Virtual communities are not necessarily independent from each other. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Indeed, people are usually member of several virtual communities, overlapping or not, and sometimes embedded within larger virtual communities. Therefore, a key question in understanding how virtual community is to understand how the members of the community can maintain contact in the ocean of possible virtual contacts. In other words, how is it possible for members of a community to maintain coherence in a diluted virtual environment? In a previous post, I was discussing how fantasy-based virtual communities can represent good models to approach general cyberpsychology question. Well, once again, this will prove to be true, as the merfolk community of Second Life is a perfect model to study this phenomenon.
The merfolk community of Second Life is a community which spontaneously emerged in the virtual seas of Second Life. However, compared to the number of land-dwelling avatars, the merfolk are ridiculously few. Thus, the question of how to maintain communication within the merfolk community was central in order of this community to exist. In our last paper, we studied the communication processes in the merfolk community, demonstrating how optimal communication strategy making an heavy use of redundancy allowed to keep high levels of social density (you can download the paper for free here, but just up to end of April : http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1QZRW2f~UVu9K5 ).
Guitton MJ (2015) Swimming with mermaids: Communication and social density in the Second Life merfolk community. Computers in Human Behavior, 48:226-235.
But actually, there is even more to learn from the merfolk. Today, we had the visit of Dr Louise Arseneault, Professor of Developmental Psychology at King's College London. After her though-provoking talk, she spent the day at our Institute to meet and talk with the PIs. During the fascinating discussions we had, we went to talk about cyberbullying (as she is a world-famous expert on the psychology of bullying), and I gave the example of various virtual communities and how conflicts are handled there, and particularly with the merfolk community which had a very efficient way to deal with such events, notably due to the communication strategies used and to the clear identification of mentors and advisers within the community. So, as it was with the Star Wars role-play community a few years ago, there is quite more than meets the eye under the level of the virtual sea.
In case you would get interested by the merfolk option in Second Life, you can get all the information you would want at the Safe Waters Foundation Headquarters (just type "Safe Waters Foundation" in the place search engine of Second Life and it will bring you there), or look at their site: http://www.goldmermaid.com/SWF/ .