As soon as I read that we were studying virtual communities this week, Jamiroquai’s 1996 “Virtual Insanity” popped into my head. In this new virtual world of interaction, oftentimes this sense of community can become linked to an idea of chaos. The name of Jamiroquai’s album, Traveling Without Moving, highlights this idea of online communities—in a time where they hadn’t even begun to really gain ground in cyberspace like they have today. And of course, there was the music video that most people think of when they hear the song. Jamiroquai walks on a conveyer with the image of moving, but actually staying in place. A metaphor for the online world? Depends on how you look at it.

Facebook: a new online community
Facebook was launched on Harvard’s campus in February of 2004. Following suit of an ideal online community, Facebook was originally marketed towards college students who wanted to get in touch with students on other campuses as well as connecting with members on their own campus. In April of 2004, Facebook made its way onto my college campus through vigorous word-of-mouth. Following the path of the Ivy League schools, UVA students quickly scurried to their computers to sign up for this new networking site. At the time, I barely knew what it was, and I had not even heard much about MySpace or Friendster. All I knew was that it was obviously popular in New England schools, and we saw ourselves as trailblazers for what we thought might be a fleeting trend. As we now know, Facebook has erupted into massive phenomenon not only for college students, but for anyone with a working e-mail address.

Facebook’s growing popularity
So what is it that makes Facebook so popular? Work and geographic networks are almost as popular as undergraduate and graduate networks. For myself, it started out as a great way to get in touch with high school friends and see what old friends were up to. Not before long, however, it turned into an opportunity to create long profiles, add photos, links, and exchange gifts. Facebook has become its own empire, complete with t-shirts and other paraphernalia. Obviously, this is no longer just a “college thing.”

Our dependence on virtual communities in cyberspace
The very definition of a virtual or online community is a group of people that interact on the internet. Online communities have become a rather fluid concept. I have a number of friends that will deactivate their facebook accounts, only to go through a kind of withdrawal and reactivate it in a week or so later. Not only do they feel out of the loop with new information—cultural, local, gossip, or otherwise—but their friends give them a hard time for getting rid of their membership. In an age where communication is key, Facebook serves as the ultimate tool.

Where is Facebook going now?
The new applications on Facebook have been met with mixed responses. There are an overwhelming amount of new applications to customize your facebook page. Being curious, I added a few—soon after, I had somebody tell me “Your profile is starting to look like a MySpace page.” Enough said, because I quickly deleted all of my new apps and kept my page at the bare minimum. Many Facebook users have chosen the site over its competitors like MySpace because of its simple interface and sleek look. The last thing a loyal Facebook user wants to hear is that it’s turning into MySpace.

The power of Facebook
Facebook became popular at a time when college students were looking to connect with one another. Websites like College Humor allowed students to send in pictures, videos, and stories to share. Facebook enabled students to personalize this information with their own profiles, while still being able to share things they thought were amusing or funny.

As a generation, we have become especially adept to this notion of sitting at our computer and learning about almost anything. The customization of the internet is what has powered Facebook gain so much momentum. Now, anybody can sit on their Facebook account and get link to YouTube videos, personal blogs, or the most recent news articles and political debates. It’s the very essence of traveling without moving. The very hustle and bustle of the online world has a chaotic factor to it. The personalization of RSS feeds, Facebook accounts, Google homepages help control this online world of virtual insanity.