Community On Line



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What is Community on the Internet?

By Bruce Barbour - Melbourne, Australia.
December 1998.

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 power.".

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 Community.

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.