A virtual community is a social network of a group people that shares some common values and a group of interacting people through some form of a virtual avatar. There are several types of virtual communities, most known to be in online gaming and Social Networks. The ethical concern of anonymity is strongly prevalent in these kinds of communities.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Types of virtual communities
- 3 Impacts of virtual communities
- 4 See Also
- 5 References
A community is defined as "a unified body of individuals: as the people with common interests living in a particular area, and an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location." according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. This definition of a community minus the notation about having a "common location" or "particular area" describes a virtual community. A virtual community is very much the same as a traditional community but instead of sharing a physical area, a virtual community can be linked through many different virtual avenues. Such avenues include Social Networks, Online Chat Rooms, Virtual Worlds, Online Gaming, etc.
Types of virtual communities
Online gaming communities are popular and typically feature expansive online virtual communities. Interaction in online gaming environments takes place in virtual worlds and is limited by the design of the game's play mechanics. Various types of online game genres exist ranging from shooter to role-playing type games. Interaction inside of virtual worlds ranges by game type and design. Some games offer players more freedom to interact and form relationships with other players, while other games or more focused on completing objectives or winning a match. Players interact via an avatar which visually represents the user's character in the game. Avatars are given customization options that allow the player to portray themselves in-game as they see fit. There are often online forum communities that supplement in-game worlds, allowing players a further level of interaction with other players, developers and the game community as a whole.
MMORPGs, short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, are one of the most popular current online game genres. MMORPGs feature large sprawling virtual worlds, large populations of players and varying types of play mechanics. Although varying by game, the basic game-play of most MMORPGs involves creating a character, leveling up that character by completing objectives or tasks inside the game world, following the game's storyline and interacting with other players within the game environment. Most MMORPGs are in fact role-playing games, where users select a class that dictates their role type within groups of other players. Examples of these role types are healers, tanks and damage dealers within the MMORPG World of Warcraft. A list of current MMORPGs by popularity and playability. 
|World of Warcraft|
|Lord of the Rings Online|
|City of Heroes|
|Dark Age of Camelot|
Online Chat Rooms
A virtual community can also consist of being an online chat room. An online chat room can be described as any form of synchronous conferencing. The term can mean any technology ranging from real-time online chatting over instant messaging and online forums. Chat rooms can also be linked to another service to form a more close-knit community, like with Turntable.fm, in which users in a chat room take turns DJ-ing for the rest of the room to listen to and vote on.
Social Network Sites
Social Network Sites (SNS), as defined by Ellison and Boyd in their article Sociality Through Social Network Sites, are a subset of Social Media sites, but must include unique, identifiable profiles with user-generated content, a public view of connections, and streams of user-generated content. Virtual Communities can exist within an SNS, though that is not always required. A virtual community such as 4chan lacks persistent profiles and connections between user profiles and cannot be referenced as an SNS. However, social networking sites can provide platforms for users to connect with other members who they may or may not be connected within offline contexts. Current examples of SNS include Facebook and Twitter but do not include Snapchat or Tumblr, due to their lack of outwardly visible connections. Older examples include Myspace and Friendster.
Facebook's affordances allow for many virtual communities to exist within the site. Groups and Pages within Facebook provide a space for a subset of Facebook users to gather and create a community in this online context. Within a group or a page, users do not have to be connected as Friends which allows for a greater number of participants to contribute to a community without affecting a users' Friend List.
Online forums are a popular form of virtual community. Online forums, sometimes referred to as "boards", are websites or sections of websites that act as discussion areas where users interact with each other about designated topics. There are various types of forums with different mechanics, but most follow a similar design. Users are asked to register for a forum to allow participation. Users create a profile that typically includes basic information like name, location, interests, links to social networking profiles and an avatar photo. There are also anonymous forums like 4chan.org  that don't require users to create a profile to contribute.
Forums are typically focused on one broad topic such as gaming, art or music. There are also forums dedicated to a wide variety of niche topics like ghostnote.net , a niche community forum dedicated to percussive instrument construction. While forums are usually focused on one topic, there exist popular "everything" forums like reddit.com  that feature subsections for discussion on numerous different topics such as world news, politics or technology.
Forums vary by content type and presentation. Traditional online forums feature a general discussion section as well as subsections dedicated to different subtopics. The traditional forum format presents users with a list of "threads", or user-contributed discussion prompts, and information about the threads creators, number of posts and the date/time created. Forums like reddit.com give users the option to create traditional discussion threads as well as links to other sites, images or videos along with a discussion area for the presented content.
