The Institutional Landscape: The Market of Virtual Communities

Song, F. (2009). “The Institutional Landscape: The Market of Virtual Communities”. Virtual Communities: Bowling Alone, Online Together. New York, Peter Lang Publishing: 77-99

Where do the internet and the market intersect? Well, they don’t really. At least not in a singular relationship. As Song highlights in his article “The Institutional Landscape: The Market of Virtual Communities”, the internet has become the context within virtual communities have been able to flourish. As such, these virtual communities are the ideal platform for marketing strategies.

Perhaps the most interesting community that Song touches on is that of the LGBT Community. Prior to the internet, Song suggests it was increasingly difficult to tap into this market, of which, he notes, most are willing to pay ‘top dollar’ for goods, are generally well off and spend quite a lot of time online. It’s an interesting notion that a community as diverse as the LGBT one can be pigeonholed into certain ‘categorical identities’ – i.e. ways of thinking about people as audiences, by way of their ‘common characteristic, status, or preferences’.

Yet, this is the way in which the market works. It is, at its core, a ‘defining institution’, and everything, once properly positioned, can be seen from a commercial standpoint. To Song, this results in the market transforming ‘our very concept of communication’. Indeed, while the internet may have started as a ‘means of power through information that could undermine both government and corporate power’, ‘the utopian visions of the counterculture were quickly replaced by the venture capitalists’ eye for profit’.

People were and are still being defined by the virtual communities they exist within, both by the community itself, the site that hosts this community and the market strategists who wish to tap into their consumerist power. All the while, these sites attempt to position themselves at the forefront of opportunity for the market, by creating ‘sticky’ communities – ‘fostering a legitimate, safe, and creative social spaces that is attractive and welcoming’.

And it is quite sobering when one realises how this exactly works. Song eloquently scribes that ‘the temptation to wax poetic about the internet’s inherent freedom and unbound creativity is tempered when one realizes how many online communities are strategically planned and organised’.

By promoting themselves as a sustainable, controlled environment, each community is subject to the marketing process of capitalist regimes. Yet Song wants us not to view this as the only aspect of the Market vs. Virtual Community vs. Personal Identity triangle.

Rather, there are many other points that need to be explored, many of which may form the basis for the new markets that emerge in the next decades to come, as undoubtedly, this market surely cannot survive. It too must evolve with the context in which it exists, the internet. And quickly it changes indeed.

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