Well, reading your posts on the forum, I realized that the train of thoughts I have been following for a while is taking me to a dead end. Still, as there is barely enough time to re-organize everything I will not attempt answering the question what an online community is.
Instead I would just mention my conclusions from my learning experience:
- the bibliography I have used in my research is already outdated;
- there are many perspectives to take into account;
- in my work I am going to answer the question that Leigh posted "What is community really, and what aspects transfer online?"
"On-line interaction can be in no way separated from the participant's off-line activities. Each participant lives within a certain social and political context. These contexts either enable or disable the participants to access on-line communities, become users/members or decide not to become such. While being on-line the participants bring with them their off-line experiences or even their whole background; thus changing, negotiating or interpreting on-line interaction. That is why when exploring virtual communities one has to bear in mind variables such as class, gender, and age, as these are believed to affect greatly computer use. It should also be investigated where from on-line community members access the Internet, i.e. whether it is at home, at school or at work. To access the net from work means that the participants have some free time, e.g. a larger break between classes. If, however, the participants access the Internet at home, this would mean making some compromises concerning family, leisure time and other responsibilities" (this is part of my end-of-year paper, that's why I quote it. I write about classes as my initial intention was to research EFL teachers.)
I would be grateful to hear your feedback on my hypothesis stating that online community participation means "sacrificing" personal off-line time.