The unobtrusive application of some techniques of research (namely, network analysis and content analysis) permits us to quantitatively identify some aspects of the social "climate" and context which govern a particular group of people interacting with each other through computers: the Italian cyber_punk computer conference has been analyzed over a period of nineteen months, through a succession of crises and moments of renewal. Monthly variations in the network measurements observed (density, reciprocity of links, etc.) may be taken as a "barometer" of the social liveliness of the conference. The analysis of the lexicon used in the messages reveals the presence of an underlying "analogical" linguistic component and of strategies for the construction of one's own social presence despite the seemingly limited possibilities of expression offered by the net. Used together, both techniques describe the expectations related e.g. to the roles of newcomer or leader. Conclusions include: a) a proposed framework to explain the relationship between experiences and friendships acquired on-line and in real life b) considerations about the role of small virtual communities (such as the one analyzed here) in the general organization and development of global on-line society c) comments on the possible impact of off-line, real-world society upon the culture developed so far in cyberspace.
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