The concept of an online community is very broad. It can be anything from a small close-knit group of people who email each other about a mutual hobby to a mailing list or website with thousands of users. People who have been able to accept and transcend their differences regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds (social, spiritual, educational, ethnic, economic, political, etc.) This enables them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being for their common good.
Comprised of different systems such as electronic mail, bulletin board systems, and real-time chat services, Computer-meditated communications (CMC) is both an interpersonal, one-to-one medium of communication and a one-to-many or even many-to-many form of mass communication. With an estimated 50 million CMC users worldwide (Cronin, 2001) this powerful form of communications has the potential to affect the nature of social life.
in terms of both interpersonal relationships and the character of community.
The existence of computer-linked communities was predicted 45 years ago by J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, who as research directors for the Department of Defence in the U.S, set in motion the research that resulted in the creation of the first such community, the ARPAnet: "What will on-line interactive communities be like?" Licklider and Taylor wrote, in 1968: .
"In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest-(Rheingold, 1993:83).
In the early 1970s, the Internet emerged as a tight-knit community of Defence Department scientists exchanging research data. Soon, as universities and private research labs hooked in, more and more participants began forming sub-communities. .
In 1979, so-called Usenet groups, which allowed computer users to post messages in bulletin board fashion, developed and blossomed into thousands of "newsgroups" focusing on a very wide spectrum of subjects.