L.M. Camarinha-Matos et al. (Eds.): PRO-VE 2009, IFIP AICT 307, pp. 393–400, 2009.
© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2009
Trust Building in Virtual Communities
1 Computer and Automation Research Institute,
Hungarian Academy of Science,
2 Department of Manufacturing Science and Technology,
Budapest University of Technology and Economics
Abstract. By using different types of communication networks various groups
of people can come together according to their private or business interest form-
ing a Virtual Community. In these communities cooperation and collaboration
plays an important role. As trust is the base of all human interactions this fact is
even more valid in case of virtual communities. According to different experi-
ments the level of trust in virtual communities is highly influenced by the
way/mode of communication and by the duration of contact. The paper dis-
cusses the ways of trust building focusing on communication technologies and
security aspects in virtual communities.
Keywords: Communication technology, trust, virtual community.
Today can be talked about a communication technology explosion as information
processing and communication technologies and tools are developing so rapid. The
new technologies widen the world for the individuals to reach other human beings
independently where they are on the globe. Various groups of people can come to-
gether according to their private or business interest forming a Virtual Community
(VC). On the other side these technologies deeply modify traditional forms of social
connections, communication and cultural habits as well. These modifications can be
observed in particular in hierarchies, social rules, norms, conventions, familiarity and
A very important element of human contacts is trust. In a networked society, trust
is the atmosphere, the medium in which actors are moving . Trust can bridge cul-
tural-, geographical-, organizational distances of members and individuals as well.
Trust is the base of cooperation, the normal behavior of the human being in the soci-
ety. In this new communication environment new methods and techniques of trust
building has to be developed, as the conventional rules of face-to-face approach can-
not be applied. According to different experiments the level of trust is highly influ-
enced by the way/mode of communication  and by the duration of contact .
The paper deals with trust building among partners of virtual communities, with a
special focus on the role of communication technologies. An overview is presented
394 I. Mezgár
how security, user identification/authentication technologies (e.g. biometrics) can
influence the trust building process. Finally some practical patterns are given that
raise the efficiency of trust building.
2 Main Characteristics of Virtual Communities
Originally personal computers were totally disconnected from each other. The first
big step was when all those computers (and the people behind them) got connected to
the Internet and after reaching a critical mass digital networks were changing social
groups into the Virtual Community.
According to Howard Rheingold, a virtual community is a community of people
sharing common interests, ideas, and feelings over the Internet or other collaborative
networks. In his book, The Virtual Community  he 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”. Cyberspace is the total interconnectedness of human be-
ings through computers and telecommunication without regard to their geographical
place. Today the convergence of mobile communication and computing is going on and
this change in technology brings a change in the way communities come together and
The classical definition of Rheingold describes the “clear” type of virtual commu-
nity. Today there are additional forms of communities that are called also as virtual
communities, in spite of the pretty big differences in their goals and technologies.
Based on the types of the members (private individuals, professional individuals, or-
ganizations), on the goals of the community (private, social, business), the form of
cooperation (free, formal), and on the type of participation (voluntary, voluntary or-
ganized, formally organized) three different basic types of Virtual Communities can
1. Community/network of independent intellectual workers (IIW)
2. Virtual Organizations (VO) – formalized cooperation of different remote business
3. (Voluntary) Virtual Communities – random connection among individuals or group
a). Working voluntary for a common goal of a community
b). Collaborate in a certain field of hobby, discuss a topic without special responsi-
A virtual community requires social capital to succeed in its goals. Social capital is
the “ability to collaborate effectively,”  and it includes three important factors:
structure, trust, and common goals.
– Structure refers to human relations within the virtual community. Usually there is
no real social hierarchy among the members of the virtual community. The rules are
explained by the social norms for the community.
– Trust is a social construct. In order to increase social capital, there must be trust
between members of the community. This may require individual members to re-
frain from taking actions that may benefit them in the short-term, for the sake of the
Trust Building in Virtual Communities 395
long-term benefit for the entire community. Establishing trust on the Internet is a
difficult task, because of the anonymity and possible deception of members regard-
ing their identities and information. Because of this difficulty in establishing trust,
many individuals approach virtual communities with caution and suspicion.
– Common goals are the third factor of social capital. The basic goal is to create an
online community of people.
To be a successful virtual community, there must be high social capital, meaning
there must be low structure, high trust, and common goals. All the three classes and
their subclasses of Virtual Communities can be organized independently of national-
ity and distance.
3 Media for Virtual Communities
3.1 Basic Wired Communication Technologies
Before the Web, virtual communities existed on bulletin board services (BBS). Today
the main tool/technology for VCs is the Web. Among the first websites for virtual
community were the Geocities (1994), and the Tripod (1995).
In general, there are two kinds of communication among virtual community mem-
bers: message postings and real-time chat. Usenet newsgroups are an example of the
former. For real-time chat, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a system used by many Web
sites realizing virtual communities. Virtual communities are integrating Web 2.0
technologies with the community, so they can be described as Community 2.0.
