Scott, James and Thomas Johnson. “Bowling Alone but Online Together:  Social Capital in E-Communities.” Community Development 36 1 (2006): 9-28. Print.

In this work Scott and Johnson consider how voluntary association online creates e-communities; further, the authors also consider what the evolution of electronic communities presents for community development theory.  To serve this purpose the authors ask the following questions:

  1. What are the key features of online communities?
  2. How do they compare to (offline) communities of place?
  3. How are they designed and developed?
  4. How do e-community members use them to affect collective action?

Working from Robert Putnam’s articulation about the decline of social organizations in the United States over the last 50 years, Scott and Johnson discover community alternatives existing in the non-physical space of the internet.  The authors note that the e-community is a much richer environment than past internet sites of CMC like chat rooms, discussion lists, or collaboration systems.  The formation of ecommunities are predicated on a couple of core tenets by Ostrom (1991):

  1. Communities that share a common resource must have boundaries.  This makes distinctions between who has access and who doesn’t clear in order to protect the digital commons of the ecommunity.
  2. Rules governing the collective use of resources are geared to the needs of members.
  3. Sanctions are appropriate – and whenever possible, enforced by members
  4. Some conflict in inevitable.  Community members must be able to access low-cost tools for conflict resolution.

The authors recognize that a key component to productive online communities are “reputation systems” that augment members’ identities.  These identities are subject to the technologies that filter information, connect potential collaborators and establish and enforce standards of community that govern (11).

The authors establish some key characteristics of online communities:

  1. Membership – usually self-selected based on common interest
  2. Identity – Extra-legal.  Not locatable.  Actions are rarely anonymous
  3. Norms – formal and informal.  Fairly absolute and single sanctions
  4. Authentic communication – overcomes space-time limits through technology.  Constrained by Internet access and lack of media “bandwidth.”
  5. Respect or Status – Readily apparent.  Cumulative.  General.  Earned by positive contribution and peer review.
  6. Social capital – one of a few resources to affect collective action.

Key Definitions:

  1. Online communities – groups of people with common interests that communicate regularly, and for some duration, in an organized way over the Internet (Ridings 2002) (9).
  2. Community – a group of people sharing common rights, privileges, or interests, or living in the same place under the same lawas and regulations (10).
  3. Social capital – the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively (12).

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