Introduction to the Special Issue: Communities in the Digital Economy

Ulrike Lechner, Katarina Stanoevska-Slabeva, and Yao-Hua Tan, Guest Editors
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 6, Number 3, Spring 2002, pp. 5.

Abstract: On-line community building and community development, which may together be called community management, are a key success factor in the digital economy. They differentiate a class of business models in the digital economy from the traditional ones. There is a broad understanding that on-line communities are a critical success factor for the further development of the Internet and in particular for electronic commerce. These communities contribute to the stickiness of an on-line site by providing participants with a trustworthy atmosphere and lasting social relationships.

On-line communities occur in various forms. They may appear as Internet shops, portal sites, groupware systems, electronic auctions, billboards, or even virtual network enterprises or organizations. Product-centered communities, like the reader communities at, but also communities of interest, such as The Well or Dreamworks, are relevant for electronic marketing. Discussion communities like The Well produce passionate environments for people with similar interests and problems. Communities like Amazon’s reader community can promote products, redesign and create products, or change the rules of the market game by enabling, for instance, collective power shopping. Other examples are communities that form dynamic value chains, such as single-product manufacturing consortia and the flexible consumer-driven organization of global supply chains. Further examples are topic- and technology-oriented communities, such as the community-based programming of Linux, and also communities of practice or learning communities, which are pivotal for knowledge management.

On-line communities can be business models in themselves or can be part of other business models, such as e-commerce business models. While there is a large body of literature about the initiation and management of on-line communities as business models, little guidance is available about how to build and assess the impact of on-line communities on other business models. The present Special Issue helps to fill this gap with five papers dealing with case studies and general aspects of on-line communities, such as on-line trust building and the design and development of community platforms. The first two papers in the Special Issue provide cases studies of specific communities.

In the first paper, “A Conceptual Framework for Demographic Groups Resistant to On-line Community Interaction,” Dorine Andrews, Jennifer Preece, and Murray Turoff present an analysis of demographic communities that are resistant to on-line interaction. The paper provides an example of how the requirements of on-line communities can be assessed and how the resistance of potential participants can be overcome with special functionality of the platform.

The second paper, by Alexander Hars and Shaosong Ou, entitled “Working for Free? Motivations for Participating in Open-Source Projects,” is an empirical study of the motivating factors for participation in communities arising around projects that develop open-source software. It gives interesting insight into the motivation for participation in open-source communities, which can provide valuable input for projects dealing with the design of similar communities, such as design communities.

Ulrike Lechner and Johannes Hummel analyze the relation of business models and system architectures in communities, as well as the impact of on-line communities on business models, in the series of case studies presented in the third paper, “Business Models and System Architectures of Virtual Communities: >From a Sociological Phenomenon to Peer-to-Peer Architectures.”

In the fourth paper, “The Role of Trust and Deception in Virtual Societies,” Cristiano Castelfranchi and Yao-Hua Tan identify trust and deception as key issues that need to be dealt with in building successful on-line communities. The authors stress the need for an analytic framework of trust and deception, and identify various aspects that must be considered in such a framework. The last paper, “Toward Community-Oriented Design of Internet Platforms” by Katarina Stanoevska-Slabeva, provides a typology of on-line communities and identifies functionalities of community platforms that enable community building. The paper also provides guidelines on how to match the different functionalities to the requirements of specific types of on-line communities.

All the papers were selected from the minitrack “Communities in the Digital Economy: Concepts, Models, and Platforms” presented at the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, and were revised for this Special Issue in the process of additional peer review.

ULRIKE LECHNER ( holds a professorship endowed by the Swiss National Funds at the University of St. Gallen and received her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Passau, Germany. Her research centers on formal modeling of media and on the design of digital media for e-business. Her interest in virtual communities and peer-to-peer networks is an element in a broader program focusing on the implementation of platforms for virtual communities and, in particular, on peer-to-peer platforms for virtual communities, as well as the impact of platform design on those communities. Currently she is building up a research group in this field. She has also organized or co-organized a number of events in the areas of virtual communities and new interaction designs.

KATARINA STANOEVSKA-SLABEVA ( is a senior lecturer at the University of St. Gallen and a coleader of the Competence Center on Electronic Markets (CCEM) at the Institute for Media and Communications Management. She received her Ph.D. from the University of St. Gallen, after studying business administration at the University of Skopje in Macedonia, and information systems at the University of Belgrade in Yugoslavia. Dr. Stanoevska-Slabeva is responsible for several projects concerning engineering of media platforms, on-line communities, and multivendor electronic product catalogs. She has co-organized several minitracks and tracks on on-line communities and has published several articles about platforms for these communities. Her research interests include on-line and mobile communities, interoperability of Internet platforms, and engineering of new media platforms and organizational networks.

YAO-HUA TAN ( is professor of electronic business in the department of economics and business administration of the Free University in Amsterdam, and earlier was an associate professor at the Rotterdam School of Management of Erasmus University in Rotterdam and program director of its Global Electronic Masters (GEM) program for executive education on electronic commerce, which is a part of an international consortium of business schools. His research interests are virtual relationship building in business-to-business e-commerce, the strategic role of trust as facilitator for company participation in e-commerce, electronic negotiation and contracting, and the use of artificial intelligence techniques to enable automation of business procedures in international trade. He has served as chairman of a series of program committees at national and international conferences and has published eighty papers in journals and refereed conference proceedings.