John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article dated May 96 (v1.0)

Applying Social-Psychology
to Online Groups and Communities

Groups ranging in size from a few people to thousands and millions within a "community" are forming within cyberspace. Many of the classic social-psychological principles of group dynamics can be applied in understanding and improving the functioning of these groups - such as issues concerning leadership, communication patterns, group boundaries, cohesion, alliances and subgroupings.

However, given the special psychological features of cyberspace, online groups also can be quite different than in-person groups. Text-only communications, equalization of status, and the opportunity for altering or hiding one's identity are all unique monkey wrenches tossed into the online group process. The stretching of temporal boundaries also makes Usenet Newsgroups and mailing lists rather unique not only as compared to in-person groups, but in relation to online chat sessions as well.

New social-psychological principles may be needed to account for these varied and unusual group dynamics in cyberspace. Designing and improving online communities will require a synergistic blend of traditional and innovative psychological theory. Also, perhaps for the first time in history, social psychology will need to merge with computer technology and know-how.

See also in The Psychology of Cyberspace:

Developmental stages of mailing lists
Making virtual communities work
Early history of an online community
Unique groups in cyberspace
The Geezer Brigade: Steps in studying an online group
The Palace Study

See also on other web sites:

The Virtual Community - An online book by Howard Rheingold.
UCLA Center for the Study of Online Community
9 Timeless Design Principles for Community Building by Amy Jo Kim.
Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies
The Psycho-Social Aspects Of Multi-User Dimmensions In Cyberspace: A Review Of The Literature, by James Sempsey.
MUD Money: A Talk on Virtual Value and, Incidentally, the Value of the Virtual, by James Dibbell

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