What exactly is a Community?
A community is any group of people who have common interests. Centuries ago a person’s community would have been limited to their nearest village and its environs. Guilds were a special type of early community that looked after the interests of workers in trades. An example would be stonemasons or blacksmiths. The church and the military had communities of their own and all of them would have overlapped to some extent.
Mass migration to cities began with the industrial revolution and has increased over the last century. As a result, fewer people in the world are lucky enough to live in small towns and villages, where everyone knows everyone else. Many have to live in densely populated areas. Because of their fast-paced and competitive lifestyle, they do not necessarily know their closest neighbors like most of us did in the past. High-rises are now commonplace in cities. Few workers are able to remain in the community where they were born. It has been predicted that worldwide, the population living in urban areas will rise from today’s 54 per cent to 66 per cent by 2050.
Communities are changing
New communities have been formed by groups of people with common interests. Parents of toddlers will find a community in and around a child-care center. Later parents may form a community around the schools that their children attend, around membership of a political party, action group or charity. Local authorities and clubs often provide community services such as counselling, dance classes and other activities which bring people together to socialize. As their children grow up parents have more free time. This allows them to move into other communities such as a book club, volunteering, or sporting communities like walking groups or Golf clubs. As they reach their golden years, assisted living communities, nursing homes or hospices form the communities to which they belong.
What is community service?
In the context of these offline communities, Community Service could be performed by paid workers, religious and charity workers, the unemployed working for the dole, offenders ordered by the court to do community service, or by students needing experience required for certain study courses. It would also include volunteers. The essential quality of a community is that those who put work into it also benefit from it.
The recent phenomena of families and communities being spread far and wide due to migration and social change has been accompanied by the increase in use of computers and the internet. Families, friends and associates may have initially kept in touch through email, chat-rooms, and blogs. With the development of the World Wide Web, they have joined social networks such as Facebook, Myspace, Google + and Linked-in. What makes these social media sites networks rather than communities, is that each member invites people they already know to connect with them. With the advent of the smartphone, the Facebook social network has expanded to attract billions of users per month.
By contrast, online communities exist to serve people who have a common interest. They are formed by people from varied backgrounds and educations who are relative strangers to each other. It is quite likely that most of them have never met in person. Yelp interests people who like food. Wikipedia serves those who want to share information. Blogs attract people who are interested in the particular topics the blogger writes about. And YouTube serves those who are like sharing videos. Forums like Topix, City-data or Senior Forums.com are communities of people who want to discuss the same topics and talk to people who they have something in common with.
How can community service be performed in Online Communities?
Many online websites and organisations need volunteers. One of the advantages of volunteering online is that the volunteer commits less time to it by than in the “real world”.(one to five hours per week according to a recent survey) It is more often short-term as well – twelve weeks being about average.
Stay at home and volunteer.
Another plus is that people can do it from home. This means that anyone with restricted mobility or other special needs can all take part. Online volunteering can boost their self-esteem, find a place for them in society, and help them into paid work. The list below and the links included are just a start to give you an idea of what is possible. You will probably need to do a little more online research to find the community and the task that is the right one for you.
- Volunteers often write software, for example Open Office
- Creating web pages for community non-profits
- tutoring or mentoring students
- researching subjects (e.g. for Wikia projects)
- moderating online discussion groups and forums – usually administrators post these positions on the forum to attract existing long-term members.
- Administering a group for online sites such as Freecycle.
- Some institutions need help to transcribe documents, e.g. The Smithsonian
So you don’t necessarily have to be a computer whiz to find volunteer work online. Volunteers transcribed the parish records in the Norfolk transcription archive. I offer a big thank you to those volunteers! If you have traced your ancestry back as far as Norfolk in the UK, be sure to visit. Just look for the surnames in your family for a fascinating read.
About the Internet and the World Wide Web
I learned today the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. I’m sure any of you techies out there already know this. The internet is the hardware part consisting of computers that connect by copper wires, fibreoptic cables or wireless connections. It is capable of transmitting data in packets that enable email, chat and file transfers. The World Wide is the software that displays web pages. It connects them through hyperlinks and URLs. The WWW is just another service provided by the Internet. So you can have the Internet without the WWW. But you couldn’t have the WWW without the internet!
I think that’s enough information for one day!
Chris Downer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons