Some interesting and credible evidence just arrived to lend some actual data to the ancient armchair theorists debate about whether online media enable the creation of social capital or suck the life out of face to face communities. The Pew Internet and American Life Project just released a report on "The Strength of Internet Ties," (PDF) that "highlights how email supplements, rather than replaces, the communication people have with others in their network." The researchers are well known experts in social network analysis of cybersocializing -- John Horrigan, Jeffrey Boase, Lee Rainey, and Barry Wellman.
"Our evidence calls into question fears that social relationships — and community — are fading away in America. Instead of disappearing, people’s communities are transforming: The traditional human orientation to neighborhood- and village-based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks. People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community. Yet people’s networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors — the traditional bases of community — as well as friends and workmates."