Tonn, Bruce, E., Zambrano, Persides, Moore, Shelia. “Community Networks or Networked Communities?” Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 2001. pp. 201-212

Keywords: Community networks


According to Tonn, Zambrano, Persides, and Moore, the term “community network” is “broadly defined to mean a computer-based system or set of systems designed to meet the social and economic needs of a spatially defined community of individuals.”

Boulder Colorado Community Network and the Santa Monica, California Public Electronic Network are excellent examples of “true” community networks. They are distinguished from others in that they aim to serve on-the-ground communities rather than cyber based communities.

The authors raise the following questions: How do community networks serve to complement community services offered in a traditional sense? How are community networks helping to overcome the apparent decline of community and social capital in the US? From a citizen’s perspective, what has caused decline of social engagement?

The authors suggest that community networks may be helpful in overcoming some of the modern day constraints of civic engagement such as: no time – lifestyle are too hectic for volunteerism, declining social capital, demise of the great good places (cafes, bars, beauty, barber, coffee shops, general stores, places that offer the opportunity for social/civic engagement), psychological anxieties (fear of speaking out in pubic), lack of education and/or capacity for citizenship (people feel unqualified to discuss community and civic issues)

How can community networks help overcome these constraints? By allowing people to engage in public discussion asynchronously – according to their own schedules and not that the government, and by helping citizens build their own capacities

Community networks will only be successful, say the authors, if they become one of the great good places of the community – first and foremost, places that foster community-based dialog. They must facilitate collaboration, economic and otherwise, as well as education

The authors consider the following to be important characteristics of community;
trust and respect,
networks of strong social interactions,
internal economy. Generally, networks serving communities have not made much progress in improving social capital, fostering dialogue, promoting the internal economy or helping citizens become better citizens. None support the social construction of great good places and none had any support (in the way of design features) for vision impaired individuals. The authors recommend that community networks should provide the following:

Allow citizens to comment on development efforts,
Provide citizenship programs – offer incentives such as citizenship certificates,
Provide real time community news and information,
Provide online service-exchange,
Provide moderated online discussions about community issues,
Host job announcements and resumes,
Facilitate online volunteer for community activities,
Allow citizen contributions historical commentary and images,
Facilitate mentoring opportunities.