Home      New Media - A Community Within A Community

A Community Within A Society


According to Robin Mansell, a professor and former head of department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science , “the label new media is closely associated with the Information Society and with a particular vision of developments in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs)” (Mansell, 135). Aside, William M. Esposo from the The Philippine Star defines new media as “the concept that new methods of communicating in the digital world allow smaller groups of people to congregate online and share, sell and swap goods and information. It also allows more people to have a voice in their community and in the world in general.” (Esposo, par. 3) This is often seen as social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and video-sharing websites such as YouTube, Veoh, and Flikr. These examples are often the first to come to mind as they are seen as digital technologies which have gained massive momentum in the past half-decade. Social media video-sharing websites have allowed the average person to upload, share, and view videos from anyone with access to the internet. Social networking services, in particular Facebook, have allowed people to easily connect to anyone with an account. While these technologies may seem disconnected aside from the fact that they are all considered new media, there is one thing they share in common – community. There is a general sense of interactive feedback of users who participate in the construction and foundation of these medias. Whereas “old” media relied upon facilitated media broadcasting networks, which heavily relied on its administrated content in order to gain viewers in order to function, “new” media instead relies on its viewers to provide feedback to improve quality and allow them to share information and collaborate together to create user-generated content.  With that said, new media is any form of medium or technology which involves the active participation of users and audience which interact and collaborate together within a facilitated environment who are then able to communicate and share content. This essay will explore the history of communities within different periods of time and focus on its evolution from being one-on-one communications to entire virtual societies.

One of the earlier forms of community emerged in 1988 in the form of a real-time chatting system known as Internet Relay Chat, or IRC. “Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a dynamic form of client/server-based chat on the Internet. You run a local client that connects to a server; the servers connect to each other and distribute the public and private communications.” (“Dictionary.com” par. 1) It was invented by Jarkko Oikarinen, a graduate student from the University of Oulu, Finland. In the summer of 1988, while working at the university’s Department of Information Processing Science, he administered the department’s Sun Unix server, which was was running on a public access bulletin board system called OuluBox. (“Internet Relay Chat History” par. 2) Oikarinen decided to improve the existing multi-user chat program on OuluBox called Multi-User Talk, which was written by Jukka Phil, based on a basic talk program then available on UNIX computers. He called the resulting program IRC, and first deployed it at the end of August, 1988. (“Internet Relay Chat History” par. 2)It was designed for group communications within discussion forums, which are called channels. It also allows users to operate in private one-to-one chats known as private messaging, as well as file sharing. It became a defining moment in media history, as IRC became well known to the general public around the word in 1991. It became popular as users accessed it to log on and receive current information on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. They connected through a functional IRC link into the country that stayed operational for a week after radio and television broadcasts were cut off. (“Internet Relay Chat History” par. 5) It was later used to report on the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt throughout a media blackout. Copies of the logs of these two events are archived in the ibiblio archive, found here. (“ibiblio” pg. 2) Oikarinen’s invention had successfully extended people’s connectivity with each other by providing an alternate as dependency over another medium, at the time, failed.

While the IRC system changed the way we communicate with each other, its birth was only given possible to the already existed technology of bulletin board systems, or BBS’, which was invented nearly a decade prior to the IRC. A BBS is an independently run computer system that allows users to dial in using a modem and terminal software. It allows users to download files, read news, exchanges messages with other users or view other content provided on the BBS. (Kayne, par. 1)In the United States, they were popular from the 1980s through to the mid-1990s. (Kayne, par. 1)It first came into being February 16, 1978, in Chicago. Acording to Barry from the Freeware Hall of Fame, “at the time, it was known as CBSS, with the C standing for computerized.” (par. 4)  “In its day, the BBS provided the first taste of online connectivity for many people. Since phone charges applied for long distance calls, most users on a BBS were locals. This made it possible to meet offline, and once friendships were established over the BBS, social communities often grew. According to Kayne, “many BBSs had regular, organized face-to-face get-togethers.” (par. 2) Thanks to Christensen, there are tens of thousands of Computer Bulletin Boards around the world today, many of which still use his commands coded in 1978. (Barry, par. 8 )With the introduction of the World Wide Web, which turned the Internet graphic and made it easy to access through preconfigured Windows-based Internet software like NetCruiser, the popularity of the text-based BBS quickly faded. (Kayne, par. 1) However, within its wake came the modern day BBS known as internet forums (sometimes called bulletin boards or message boards). They became online websites that allow discussions between users and guests in the form of posted messages. They may contain several categories, consisting of forums, threads and individual posts. (“What is a bulletin board?” par. 1) Christensen’s invention of the BBS brought upon a revolution in the connectivity of online users. Unlike IRCs, messages posted by users are archived. This allowed tangible information to be shared among users which could at the very least be temporarily stored. As well, for the most part, users did not have to register to view message posts within forums.  They are used today for many purposes, such as the sharing of information, files, and discussions. Topics can range from anything from video games to old TV shows. An internet forum as a medium is a very powerful form of media, as it has the ability to connect millions of people together.