Another mode of forming little virtual communities is the „weblog“. The weblog is
the frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links. It is a
mixture of what is happening in a person's life and what is happening on the Web, a
kind of hybrid diary/guide site that can be read by other people free.
3.2 Mobile Technology in Virtual Communities
The mobility and the openness of virtual communities are continuously evolving. In
the early 90s, the emerging digital networks were changing social groups in the Vir-
tual Community; today we can live through what happens when the society, the econ-
omy and the networked communication goes mobile. The application of mobile
equipment of different kinds is dramatically increasing. The combination of wired and
wireless networks result that the members of the society have very broad possibilities
to form VC, to build connection among the different cultures.
Rheingold, in his book „Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution“  described
how efficient mobile communications (cellular phones, personal digital assistants, and
wireless-paging and Internet-access devices) will allow people to connect with any-
one, anywhere, anytime, and how they're already shaping communities around the
world. Rheingold calls such group actors "smart mobs," and this expression has be-
come already an important phenomenon.
Mobility is basic for the modern society - wireless technologies make faster the VC
formation and operation in private life, in work, in entertainment and in civic organiza-
tions. The real impact of mobile communications will come not from the technology
396 I. Mezgár
itself but as in case with other technological revolutions, from how people use it, resist
it, adapt to it, and ultimately use it to transform themselves, their communities, and their
social and cultural environment.
Mobility can be achieved by using different types of wireless networks as Satellite
Communication, Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN – different types of mobile
phone systems - GSM, UMTS and iMode), Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN,
such as WiFi –IEEE standard 802.11a/b/g/n), Wireless Metropolitan Area Network
(WMAN) and Wireless Personal Area (or Pico) Network (WPAN – e.g. Bluetooth,
IrDA2). These networks can be connected/integrated, according to the actual needs,
developing very complex and powerful networks for VCs So the user can be reached
really at any place through a type of wireless connection.
The most efficient wireless equipment for personal use are the mobile phones, Per-
sonal Digital Assistants (PDA) and the netbooks. When these “wireless terminals” are
able to support, identification, authentication and authorization of users, confidential-
ity and seamless communication using various kinds of contents - including text,
voice and video streams, etc. – they can be called as Personal Trusted Device (PTD).
Using PTD for trust building can make authentication and confidentiality easier, more
reliable that support the operation of virtual communities in a great extent.
An important service type of mobile phones is the MMS (Multimedia Messaging
Service) that is an evolution of SMS (Short Message Service) and EMS (Enhanced
Messaging Service). The multimedia element differentiates MMS from other messag-
ing offers by integrating the ability to send and receive photos, images, video clips
and polyphonic sound by camera phones. This message type is significant in forming
virtual communities and also in trust building. The use of Internet-ready phones
(VoIP) is challenging social customs, human relationships as people shift more of
their attention and resources to the cell-phone. One recent trend is "moblogging," or
mobile weblogging. Weblogging means reading/writing blogs in real time: this is
what happens when you fuse digital cameras and text-entry functionality with a way
to publish it to the Web.
4 Definition and Forms of Trust
In electronic environments, in digital communication B.J. Fogg and Hsiang Tseng 
focus on trust among individuals mediated by technology, writing that trust indicates
a positive belief about the perceived reliability of, dependability of, and confidence in
a person, object (such as computers, networks, and software), or process (such as
credit card transactions and airline e-ticket reservations). There are many additional
definitions of trust, all professional fields where trust is important have developed its
own definition . Trust appears in different forms, according  trust has four main
forms; Intrapersonal trust, Interpersonal trust, System trust and Object trust.
5 Trust Building in Virtual Communities
5.1 Fields/Technologies of Trust-Building
In building trust two main approaches can be distinguished; information technology
approach and human centered approach, based on culture, and morality. A structured
Trust Building in Virtual Communities 397
overview of trust elements and their hierarchy can be found in  differentiating the
basic classes of structural-, managerial/behavioral-, social-, financial/economical- and
technological trust. Information technology approach means that security has to in-
crease by different architectures, protocols, certifications, cryptography, authentica-
tion procedures and standards and this increased security generates the trust of users.
It would be a mistake to think that applying only the human-centered approach
would generate trust, the technological part has to be added as well (e.g. biometrical
identification), so mainly the structured integration of the two approaches can result
the expected level of trust.
Technical side of Trust
Approaching security from the side of trust, security is the set of different services,
mechanism and software and hardware tools for generating trust with pure technol-
ogy. More generally security is a condition that results from the establishment and
maintenance of protective measures that ensure a state of inviolability from hostile
acts or influences.
The building blocks, elements of security are the security services and the security
mechanisms. The security services are, access control, authentication, confidentiality,
integrity, and non-repudiation. Security mechanisms are e.g. encryption, digital signa-
tures and checksums/hash algorithms. The main factor of trust is confidentiality that can
be achieved by technologies that convert/hide the data, text into a form that cannot be
interpreted by unauthorized persons. Identification is the process when a network ele-
ment recognizes a valid user's identity. Authentication is the process of verifying the
claimed identity of a user. Information used to verify the claimed identity of a user can
be based on a password, PIN, smart card, biometrics, etc. Authentication information
should be kept confidential.
