CSCI E-10 Syllabus

Virtual Communities on the Internet

Spring Semester 2002

Instructor: David Albert (

This syllabus lists most of the topics to be covered this semester. The order of the topics is still subject to change, and some topics may be added or deleted depending upon time available and the interests of the class members.

January 28
Course introduction. The concept of community and of virtual community. This class as a community. What is the Internet? Using the computers at Harvard and from home; the class mailing list; e-mail; accessing the class web page via Netscape; WWW search tools.

Textbook reading for next week: The Virtual Community (VC), Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2.
Also, every week, be sure to check the course website readings page for additional readings.

February 4
In class we'll discuss the sorts of communities that arise out of E-mail, PAMLs (publicly-accessible mailing lists), and Usenet discussion groups. In the lab, students will begin exploring these communities.

Textbook Reading: VC Chap. 4. Communities in Cyberspace (CC) Chapters 2 and 3.

February 11
Text-oriented asychronous discussion groups. Archival of discussions. Open and closed communities. Small-group discussion of experiences so far. More time in the lab for exploration and completion of Assignment #2.

Textbook readings (for two weeks from now): VC Chaps. 3 and 6. CC Chap. 7-8.

February 18
Presidents' Day -- no lecture.

February 25
Interactive multi-party experiences vs. one-way flow of information. Chat rooms, IRC channels. In the lab, hands-on multi-party chat.

Textbook readings: VC Chap. 5. CC Chap. 4-5.

March 4
Introduction to the concept of a MUD/MUSE: an "intentional community" incorporating both communication and a sense of location and permanence. Computer room exploration of MicroMUSE using MudMage or tf.

Textbook readings: Life on the Screen (LS) Chapters 7-10.

March 11
Guest lecturers (Jen Clodius and Barry Kort) on MUSEs and other virtual communities. Ethnography of MUSEs. Community formation and rules negotiation. Interaction between virtual and real communities.

Textbook readings: None. As always, check online for additional readings.

March 18
Additional MUSE syntax: describing oneself; creating things. Communities with permanence. In lab: on-line class discussion using a MUSE as a virtual classroom.

Textbook readings: None. As always, check online for additional readings.

March 25
NO CLASS -- Spring Break

April 1
Graphics- Based Virtual Communities (with and without permanence). Avatars vs. self.

Textbook readings: CC Chapters 6 and 10.

April 8
Guest Lecture (Dr. Anna Smith) on problems of conflict management in virtual communities. Systems of Government and control.

Textbook readings: CC Chapter 9.

April 15
Privacy, Security, Censorship, and Encryption.

Textbook readings: LS Chapters 3-6.

April 22
Artificial Intelligence agents in virtual communities. Lycos and Webcrawler agents. Human-controlled vs. machine-controlled characters. MUD/MUSE robots (Julia/Caspian, Storyteller, Infobot, Surveybot).

Textbook readings: None, but specific legal cases will be assigned to each student. Check with the instructor if you miss class to be sure you have read the required articles on time.

April 29
Newly-developing communities. What's going on right now?

May 6
EBAY and similar online communities. Business use of community. Life on the Internet Video(?).

May 13
Presentation by students of final papers and projects.

May 20
Final Projects Due. Presentation by students of final papers and projects. A look at the future of Virtual Communities.

Return to Course Home Page or read the Course Introduction.
David Albert - - Last updated April, 2001