Examples can range from aggregate news collection forums to college information and even fashion news. The most prominent examples include College Confidential, a forum site for questions about college and advice on college applications. It is open to high school students, their parents and even current university students aspiring to attend graduate school. Another example is the Fashionspot, which focuses on fashion news. Usually, forums revolve around a specific fashion model and users will contribute by posting written or pictorial updates of their favorite model's work updates. Other forums also exist for celebrities and actresses as well.
While some sites are publicly accessible, other communities like to maintain a more privileged environment. Some are located on the dark-net while others are invite-only. Some require interviews and other require you to solve riddles. Users like their utopian pockets of privilege. These communities encourage secrecy and elitism in their selection process. The environment can drastically alter once accepted. Some communities require their users to dedicated time and energy to maintaining their status, other provide a level, non-hierarchical playing field. More commonly, these private communities tend to focus on rank within their circles as well. The most popular types of communities are ones that relate to a private torrent tracker.
What.CD is the premier private BitTorrent tracker on the web. It was founded on the closure of Oink's Pink Palace in 2007 and has dominated the domain ever since. It exists completely on a voluntary donation basis and in December 2010, reached the 1 million torrent mark heretofore unsurpassed by any private tracker. Membership can only be gained through an invite or Internet Relay Chat (IRC) interview. Each individual is allowed only one account per lifetime and the rules guarding the site's privacy and high "ratio" are extremely stringent. If a user makes even a single mistake, his membership is permanently terminated.
This is another community that centers around a private tracker. However, this community shares not music but proprietary code, specifically web-related templates, hence the name. This site is shrouded in mystery as well and does not even have a Wikipedia page. The only way to access this site, again, is through an invite or a large monetary donation.
Once someone gains access to Template p2p, they are in for a surprise. The hierarchy is extremely steep. Certain privileged content is only available to users who pay for premium access, which costs somewhere over $200/month.
Impacts of virtual communities
The sense of anonymity found in virtual communities presents an ethical challenge due to the fact that it is easier for individuals to identify others who are at risk for identity theft or sexual predation. Many of these sites may deal with mature content and it is hard to identify users who are truly at the lawful age to view such content. For example, the popular media site Facebook has a required age of 13 to sign up for an account. There are very limited ways for administrators to ensure that users are of a certain age and a large number of adults have admitted to helping their child gain access to the site even though they are younger than 13 .
There is also a problem with inaccurate information being posted in virtual communities. Because a sense of trust is fostered more naturally amongst users of virtual communities due to their shared interests, unreliable and false information can be easily construed to be true.
This trust can be taken to extreme levels. Some communities, like the afore-mentioned What.cd highly encourages its users to avoid what they call "paranoia". Users who share information about themselves are considered to be in higher standing than those who keep their identities private. Users with higher paranoia levels, for example, are not trusted as much as uploaders.
Ethical Dilemmas with What.cd
What.CD has the normally required ratio that maintains that all users share, or "seed", a certain amount of their data. What.cd uses a slew of automatic programming processes to maintain, reward, and punish its users. The algorithms enforce selflessness in an ethical sense and discourage entropy in an organizational sense. The ethical boundaries the What.CD system algorithms enforce the organizational perfection of music indexing. Every upload must conform to an extremely rigorous standard that includes logging a perfect transcription process for audio conversion and even articulates the filename down to the right underscore. It enforces this standard through a process called “trumping”. If an upload does not fit the criteria perfectly, or the user, having a lossless quality song, does not transcribe the song into all sub-qualities as well, another user can trump his upload. Trumping gives all the credit and more importantly, bandwidth, to the trumper thereby removing the original uploader who most likely purchased the lossless quality content. This incentive system forces users to perfect their art of sharing.
Ethical Implications for Template p2p
The implications are different here because users are actually paying, not donating, for premium access to illegal material.
- O. (2015, November 07). Top MMORPGs. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from http://www.gameogre.com/topmmorpgs.htm
- Nicole Ellison, Danah Boyd Mar 2013 Sociality Through Social Network Sites The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies 151-172 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199589074.013.0008 26 Sept. 2016
- 4chan. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2018, from http://www.4chan.org/
- GhostNote Forum. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2018, from http://www.ghostnote.net/vbforum/forum.php
- Reddit: The frontpage of the internet. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2018, from https://reddit.com
- E. (2010, December 22). What.CD BitTorrent Tracker Breaks A Million Torrents. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from http://torrentfreak.com/what-cd-bittorrent-tracker-breaks-a-million-torrents-101222/