Volkmar Pipek, Gabriela Avram, Fiorella De Cindio
When the first Communities and Technologies (C&T) conference took place in 2003 in Amsterdam (and then biannually), the international research interest in online communities had risen to a new peak. While the roots of the discourse of that time can be traced back to various disciplines like human-computer interaction, information systems, social psychology, and sociology (and other subdisciplines like computer-mediated communication, computer-supported cooperative work, participatory design, etc.), a significant group of researchers saw the need to establish a stronger forum that would unite these existing discourses. This forum would concentrate on the fit between improved technological opportunities and the emerging practices of using Internet tools in communities.
The research community behind the conference focuses on the notion of communities as social entities comprising people who share something; the common element may be geography, needs, interests, practices, organizations, or other bases for social connection. Communities are considered a basic unit of social experience. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can support community formation and development by facilitating communication and coordination among members; they can also enable and empower communities to deal with challenges and threats.
Dealing with the tensions, as well as the creativity, that emerge from combining a practice-oriented view with an academic tradition of organizing discourses and describing scientific progress, is a continuing effort in the community. Its interdisciplinary approach welcomes both analytical accounts of the community-technology fit, as well as design-oriented work on improving community capacities using technologies.
In parallel with the community’s development since 2003, one can see the maturation of the Internet, along with the emergence of ubiquitous computing and its proliferation into non-work contexts. The focus has shifted away from “managed” or technology-initiated communities (online communities); now discussions of technological support for naturally emerging community work dominate the conference’s table of contents, together with accounts of use cases from areas in the world that require additional infrastructuring efforts to keep up with technological developments.
This Special Topic illustrates the C&T community’s commitment to embrace a wide range of issues. The three articles were selected by the participants of the last Communities and Technologies conference held in June 2015 in Limerick, Ireland, based on the presentations given there. The articles provide an overview of what currently attracts the interest of the community: Luigina Ciolfi and Daniela Petrelli give an account of how cultural heritage work should be recognized in HCI design not only as a community service, but also as a constituent factor defining cultural heritage. Claire Wallace and Kathryn Vincent present examples of establishing broadband Internet as a community infrastructure in rural areas in the U.K., and the strategic issues to consider. Hespanol et al. discuss ways to blend interfaces for voting into our city spaces. As in many C&T papers, the authors manage to strike a fine balance between abstract academic discussion and concrete information that helps practitioners implement similar approaches in their communities. Although in any individual case one aspect may prevail, C&T participants appear to favor papers that appeal to both academic and practitioner audiences.
Connecting practitioners with each other as well as with the academic discourse is an ambition that was further strengthened with a special issue of Community Informatics (http://ci-journal.net/, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2015), which provides various accounts of the tensions and overlaps between practitioners’ interests and research-oriented perspectives. The proceedings of the Communities and Technologies conferences from 2003 to 2013 are available at http://www.iisi.de/en/international-conferences-on-communities-and-technologies/. The conference proceedings from 2009 onward can also be found in the ACM Digital Library: http://dl.acm.org/event.cfm?id=RE104.
C&T 2017 will be held in Troyes, France, and will again welcome participation from researchers, designers, educators, industry, and students from the many disciplines and perspectives focusing on the interaction between community and technology.
Volkmar Pipek is a professor of computer-supported cooperative work and social media at the Institute for Information Systems of the University of Siegen, Germany. His research interests include community informatics, participatory IS design and development, and the phenomenom of infrastructuring. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriela Avram is lecturer in digital media and interaction design and senior researcher at the Interaction Design Centre of the University of Limerick, Ireland. Building on a CSCW and knowledge management background, her research currently focuses on mobile and local uses of social media, urban communities, and facilitating technology adoption. email@example.com
Fiorella De Cindio is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Milan. Over several decades, her research has focused on e-participation, e-democracy, and community informatics, with special attention to the urban setting. firstname.lastname@example.org
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