© 13 Aug 1998 copyright - assignment may be used with attribution

Investigate a Cyberculture

Please read this whole assignment before you begin.

Computer-mediated communication and the Web make it easier for people with similar interests (ranging from scholars in specific fields, to activists, to fringe groups) to communicate with each other. 

Cyber communities can be rich resources for acquiring knowledge and reaching out to people with shared interests throughout the world.  Here is a list of resources on cybercultures (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/cyber-resources.htm). A scholarly group which studies cyberculture is the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. Cyber communities can also be ways for people to engage in discussions about politic, social issues, hobbies and other interests. They communicate in various ways, including newsgroups, listservs, synchronous and asynchronous, chat rooms, Web sites (sometimes incorporating audio, video and movie clips).

Your assignment will be to investigate a cyberculture. Before you begin the assignment, we, as a class, will comeup with ways to research cybercultures/virtual communities, define our criteria for what constitutes a cyberculture and set limits on what types of groups will be appropriate to investigate for the purposes of this course.

Most of us have heard about hate groups and other groups with questionable, and sometimes dangerous agendas who dispense their views over the Internet. We should be aware of such groups, but it may not be wise to get involved with a "malignant" group for fear of being identified with their agenda and getting unwanted material or being harassed.  Let me and your group members know which group you have decided to investigate so you will not duplicate efforts. After you have finished your investigation, you will share your findings with the class. 

The goals of this assignment are to:

  • become discerning observers of online communities
  • become adept at describing characteristics of online communities
  • become aware of how technology shapes human interactions and vice versa
  • become aware of the ethical, social and cultural dynamics of such groups
  • develop an awareness of your own academic, cultural, and social interests which could benefit from membership in appropriate online communities.
  • write an informal report (including documentation of information, sites, newsgroups, etc., you visited), covering the points below, using clear, descriptive examples, logical format, proper grammar, punctuation, spelling.
  • share and discuss your observations .
Issues to answer in your report (Provide detail to support your points.  Give addresses of sites, with active links.  Include citations for sources.
1. What search engines and what key words or boolean searches did you use to find resources?  Discuss your "Eureka!" moments and your dead ends.

2. Does this cyberculture have an identifying name or label? Do they have a general name they call themselves?  (Different groups that make up the cyberculture may or may not know of another group's existence.)

3.What kind of Web sites does this culture tend to have? One Web site will not give you an accurate picture of the larger community which shares the same interests.

4. Describe the various ways this culture uses to communication with one another (newsgroups, Web sites, listservs, chat rooms, etc. Be sure to include the title of each site, newsgroup or other place you investigate and include working links (URLs) to the sites you visit. Does this group have face-to-face meetings? What is their agenda/s?

5. Do they have predominant interests, themes, philosophies and styles? Describe some of the personality profiles and illustrate with examples. Is there a predominant tone in the correspondence? Explore some of the ethical, social, and cultural significance of the group.  When you joined in the culture, did you feel welcome in the group? Did anyone flame you? Is it a group you would be interested in joining? Why?  Why not? What did you learn about yourself and the people who are members of this group?

6. Provide a conclusion which sums up your impressions of the virtual community you investigated and what you learned about such communities from doing this project.  Also include any other observations about your learning experiences in doing this assignment - new skills, new knowledge about the Internet. What would some of the benefits be form joining this group? Give specific examples. Or is it a group alien to your interests? Why would you not be attracted to this group?

(Did you let the community know that you are studying them for a class assignment? Members of the "community" will not necessarily be communicating via all of the same mediums. They will not necessarily know one another. )

How to investigate:

If possible, interview someone who is a member of the group. Decide how many you newsgroups, listservs, Web sites, etc. you will need to investigate to get a fair picture of this group. Too many may bog you down. Too few may be misleading.  A look at one Web site is not a broad enough sample to give you an accurate picture.

Use search engines (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/how-to.htm#engines) to find your resources. Many include searches of newsgroups.  Do key word searches for type of online community or group you may be interested .  Also check out this resource: http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/how-to.htm#news for lists of listservs and newsgroups.

Try joining the virtual community--lurk for several days on various discussion groups, reading posts.  When you feel comfortable, add your own voice to the discussion. How are your comments received?   Develop an understanding of how the community operates. Take notes and include the Internet addresses for the places you visit so you can return. Keep a bookmark list of the sites you visit.

Suggestions for your paper:
Review the assignment to see what report should contain and suggestions to find the information.

You will publish your report on your Web page.  If you include graphics, be sure you have gotten permission to use the graphics you didn't create or are not advertised as "free."  Cite sources of quotes and paraphrases.

Create a title for your paper.  Include an introductory page which sets up the purpose of your project, which virtual community you investigated, and why you picked this community.

Be sure to include the full names of the sites you discuss and include hypertext links to the sites.

Organize your paper into paragraphs according to the specific aspects you cover. Give examples to support your points.  For example, when you discuss the philosophies and interests of the groups, give details/proof , including quotes from the sites. Link to and describe graphics which represent their themes.
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