Thursday, December 4, 2008

Web 2.0 and Virtual Communities


There is some concern that as we continue to advance technologically, we continue to lose our sense of community. In the case of the virtual community, the phenomenon known as Web 2.0 has enhanced the users’ online experience, and helped to form and shape the virtual communities that we participate in today. Like the virtual communities that exist in its’ framework, Web 2.0 itself is still in the process of being defined. Because the web is not the content, it is a delivery method for the content, the argument is that to label it Web 2.0 infers a newer “version” of the Web, which is not technically accurate.

Web 2.0 and Virtual Community

According to Tim O'Reilly “ Web 2.0 is the business revolution in computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.” Web 2.0 is also viewed by some as a mere a buzzword that is used to put into context the services that have ascended from this new platform era web, services like; blogging, wikis, podcasts, tagging, and citizen media. Although Virtual Communities like The Well, have existed before the advent of Web 2.0, and in the Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold mentions that these online communities form "when people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships."

The combined history of virtual communities along with the new Web 2.0 applications that make the online experience more interactive have combined to make a vast landscape of virtual communities. Although Web 2.0 has been labeled a marketing buzzword by some, even buzzwords have their uses, and it is a good way for non-technical people to identify and define a difficult concept. Some of the Web 2.0 technologies that have made the greatest impact on many virtual communities include open-data formats, user-created data (such as Wikipedia) with the idea that the users own their own data and websites that encourage user contributions, such as reviews, comments and rankings. These enhancements make for a richer user experience, and help to build both strong social networks on a more “mature” web environment, that offers more tangible benefits.

New Bedford Virtual Communities

Aside from the official city website for New Bedford, I found another interesting online community. A Google search produced the Immaculate Mediatrix Online, maintained by the Franciscan Friars of New Bedford. I have often seen them walking around downtown, but didn’t know much about them, and never thought to look and see if they had a website. The official city website also has a pretty extensive list of outside links to local organizations, including the fishing industry and tourism. Although these were informative links, I didn’t find them to be interactive and there were no message boards for interaction with other members.

In her article Everything Old is New Again, Felicia Sullivan states “More than ever, community media centers need to lead our communities in thinking about how best to leverage these tools for community purposes. What is our role in creating citizens, not consumers? How do we marry the old technologies of radio and cable television with new forms such as blogs, podcasting, social networking software, and personal media devices (i.e., iPods)?”

In my neighborhood, there is a South End Civic Association, but I could not find a corresponding website. Like community television, a local online communication network, maintained by the civic association or a similar organization, would be a useful tool for my community. It could help to build social networks by allowing citizens to engage in debates and discussions. It would also be useful to have a resource and may increase participation in community and school events.

Sullivan, Felicia M., Everything Old is New Again, The Journal of the Alliance for Community Media, Winter 2005
Rheingold, Howard, Introduction to the The Virtual Community
O’Reilly, Tim, What is Web 2.0?

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