Accodring to R. Kayne, with the coming of the World Wide Web, “the Internet forum modernized the BBS and integrated it into the graphic environment”. (par. 4) However, another form of online social community will surface that will add an entire dimension to the concept of online culture.  The first emergence of virtual worlds, which are an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment in which users can interact with one another and use and create objects (Bishop, 2009), took the form of a MUD ( Multi-User Dungeon) which appeared roughly in the late-1970s. The history of modern Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, and related virtual world genres such as the social virtual worlds exemplified by Second Life, traces directly back to the MUD genre. (Castronova, 2006) Since then, virtual societies have continued to evolve and have since come to be known as virtual worlds, in which technology has allowed users to take the form of avatars in order to physically and visibly interact within 3D virtual environments. An example of such a virtual world is Second Life. Linden Lab, founded in 1999 and headquartered in San Francisco, describes Second Life as “a 3D virtual world created by its Residents (people like you) that’s bursting with entertainment, experiences, and opportunity. Second Life offers a uniquely immersive experience where you can create, buy, and sell anything you can imagine; socialize with people across the world; and enjoy live events and gaming activities.” (Linden Lab, 2011) According to Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, it [Second Life] is one of the most popular virtual worlds on the internet, having roughly a million active users. (Rosedale, 2011) Second Life has revolutionized the way users are able to interact with each other, providing a nearly limitless amount of content.  Unlike online forums, users are able to use their avatars to physically interact their environment and explore an extensive world. It can even be used as a creative tool, as users are able to create and trade virtual property with one another. With such that, according to Second Life’s Terms of Service, “users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management functions.” (Second Life, 2011) Linden Lab’s goal is “focused on making the virtual world a better place for the Second Life community” (Linden Lab, 2011), and even encourages users to apply to work for them given that they feel they have the necessary creativity and innovation. As it would seem, Linden Lab appears to serve as a facilitator as much as it does an administrator. In his book Excavating Second Life: Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities, Rodney Harrison states that virtual settlements “[are] defined here as interactive synthetic environments in which users are sensually immersed and which respond to user input,” and that in regards “ study the virtual material culture of the settlement Second Life, this study of heritage and cyber-archaeology provides insights into the ways in which the notions of heritage are transforming in the early 21st century in connection with the proliferation of virtual environments, and the challenge this provides to contemporary society.” (Harrison, 2009) Such would prove the argument that communities strive to develop as adaptable cultures which are formed within the community as they progress, rather than strict structures that fail to comply with the needs of the society.

In conclusion, we have seen three examples of innovators and their innovations which have all helped evolve new media through the use of active participating and contributing users which have formed communities. With it, we can answer the question – What is new media? As seen from this essay, it is clear that new media really is “is any form of medium or technology which involves the active participation of users and audience which interact and collaborate together within a facilitated environment who are then able to communicate and share content.” The question is: where are we headed from here? Academic institutions within virtual worlds? As it turns out, the Duke University School of Nursing have set up an entire School of Nursing all within Second Life. (“DUSON Second Life” par. 1) As technology is slowly catching up, perhaps future of refined virtualized schools is not so far away, and we’d all be enjoying a lecture within a virtual world within the comfort of our own bedroom.  As long as there is a potential innovative and creative community willing to use and participate, all we need to do is wait.


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Kayne,R. “What is a BBS?” WiseGeek http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-bbs.htm 24 June 2011, September 25th, 2011

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Rosedale, Philip “Philip Rosedale, Creator of Second Life” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C04wwLjJ0os

“Terms of Service” Second Life http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php September 26th, 2011

“What is a bulletin board?” vBulletin https://www.vbulletin.com/forum/faq.php?faq=vb3_board_usage#faq_vb3_forums_threads_posts September 25th, 2011

“Where Worlds Are Born” Linden Lab http://lindenlab.com/  September 26th, 2011