Voices from the WELL: The Logic of the Virtual Commons

  • Marc A. Smith

Masters Thesis

The recent development of virtual communities, sites of social interaction predominantly mediated by computers and telecommunications networks, provides a unique opportunity to study the mechanisms by which collectivities generate and maintain the commitment of their participants in a new social terrain. Using the analytical framework developed in studies of intentional communities and collective action dilemmas, this paper examines the unique obstacles to collective action and the commitment mechanisms used to overcome them in a particular virtual community, the WELL. Drawing upon ethnographic and interview data, this community is evaluated in terms of the community’s capacity, or lack thereof, to overcome obstacles to organization and elicit appropriate participation in the production of desired collective goods.