A virtual community is a community of people sharing common interests, ideas, and feelings over the Internet or other collaborative networks. A possible inventor of this term and one of its first proponents was Howard Rheingold, who created one of the first major Internet communities, called "The Well." In his book, The Virtual Community , Rheingold defines virtual communities as social aggregations that emerge from the Internet when enough people carry on public discussions long enough and with sufficient human feeling to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace .
Virtual communities might be thought of as subgroups within Marshall McLuhan's notion of cyberspace as a "global village." Before the Web, virtual communities existed on bulletin board services ( BBS ) and many still do. Some virtual communities or facilitators of them use the metaphor of a coffee house or something similar to help users visualize the community. In general, there are two kinds of communication among virtual community members: message postings and real-time chat. USENET newsgroups are an example of the former. Many Web sites, such as Geocities, foster subject information exchanges. For real-time chat, Internet Relay Chat ( IRC ) is a system used by many Web sites that foster virtual communities.