By Bruce Barbour - Melbourne, Australia.
When people talk about “Community On Line” they
seem to adopt differing emphasis and often don’t recognise
the other meanings of Community On Line. Here are a few of
the different meanings used:
1). “Getting the Community On Line” - While this
is an aim of many different groups in society for
a variety of purposes it is also a particular concern of
Big Business and to an extent Big Government. They see
economic advantages in being able to deliver services
over the Internet and also having a technologically
aware populous. To be able to deliver services through
the Internet efficiently a large proportion of the
population needs to be on line.
The Community in this usage refers to people as
residents or citizens of the State, or consumers
of products or services rather than necessarily having
any other personal inter-relationship.
2). “Getting Community Groups from the Social
Services Sector on Line”. The people who advocate
this see the Internet as a means of redressing either
current social disadvantage of a group in society or
staving off future disadvantage due to the Information
Superhighway by - passing a currently disadvantaged
group and therefore inflicting further disadvantage. It
is of course important for these groups to be able to
access services as Government and Business transfer
services to the Internet.
Some sectors also see this approach as the panacea for
addressing social disadvantage. However this needs to be
treated with caution. Being on the Web may give people
the feeling of empowerment over their own lives but does
this translate into actual power to achieve wider social
change? As R
Stoecker says "Information is not power. Power is
The Internet provides a means of dissemination of
information to members of a group and to the wider
community. It allows ready gathering of information from
a wide range of sources. It provides a tool to
communicate and organise, so that the group itself can
more effectively impose political pressure. It is not a
solution in itself.
3). “Community of Interest On Line”. This is
where people use the Internet to communicate on subjects
of mutual interest regardless of geographic location.
Typically they use Chat (IRC), Mailing List Servers,
Newsgroups and possibly WWW sites. It is well served on
the Internet and will continue to grow as a new form of
4). “Traditional / Neighbourhood Community On Line”.
This the provision of Internet Communication services to
members of a community to reinforce and support the
local community. Some current sites who provide this
service tend to concentrate more on either providing
information to their community or getting residents on
line. They are also usually trying to serve a wider
geographical base than a single neighbourhood (which may
be due to lack of Internet access in their community).
While getting residents on line is important, hopefully
when this has to a large part been achieved, the
emphasis should change to providing Communication
Services or assisting communication within the
community. The aim should be promotion of interaction
and engagement of members of a Neighbourhood.
The full potential of the Internet has not been
exploited for this group and will continue to grow as
Internet access grows.