Archive for May, 2012

I wrote my working definition of an online community on my “About Me” page but I thought that it might be a good idea to recap it here as well. The nice thing about a working definition is that it’s something that is in flux. I anticipate revisiting and refining it for some time.

My (working) definition is:  a virtual semi public space where people interact with each other through computer mediated communication (CMC).  These communities generally revolve around a specific topic or purpose (knitting, marathon running, living abroad, etc.) however, members may interact around topics besides the key topic. As in any community, some group members may develop stronger ties with some members than with others.  Online communities of choice are differentiated from other types of virtual meeting spaces by:

  • Having an undefined lifespan.
  • Requiring some type of registration or formal membership in either the community itself or the site in which the community is situated.
  • Having the feeling of a sense of “dedicated space” (similar to a club that regularly meets in the town library).
  • Group members feeling emotionally bonded to one or more of the other group members as well as  connected to the group. (Blanchard, 2007; Jones, 1997; Koh and Kim, 2003; boyd and Ellison, 2007)

There are similarities between this definition and the often cited definition of social networking sites (SNS) in boyd and Ellison, 2007. However, whereas according to boyd and Ellison the SNSs are about enabling “users to articulate and make visible their social networks”, online communities are more about a purposeful extension of a person’s social network.

An online community can exist on its own platform (like a message board for example) or it can be situated within a website such as a LiveJournal blog or a Facebook interest group.

What makes these communities unique (as compared to online communities and groups set up on intranets, through professional organizations, and for classes) is that a person can leave at any time, membership and participation is voluntary. There are generically few to no kith or kin ties, as you would find in FaceBook, and there are no reprisals or penalties for leaving the group.

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Since I originally posted this back on March 14, 2012, I have been periodically checking online to see if this has been rolled out to other locales yet; I know that New York was supposed to be one of the cities they were going to roll this out to .  I have yet to see anything. I’m not sure whether it’s being kept quite to avoid attracting the kind of criticism they got in Texas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. While it could cause people to interact with people who might otherwise become invisible, we also run the risk of dehumanizing them and viewing the “Wi-Fi homeless” as infrastructure. The best technological intentions usually have an unintended  dystopian element.  If this project is still going to roll out across the US, I’ll be watching it carefully to see how it goes.

Originally published on March 14, 2012

We have talked a couple of weeks ago about the question of whether mobile communication technologies refocusing people in public and semi-public spaces from being aware of other people they are sharing the space with (and hence, being available if the opportunity for serendipity to occur), to people focusing on their existing social networks who they are connected to via wireless technology.

This article describes an experiment that is being done in at the South by Southwest Festival. A group of homeless men and women have allowed themselves to be made into Wi-Fi hotspots for hire. The company is paying them a daily rate for being a hotspot and they are encouraged to charge users an hourly fee as well. It is not surprising that this idea has its boosters and detractors. I heard some people on the news paint it as victimizing and commodifying the homeless, stripping them of their dignity by reducing them to a mechanical device used to connect (comparatively) affluent people to other (comparatively) affluent people. Others think it’s a great idea and a way for someone who is homeless to earn money without begging or otherwise causing a public nuisance.

The PR firm that is doing this is talking about testing it out in NYC next so it they follow through on this, the next battle will be fought right next door to here.

What do I think? I think the answer will fall somewhere in the middle. I do think that there may be a few highly motivated homeless people who will be able to parley this into something that lifts them out of poverty. However, for the majority of folks who volunteer for this, I don’t think it will have a long or significant impact on their life, especially since (a) a significant portion of the homeless are struggling with addition issues (b) they will likely become targets of other people who will want to victimize them somehow to gain access or procession of the Wi-Fi device (heck, people have been assaulted for a pair of shoes).

I think at first people may be mindful of the homeless people they have to interface with to buy time. I have to wonder though that if like that barista at Starbucks, after a while people treat them more like payphones than people.

Links to news reports on this:

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My name is Patricia Moore-Jeter and I am in the Masters of Communication and Information Studies at the School of information and Communication at Rutgers University. I am currently in the last semester and applying to PhD programs for Fall, 2013.

While I only began my Masters studies a few years ago, my interest in computer mediated communication goes back to the 90s. This is a blog  is about communication online especially as it relates to online communities of choice.

Since this is a blog, you will be treated to my personal observations, thoughts, questions and opinions as well as interesting facts I learn along the way. When possible, I will include any citations I think might be relative.

In addition, I have links to Communications websites and blogs I frequent that I hope a reader might find  might find helpful and interesting. If there are any links that you feel should be added please leave me a message in the comments, I’ll be happy to take a look.

Finally, I have dedicated a page to a series of blogs I posted for a class on Mediated Communication in the Spring of 2012.

The Path

Welcome digital traveler, I hope you enjoy this part of the journey we will be taking together.

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