Joining the backstage: locality and centrality in an online community

TitleJoining the backstage: locality and centrality in an online community
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsLutters, WG, Ackerman, MS
JournalInformation Technology & People
Keywordsdialup, e-community, fan community, geographically co-located community, online community, virtual community, webboard

The design of viable, small‐scale community spaces on the Net is often a hit‐or‐miss affair. To better understand promising approaches in this design space, it is necessary to go back in time to examine an earlier community technology. A field study is presented of The Castle, a dial‐up bulletin board system, that focuses on Disneyland. As a “gathering place for Disney enthusiasts”, The Castle is a fascinating, albeit eccentric, online community. The Castle's centrality in the fans’ interest network allows it to function as a collecting point. Here people find similar enthusiasts and even those with insider knowledge. Yet, because of the cost structure of dial‐up access (an accidental side‐effect of the technology), participants are overwhelmingly geographically local, which has useful consequences for social maintenance. It is argued that the geographical locality and centrality of interest allow The Castle to thrive. Most importantly, however, the combination of the two together creates a powerful social dynamic which has been lost in most contemporary online communities.</p>