Edited by Harald Bathelt, Patrick Cohendet, Sebastian Henn and Laurent Simon
This chapter is concerned with two widely shared misunderstandings related to the notion of virtual knowledge creation. First, virtual is often associated or even equated with immateriality. As a consequence, virtual knowledge collaboration is mainly seen as a viable option in digital knowledge domains but not in more traditional fields. Second, “virtual” is often understood as being derived from the “real”. Virtual interaction thus is treated as a deficient substitute for face-to-face interaction. Against this background we use data obtained from netnography undertaken in nine virtual hybrid communities to explore more systematically the material preconditions of virtual knowledge collaboration. We also specify specific benefits of distanciated relations in knowledge collaboration that so far have been understated or overlooked. Our findings demonstrate that the social cohesion of virtual communities is partly enhanced through organized forms of co-presence and that online knowledge collaboration is embedded in material offline environments. Of course, collaboration in virtual hybrid communities lacks the media richness and the entire spectrum of non-verbal cues through which face-to-face encounters ease mutual understanding. Yet distinct features of online interaction, such as quasi-anonymity, asynchronicity and virtual memory do provide unique opportunities for collaboration unattainable in classical face-to-face contexts.
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