Conversation and Community: Chat in a Virtual World is an ethnographic study of the speech and culture in an Internet “virtual community.” Based on two years of research in a “multi-user dimension,” or MUD, the book describes a close-knit community united in features of their language use, shared history, and relationships to other online communities. Cherny invokes the notion of register, or the variety of speech adapted to the communication situation, in her discussion of how users handle the limitations of the typed, text medium. Innovative speech routines, vocabulary and abbreviations, syntax and semantics, and turn-taking strategies distinguish the MUD community's register. Because the MUD environment is programmable, commands may be added which reflect, alter, or reinforce the linguistic practices and culture of the community; competent speakers must also know the commands that produce the correct linguistic forms. Power structures in the community impact speech practices and other social activities, with the technically empowered being most influential.
In contrast with much utopian literature about online community, this work offers consideration of the role of elites, gossip, and conflict in a discussion of how theoretical definitions of “community” apply to this virtual ethnographic site. In addition, the author has included discussion of methods and ethics for online research.
- 1. Introduction to MUDs
- 2. Welcome to ElseMOO
- 3. Features of the MUD Register
- 4. Medium Effects: Turn-Taking and Back Channels
- 5. Emotes and the Simple Present Tense
- 6. MUD Community
- 7. Postscript: Method and Ethics
- Appendix A: LambdaMOO's “Help Manners”
- Appendix B: ElseMOO Online Documents
- Appendix C: Some Welcome Messages on ElseMOO