[Air-l] Community and Commerce

Michael Gurstein mgurst at vcn.bc.ca
Wed Dec 26 09:10:03 PST 2001

Followers of this discussion might be interested in a remarkably parallel
discussion which has been an on-going theme of the Community Informatics
e-list <communityinformatics at vcn.bc.ca> archived at
http://www.vcn.bc.ca/lists/communityinformatics This list is mostly from
within the worlds of (geo)Community Information Systems practitioners and
Information Systems academics.

(Community Informatics is the term that is coming to be applied from within
the Information Systems profession to the application of Information and
Communications Technologies (ICT's) to enabling community processes and
achieving "community" objectives.)

A few unconnected observations linking this discussion to that on the CI
	* to date in the discussion here there has been no reference to either
"Community Networks", "Community Technology Centres" or related practical
developments such as Telecentres, Community Communications Centres,
Telecottages and others.  Omitting reference to these removes from the <Air>
discussion a very considerable set of practical examples of interaction
between "community" and technology which could usefully inform the on-going
discussion.  The results to date from these quite large scale developments
(tens of thousands of community telecentres, thousands of community
networks, perhaps hundreds of thousands of community technology centres),
has been decidedly mixed but if nothing else, it is clear that policy makers
concerned with development have quite enthusiastically adopted the notion of
"community" and linked it with Information Technology.

	* there appear to be quite different issues concerning "community" in urban
as compared to rural areas or small cities.  In non-urban areas ICT's appear
to fit quite comfortably into pre-existing
institutional/organizational/leadership structures, with the boundaries of
the technology enabled community being relatively seamless in overlapping
with physical/political/cultural boundaries.  What this has meant is that
"community" oriented technology installations appear to have had broader
grass roots success in non-urban areas than in urban ones.  In urban areas,
these efforts have had less visibility and overall have been more closely
linked with formal institutions such as schools or libraries.  The
significance of multiple and overlapping networked linkages in non-urban
communities as compared to the more limited linkages in urban communities is
perhaps of some explanatory significance in understanding  different types
virtual communities as well.

	* a central issue affecting (geo) Community Networks is their on-going
economic/institutional "sustainability"--how will they survive once the
initial source of funding or volunteer participation is exhausted.  The
issue of "sustainability" of course, raises issues of the range of benefits
which the technology provides to community members and the on-going long
term value of these benefits.  In the physical environment this has come to
mean the financial benefits which accrue to participants which can be seen
as more or less directly paralleling the non-financial/psychological
benefits accruing to virtual community members.

	* many of the (geo) community technology efforts have been linked more or
less consciously with community empowerment, i.e. providing community
members with tools and techniques to accomplish objectives which may have
been impossible without these.  The issue of community technology and
community power is of great significance in a variety of local physical
contexts.  The possible role of virtual communities as alternative sources
of organizational power is perhaps worthy of parallel examination.

	* overall, these questions are not of purely academic interest.  Very
considerable public (and private philanthropic as well as commercial)
resources are being directed toward responding to the perceived Digital
Divide as well as using ICT's as a platform for enabling economic and social
development in Less Developed Countries.  How these resources should be
channelled, as for example through "community" institutions, voluntary
groups, or to individuals (e.g. as entrepreneurs) to a degree depends on
whether "communities" are seen as having sufficient substance to support
these objectives.  In this sense then, the notion of "community" is one
which is worthy of the attention being addressed to it on this and the
Community Informatics lists.

A number of these issues are discussed at more length in:
	L. Keeble & B, Loader (Eds.) Community Informatics : Shaping
Computer-Mediated Social Networks, Routledge, 2001; and
	M. Gurstein (Ed.) Community Informatics: Enabling Communities with
Information and Communications Technologies, Idea Group, 2000.

All the best for the season,

Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
(Visiting) Professor: School of Management
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ

-----Original Message-----
From: air-l-admin at aoir.org [mailto:air-l-admin at aoir.org]On Behalf Of
Wendy Robinson
Sent: December 26, 2001 1:33 AM
To: air-l at aoir.org
Subject: [Air-l] Community and Commerce

Do we not shop in our real-world communities?  Are we not appealed to with
advertisements?  Where is the disconnect with online communities?

Are virtual communities different today (this may have been partially what
David was initially inquiring about)?  Can they still be theorized as
utopian, even other worldly?  If so, does that take us back to 1992, rather
than helping us develop theory for post-dot-com 2002?

I'm really asking, partially from a pedagogical standpoint.  My experience
is that undergraduates today rarely are aware of a pre-commercial Internet;
they can hardly get their heads around the concept that seems to strike
them as quaint, not part of their experience hence interest.  It's history,
and all that that implies.

The world that we're preparing them for is a world in which the Net has
been mainstreamed.  As has been often discussed with AoIR and the digital
divide and legal issues, the Net isn't removed from real-world
complexities.  Money isn't far behind, if it is behind, race, gender,
sexuality and identity in instigating such complexities.

I'm unconvinced that the skills that students need to make sense of
offline/online today can be understood without taking into account
commercialization (hopefully with equanimity, although it can be difficult)
or doesn't make use of other media theory by inference that also has had to
come to terms with real-world financial concerns (e.g., newspapers, radio,
television, the pamphleteering of nonprofit organizations).

In 2002, what might an online community without commerce have to
offer?  What are representative examples?  What would such a community feel
like from a participating member's standpoint?  How would the community be
economically sustained?  Does no commerce or company affiliation mean no
marketing messages?  Would such a community necessarily be marginalized or
otherwise insular (e.g., an "Amish" community of the online world)?  What
could be learned from such a community?

Wendy Robinson
wgrobin at duke.edu

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