

The Internet has also transformed some work practices, as groups of professional scientists, engineers, health professionals, and researchers can now join forces informally to share their expertise, experiences and knowledge to foster new approaches to problems. Research in this area indicates that these communities of practice are emerging as new organizational forms that promise to change the way we work, learn, and share resources (Preece, et.al., 2003). Online learning communities have sprung up in the form of distance education classes, knowledge-building communities, and technological schools.

Numerous online health communities that provide support and information for members who are facing health problems have also come into existence. Unfortunately the Internet also provides an ever growing platform for hate groups which use it to create a sense of community, disseminate information, recruit new members, and sell hate paraphernalia (Preece, et.al., 2003). Today's online community participants come from all walks of life and cultures. Furthermore, an increasing number of people from across the world are becoming networked; particularly as small, handheld, relatively inexpensive telephones and other devices come onto the market (Preece, et.al., 2003).

Various Definitions of Online Communities

It was the development of the World Wide Web that brought access to an online community to the masses. With the widespread use of web sites and the development of online community groups supported by web pages and various forms of communication software, users are now able to communicate with each other. When communication is possible then relationships can be formed, whether professional, academic or personal, and it is this network of relationships from which communities can grow.

The definitions of exactly what constitutes an online community have differed across the board. For example, Hagel and Armstrong (1997) argue that virtual communities are a great marketing tool for businesses. They define virtual communities as computer mediated space where there is an integration of content and communication with an emphasis on member-generated content (Hagel, 1997). They also claim that the first virtual communities were composed of scientists using the Internet or its predecessors to share data, collaborate on research, and exchange messages. Additionally, Rheingold (1993), one of the prime popularizes of the term "virtual community," provides us with a more emotive definition, that virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.

Rheingold's definition is extremely popular and has been quoted in many discussions about virtual communities even though it has raised many issues. This is due to the fact that Rheingold argues via a variety of analogies such as homesteading that virtual communities are indeed new forms of community. In fact, Rheingold implies that virtual communities are actually a kind of ultimate flowering of community. Still further, Rheingold argues that whenever computer mediated communications technology becomes available to people anywhere, they inevitably build communities with it. Rheingold can thus be labeled as a technological determinist as he holds that there is a predictable relationship between technology and people's behavior.

Augments over the Existence of Online Communities

As a result, other researchers have argued over the existence of virtual communities and the appropriate use of the term. Weinreich (1997) argues that the idea of virtual communities must be wrong because a community is a collective of kinship networks which share a common geographic territory, a common history, and a shared value system,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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