Human side of trust-building process
The human side of trust is more complicated. From this aspect user interface has the
main role, i.e. the menu structure, the messages send for the user by the system. In
case the user feels that is easy to use, it is transparent, he/she can control the system
(even with low level computer knowledge) i.e. the system is „user friendly”, through
this he can be convinced that he is using a trustworthy system. The more a user feels
in control of an interactive system, the more the user will trust the site, the program,
the system .
Trust is a dynamic process and it alters based on experience. Trusting process be-
gins when an individual perceives indications that suggest a person may be worthy of
trust . These indications can include behaviors such as manners, professionalism
and sensitivity and these forms are designed to represent trustworthiness.
5.2 Important Factors of Trust Building
In an experiment introduced in  four media types were compared: chat (text),
phone conference, videoconference and face-to- face. Chat was significantly worse
than each of the other three conditions, but audio and video did as well as face-to-face
in overall cooperation, and were a definite improvement over text-chat only CMC.
398 I. Mezgár
The process of building trust is slow; trust is formed gradually, it takes quite a lot
of time and repeated positive experiences . On-line trust can be described as a
kind of human relationship.
Trust is depending on the time span of cooperation and the type of connection as
well. It can be stated that there are differences in trust building process in short-term
and long-term relationships. In case of short-term relationships trust must be achieved
quickly, and then maintain with no, or rare face-to-face interaction.
In long-term relationships trust building is influenced e.g. by using more commu-
nication channels and trust formation may assume a higher priority .
Other researches show if people meet before using computer-mediated communi-
cation (CMC), they trust each other easier. Using chat rooms and forums to get ac-
quainted is nearly as good as meeting, and “even just seeing a picture is better than
5.3 Generating Trust by Human-Computer Interfaces
As a communication/information system term a user interface (UI) is the point of
communication between two or more processes, persons, or other physical entities.
Interfaces are the key points for gaining the trust of the user/customer. They are the
first connection point between the user and the system, identification and authentica-
tion (e.g. password/biometric input) of users take place at this point, so they have to
be designed very carefully. When applying a reliable UI (menu structure that gives
the feeling of control; secure authentication technique (biometry)) these technologies
generate trust in user both to the system and partially to the other users (the partners
also have to get through the same strict authentication, so they are really the person
whom they states). The “reminder part” of trust in the partners can be built based on
the content of communication.
Researchers test different new types of interfaces. Multimodal systems  process
two or more combined user input modes— such as speech, manual gestures, gaze, and
head and body movements— in a coordinated manner with multimedia system output.
This class of systems represents a new direction for computing, and a paradigm shift
away from conventional interfaces to the collaborative multimodal interfaces.
Remembering and entering passwords is a general problem, which is why everything
should have seamless biometric identification built in. Researchers are working on dif-
ferent approaches that can make easy and convenient the reliable application of PTDs.
Some examples; individuals can be identified from the faint sounds made deep inside
the human ear. This could mean, users would be able to confirm their identity for com-
puter logins simply by lifting a phone to their ear or putting on a set of headphones .
In case of an other approach the phone looks for a specific pattern of movements as
the person brings it up to her/his ear when it has a built-in gesture based system using
an accelerometer. These movements depend on characteristics like arm length, muscle
structure, and patterns such as holding methods and other habits. These acceleration
data makes possible the authentication. .
5.4 Practical Behavioral Patterns for Trust Building in VC
Members of VCs may trust other people or the system as long as they fulfill their ex-
pectations. When they do not, trust can evaporate quickly and take a much longer
Trust Building in Virtual Communities 399
time to rebuild. To avoid loosing trust in the following some basic rules can be given
for building connections in virtual space:
– Frequent and short communications help the dialogue process and trust building.
– Make your expectations clear -that helps the other party the ability to give a defini-
– Make small commitments and meet them.
– Make clear what is driving you to behave in certain ways.
– Be polite and thank every little service of the partner.
– Socialize - Informal conversation and identification of shared interests beyond the
actual tasks, helps builds closer, personal connections.
– Demonstrate interest and commitment to the other person.
– Members of community organize meetings (if it is possible) to get in personal con-
Today virtual communities are formed more frequently as the communication tech-
nology makes possible to join for more and more people. Internet and WEB technolo-
gies are developing very quick and new technologies as different types of wireless
communication make even faster the evolution of cyberspace.
The number of users has reached the critical mass and that means these technolo-
gies have impact on the society, their influence change the behavior and culture of
society. As trust is a social construct it is the base of virtual communities as well, es-
pecially in case of mobile technologies. Trust is the key problem as it has been proven
in many studies that people don’t use services in which they don’t trust.
Those concepts, methods, technologies and tools that raise the level of trust among
the collaborating partners or among the infocom systems and human beings (e.g. multi-
modal interfaces, new authentication technologies) have to be developed systematically.
It is vital to introduce these technologies into the operation of virtual organizations, even
by slightly changing their culture or organization structures.
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