Virtually home: The commodification of community in cyberspace

John Edward Campbell, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

A new online social formation representing the peculiar hybrid of community and commerce constitutes fertile ground for investigation – the affinity portal. In contrast to universal portals, affinity portals are oriented towards specific populations marketers believe comprise profitable niche markets. The keystone of the affinity portal model is the image of community, and by invoking community these portals invite the emotional investment of patrons. However, unlike those online communities evolving organically from the interactions of their members, affinity portals are engineered by corporations as commercial ventures. ^ Located at the intersection of three important trends shaping the media landscape – the commercialization of cyberspace, the shift from mass marketing to target marketing, and the growing pervasiveness of consumer surveillance – these affinity portals constitute a useful point of entry into a broader discussion of online community formation and identity construction under the conditions of late capitalism. Certainly these commercial community sites raise a host of compelling questions: What impact does the commodification of online communities have on civic engagement? Can sites predicated on target marketing still function as loci for community empowerment? What are the politics of commercial communities? ^ In addressing these questions, this study focuses on those affinity portals targeting communities that have historically been politically, economically, or socially marginalized in the United States – women, African Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Asian Americans, and sexual minorities. Specifically, this study looks at iVillage.com (the largest commercial site targeting women), Gay.com and PlanetOut.com (the largest affinity portals targeting sexual minorities), and BlackPlanet.com, AsianAvenue.com, and MiGente.com (the largest sites targeting racial and ethnic minorities). The decision to focus on these sites is based on the corollary that online communities serving historically marginalized groups have a special responsibility for honoring the voice of their members because of the potential of these sites to serve as tools of empowerment. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Marketing|Sociology, Social Structure and Development|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Campbell, John Edward, "Virtually home: The commodification of community in cyberspace" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3345916.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3345916

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