John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article created May 1996, revised January 1999 (v1.2)
The ability to access and filter through numerous potential relationships, as well as the stretching of spatial boundaries, has resulted in unique groups forming online that may never have existed in-person. The needs addressed by these online groups may be needs that traditional in-person organizations and institutions have been unable to address. Such groups may be a gold mine for social-psychological research. While some of these groups are potentially beneficial and healthy (self-help groups, special interest consumer and hobbyist groups, etc.), the value of others is questionable and in some cases obviously pathological (e.g., pedophile groups). Nevertheless, even these pathological groups can be a source of valuable information for researchers who are attempting to understand and remedy important psychological and social problems. The various unique groups forming in cyberspace are a crystalization of the various hidden facets of the larger, in-person culture.
See also in The Psychology of Cyberspace:
Wizards: The heart of an online community
Steps in studying an online group: The Geezer Brigade