Virtual Communities and Social Media: It’s a Small World after all

My real virtual community - spread around the world

My real virtual community – spread around the world

Is there anybody out there who does not know the song “It’s a small world (after all)“? Do you remember the cheerful song translated in many different languages and played endlessly at Disneyland’s theme parks around the world? If I had to identify a musical theme for “virtual communities and social media”, this would be the perfect song. This song was written in 1964 for the World’s Fair in New York City, and with its message of hope of peace and friendship around the world it is still contemporary.

Who would have known that almost 50 years later we would have been able to connect virtually with people around the globe, share the same interests and pursue the same goals and ideals?

Thanks to the advent of the Internet and the rise of virtual communities, the globe has become a smaller world.

Virtual Communities and Social Media: From the Origins…

Actually the word “Virtual Community” appeared on Howard Rheingold’s book in 1993 who describes his experience on the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the oldest “virtual communities”, before the World Wide Web became available to the public in 1991.

In the introduction of his book “Virtual community”, Rheingold wrote: “People in virtual communities use words on screens to exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot if idle talk. People in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind. You can’t kiss anybody and nobody can punch you in the nose, but a lot can happen within those boundaries. To the millions who have been drawn into it, the richness and vitality of computer-linked cultures is attractive, even addictive.”

It is hard to believe that this has been written almost 20 years ago, because these words match exactly what virtual communities powered by social media technologies are today.

Virtual communities have existed before social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn became popular, in form of online forums, online chats or virtual worlds, but they were less focused on relationships and networks. Online forums and chats were a closed world, not necessarily friends and relatives were aware about their friends’ online activity.

… to the Evolution

Social Media has brought virtual communities to the next level, and has enabled stronger networks among direct friends and with your friends’ friends. With Social Media, like Facebook, there is no privacy any longer: people are constantly connected and updated about their friends’  status, feelings and even locations, thanks to location-based applications. Opinions and reviews, on products, services, books, and articles are shared and tweeted anytime and from anywhere. Social Media monitoring and analysis tools, analyze huge amount of data in order to identify trends and sentiments of the online communities. Last but not least, Social Media mobile applications enable connections with people around the globe even faster, easier and cheaper.

The book “The Groundswell” provides a great description of the future evolution social media (called “the groundswell” in the book): “The net result of all this accelerating activity is that the groundswell is about to get embedded within every activity, not just on computers, but on mobile devices and in the real world. This is the ubiquitous groundswell.”

This means that, thanks to Social Media, real communities and virtual communities are fairly overlapping and becoming more integrated. Actually, according to digital strategist Soraya Darabi one of the next big trends on social media will be “Augmented Reality”.

Why is the world becoming smaller? In my opinion, the main drivers fueling the evolution of virtual communities on the social media landscape are:

  • Technology, especially mobile technology and cloud computing;
  • Ease of use and affordability;
  • Globalization: though globalization is a consequence of the Internet diffusion, now it can be considered as a strong driver for the evolution of social media, too.

Time travel or… the Right Balance

From virtual to real! In one word: priceless!

Having lived in different places in Europe and in the U.S., I wished that the evolution of social media would enable “Time Travel” one day, though thanks to email, Skype and Facebook it is so much easier and more affordable to stay connected with family and friends overseas. In fact, organizing class reunions, or celebrating your best friend’s 40th birthday in Paris with friends from Germany, Italy and the United States would have been much harder to realize without Social Media technologies.

It’s really a smaller world, after all, but please keep the right balance between virtual and real!


References are available on this page

10 thoughts on “Virtual Communities and Social Media: It’s a Small World after all

  1. Hey Linda! The interconnectedness of social networks now is definitely what sets then apart from message boards/forums in the 90s. It’s so cool to me when I find out friends of mine, from different walks of life, are connected to each other as well–in a completely different way. I love that ability to make connections (personally or professionally) that we would have never known existed without social media.

    • That is so true! It is going to be interesting to see how the level of interconnectedness will evolve in the future. My generation has started only a few years ago to connect and reconnect with friends from the past school, college or work, I haven’t seen for or heard about a long time. The younger generation, and also my children, will always be connected from the beginning with their friends thanks to the technology. Will the younger generation have a different idea of “friendship”?


  2. You have written a GREAT post! It’s hard to believe that Rheingold was to articulate exactly what we would be doing 20 years later. Our lives move so quickly and thanks to our smartphones it will only to enhance technology so that it is easier for us to communicate with each and be able to meet others with the same interest as us.


  3. I’ve connected with people all around the world via my blog. There are people I consider friends because we know each other so well through our blogs (though we’ve never met). It’s amazing, isn’t it?

    • It’s great, Jennifer! Did you know that I met my Italian best friend in the U.S. thanks to Facebook? We have real friends in common and we lived in the same town in Italy, so I had “solid references” that she was a person I could trust (and vice-versa!) We met for the first (and for now the only) time one year ago in Italy during our Summer vacation. Unfortunately, she lives in Tennessee, which is too far away from Maine, but we are planning to meet again soon.
      By the way…you live much closer, we should have soon our coffee together!

  4. Pingback: 2012 in review and happy blogging in 2013! « Social Media Open Kitchen

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