Your point on how the virtual world is its own world is an agreeable one. I believe as well that people who participate in the virtual world (such as Second Life, for example) day and night are disconnected from the real world, and to them they have two separate realities. Some of them feel controlled by their avatar while others make avatars exactly like themselves, as if reality was not enough for them, but they needed another world in which they could live in.
I applaud you for your study in online communities because it requires a lot of time and patience in order to make plausible conclusions. When studying online communities, I feel like it is important to understand the thought process and psychology of why people use online communities, and to consider their personal lives as well.