In his new book "The Neighborhood in the Internet," Jack Carroll, the Edward Frymoyer Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, describes the groundbreaking research in Web-based community networks that he and his former colleagues at Virginia Tech conducted in the early years of the World-Wide Web, and provides an analysis of how those frameworks can be further developed with the technology that has since become available.
"It’s time to re-think community infrastructures," Carroll said.
In "The Neighborhood in the Internet," Carroll re-examines the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) -- the first Web-based community network -- as an attempt to sustain and enrich contemporary communities through information technology. From 1993 to 2003, he and other researchers at Virginia Tech worked with community groups in Blacksburg, Va., using "relatively simple technology to advance community goals." The book contains a set of case studies in which the Virginia Tech researchers assisted the groups with "creatively appropriating the Web" to enhance a sense of group identity and community involvement.
When the BEV was conceived in early 1991, use of the Internet was still largely limited to scientists. Ten years later, in great measure due to the BEV, 90 percent of Blacksburg residents had access to the Internet at home or at work, compared to 30 percent of the general U.S. population. At that time, the first version of the Web, Web 1.0, was in use. Sometimes also known as the informational Web, which developed from 1993 onward, Web 1.0 consisted largely of static Web pages with little room for real interactivity. In contrast, Web 2.0, also known as "the social Web," which emerged around 2000, focuses on collaboration and sharing information online. In "The Neighborhood in the Internet," Carroll said, he discusses "how to exploit the Web as a community infrastructure and how to push forward" using state-of-the-art technology, including mobile devices.
One of the projects that Carroll discusses in the book is "Blacksburg Nostalgia: A Community History Archive." The Virginia Tech researchers worked with local senior citizens to build a Web forum that allowed people to post photos, stories, and comments that illustrated the "history of Blacksburg on a human scale" and facilitated a discussion between members of different generations. Some users of the system no longer lived in Blacksburg, Carroll said, which demonstrated how technology has changed the concept of community.
"A neighborhood in the Internet now includes people who used to live there," he said.
In addition to developing "Blacksburg Nostalgia," Carroll and his former colleagues worked with a group of teachers to enable technology-mediated collaborative interactions between middle school students and domain experts in the community. They also created MOOsburg, a community-oriented graphical multi-user domain, to enrich the BEV by providing real-time, situated interaction and a place-based model for community information.
Since Carroll joined the IST faculty in 2004, he has continued his research in community networks, which he plans to highlight in his next book. He has collaborated with numerous organizations in Centre County, including the State College Area School District, State College Area Food Bank, Leadership Centre County, Schlow Centre Region Library, Centre County Community Foundation, and C-NET,investigating how community organizations can sustain technology learning practices. In addition, he is working with the State College Downtown Improvement District to enable free Wi-Fi access throughout the downtown area, working with the State College Borough to create an online community forum where local residents could discuss civic issues such as land use and zoning, and developing a Web 2.0 model community portal called CiVicinity.