Consuming online communities : computer operating systems, identity and resistance

Gregory C. Stratton., Edith Cowan University


A defining feature of the modern era of computer technologies has been a massive reliance upon the mass consumption of personal operating system software. Currently three products dominate how the world experiences computer operating system – Microsoft‘s Windows, Apple‘s Mac, and Linux. The near monopoly held by Windows has been a crucial enabler of the ICT revolution, while the small but significant markets held by Mac and Linux provide alternatives to Windows monoculture. Aside from their technical differences each offers distinct examples of modern-day branding, with individuals forming communities in which members signify their allegiance with these products. This thesis presents these individuals as User-Fans – those who develop an affinity with the mundane products of modern culture. Adapted from the fan models forwarded by Thorne and Bruner (2006), and Hunt, Bristol and Bashaw (1999), it is proposed that User-Fans are an acknowledgement of the extremes of devotion displayed by modern consumerism while also conveying an acceptance that consumerism is a form of discourse where strong allegiances can exist. Central to this thesis is the idea that brand communities exist as a consumer response to the emerging influence of the consumer society. Muñiz and O‘Guinn‘s (2001) brand community theory provides an apt description of the behaviour and bonds exhibited by the consumers central to this study. In outlining the convergence of individual and communal ‗worship‘ of brands the brand community concept is adopted as both a form of communal interaction and the outcome of consumer devotion. The emergence of brand communities and User-Fandom reflects wider shifts in a society enveloped within the rhetoric of consumerism and the influence of the consumer society. Central to this is the manner in which the relationship between producers and consumers has evolved. In noting this relationship it becomes important to determine whether individuals are active agents within this system or if they are passive to the hegemonic forces that surround them. For the purpose of this research the consumer perspective was focused upon. It is the description of these converging forces that stands as the major theoretical contribution of this study. In performing netnographic research on the postings of operating systems users on online forums, the research identifies distinct forms of social interaction and consumer-product relationships. The broad concepts of community, identity, the consumer society and resistance have been brought together to establish a framework in an attempt to explain the sociality within this context. The analysis of the forums through the theoretical grounding allow for the concepts of brand communities, User-Fandom and resistance through consumerism to be explored.