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HOW OFFLINE GATHERINGS AFFECT ONLINE COMMUNITIES

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This paper builds on past studies of virtual community by illuminating the effect of offline gatherings ('meetups') on physically dispersed virtual communities. Although research to date has examined the way in which online interaction affects offline community, the question of how offline interaction affects online community has largely been ignored. On the one hand, these offline gatherings may provide individual benefits for members as the development of relationships strengthens social ties, leading to the creation of bonding social capital. However, these gatherings do not necessarily benefit the community at large as the resources found in weak ties may be sacrificed as attendees favour interaction with one another to the detriment of those that do not attend meetups. Non-obtrusive analysis of over eight years of user activity from a large, active online community suggests that the development of multiplex relationships - relationships maintained both online and offline - enhances attendees' engagement with the online community as a whole, strengthens ties to other attendees, and contributes to the creation of bonding social capital. However, weak ties with non-attendees dissolve and bridging social capital is sacrificed as those who meet offline favour interaction with other attendees.
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Keywords: computer-mediated-communication; face-to-face interaction; social capital; social networks; virtual community

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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