Dienstag, 27. November 2012

CE Porter's typology of virtual communities revisited

Ten years ago, Constance Elise Porter was aiming of developing a typology/classification system that would be useful to researchers from various disciplinary perspectives such that the classification system might be used as a foundation for theory construction.

According to the typology a virtual community is defined as
  • an aggregation of individuals or business partners 
  • who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is 
  • at least partially supported and/or mediated by technology and 
  • guided by some protocols or norms. 
This definition was intended to make four improvements to prior definitions:
  • Technologically mediated networks of interfirm relationships can be conceptualized as virtual communities embrace.
  • The definiton includes communities with different degrees of “virtualness” where virtual contacts and face-to-face encounters coexist.
  • It acknowledges that interaction in a virtual community could be mediated by any technology (i.e. mobile technology, not only computer technology).
  • It includes norms and roles as a defining requirement of virtual communities.
Porter then classifies virtual communities by two variables, establishment and relationship orientation. A virtual community is either member initiated or organization-sponsored. The organization may have commercial or non-commercial aims.

Then, each type of community can be described more in detail using five Ps:
  • Purpose (content of interaction) describes the specific focus of discourse, or focal content of communication, among community members that forms the basis of interaction in the community (e.g. golfing, living with diabetes, parenting techniques).
  • Place (extent of technology mediation of interaction) defines the location of interaction (completely or partially virtual).
  • Platform (design of interaction) refers to the technical design of interaction in the virtual community, where designs enable synchronous communication, asynchronous communication or both (hybrid).
  • Population (pattern of interaction) refers to the pattern of interaction among community members as described by group structure (e.g. small group or network) and type of social ties (e.g. strong, weak, stressful). Small groups tend to have fixed and limited memberships, are highly interactive during sessions of limited duration and have well defined activities. Alternatively, networked social structures typically have large and variable memberships with uneven and less-active communications among members.
  • Profit model (return on interaction) is conceptualized with two levels, revenue-generating (e.g. host, facilitator, owner) and non-revenue generating:
    • Community enablers host various types of communities with a variety of topical interests and often earn income via advertising and/or subscription fees (e.g. Facebook).
    • Trading/Sharing Communities facilitate the exchange of products or services among community members and often earn revenue via transaction fees (e.g. Ebay). 
    • Firms that feature communities on their website own the community property and use it in order to generate interaction and, ultimately, revenue-generating transactions (e.g. REI.com retailer-based customer community).
The table shows an application of Porter's typology:


Porter, C. E. (2004). A Typology of Virtual Communities: A Multi-Disciplinary Foundation for Future Research. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 10, Issue 1, page 00. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2004.tb00228.x