With continual advances in computer technologies, human beings natural tendency to explore and colonize new space, and the slow but steady deterioration of our communities in real life, virtual communities seem to have a long and prosperous life ahead. If we look at the current state of virtual communities, we can see that they are in their infancy. Virtual communities therefore are in a crucial but exciting phase of development.

However, even with technological advances and an all but guaranteed future, we must remember that all communities, virtual or actual, are based on people, and people are social creatures. The communities people form in cyberspace need to be nurtured and given social support. They must be given room to grow and expand, and find their own footing.

As much as virtual communities should be supported and allowed to grow they should also be carefully monitored. Virtual communities may allow users to more easily explore their own identity and lower their social inhibitions and communicate without the social tensions of real life, but they also enable users to explore their hatreds and malicious intentions. In order to avoid the problems of the 'consequences of freedom of expression', virtual communities should carefully limit the freedoms of users through social sanctions and system constraints.

As more people join cyberspace and the virtual communities there within, we must remember what we have learned so far and take example from our real world communities. At this moment we are still very much in control of The Virtual Community's destiny. Will virtual communities be the next 'Great Good Place' exploring new social ground between people, or will they follow in the footsteps of their real world counterparts and form governments which create excessively paternalistic laws with police to enforce them. Whatever path is taken, the Internet, cyberspace, and virtual communities will be an extremely interesting development to watch over the coming years.

[ Next: cited literature ]