Seeking a “Third Place” Online through Virtual Communities

Web 2.0

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an interesting article discussing the elusive “third place” sociological term. Your first place is your home. Your second place is your work. But your third place is harder to define. It’s usually where you feel comfortable outside home or work, some place where you hang out with acquaintances and friends and catch up on the latest news. But now virtual communities seem to be rapidly replacing what once was usually found in a good bar or favorite diner.

Ray Oldenburg, a sociology professor at the University of West Florida, invented the term “third place” and explores the idea in his 1989 book “The Great Good Place.” He lists eight characteristics of third places:

1) They’re neutral ground
2) They’re “levelers” where rank and status don’t matter
3) Conversation is a main activity
4) They’re easy to access and accommodating
5) They have a core group of influential regulars
6) They have a low profile instead of being showy
7) The mood is playful
8) They feel like homes away from home

But can these eight characteristics be applied to a virtual community? Think of your favorite online community (if you have one) — a place with a good number of users who exchange comments, engage in discussion or otherwise interact — then use Oldenburg’s list and see if you have a “third place” in the virtual world.

If you think you may have a virtual third place, the next question to ask is how this virtual community might compare to a real-life counterpart. Will the time come to actually meet your virtual third place community in the real world? Or are any potential third places in the real world best kept separate from the virtual third places?

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