This paper presents research data and findings from the collaborative content creation project edgeX: Mapping the missing grassroots, which was reported on in the 2007 AoIRs conference (Authors). This project is based in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia and explores the potential for, geographically local communities to enhance their social ties and sense of communal identity through the integration of a Website into their communication ecologies. The Website, http://edgeX.org.au/, allows local users to upload their own content in a variety of formats, and thereby (figuratively as well as literally) to put themselves and their work on the map; a Google Maps-driven geobrowsing interface is a centrepiece of the edgeX site. edgeX has most of the features available to the communities of Flickr, YouTube, and social networking sites, enabling users to publish and share their work and to interact with each other.
Internet research to date confirms that communities of interest form with relative ease on the Internet. In such constructions of Internet communities the constraints of geography have fallen away. The edgeX project, in a move to understand the role of physical place, investigates the integration of online digital media into existent community formations that are both geographically based and interest-based, and assesses the impact. Based on an ethnographic action research methodology and using both on- and off-line ethnographic methods, as well as textual analysis and data analysis from the site, the paper will report on the progress of the project and the analysis done to date.
The participants' sense of local identity and attachment to place and to social groups within the area are being ascertained through survey instruments, interviews and ethnographic observation. The effect of participation and integration of the site into participants' communicative ecologies will be measured against the baseline data gathered at the start of the community engagement process. Several groups have been targeted as key drivers for initial uptake - amongst them a youth organisation with extensive networks into schools and community groups, and a 'seniors' computer users organisation which has its own peer training network. The project also builds on the idea of viral, grassroots networking to drive uptake and participation, and will run training for these and a number of other community organisations and individuals in order to seed the site. The site will run competitions judged by industry professionals and with significant prizes as part of its strategy of engagement. It is hoped that the site will become self-sustaining; if this is the case, the project can be used as a template for other local governments and community organisations to deploy grassroots online tools for community building.
The project maps both the pathways of content as it is uploaded, used and reused, and the social relations that obtain to the content. The analysis looks not only at the instrumental and communicative roles of content in its circulation through on- and offline communities, but also at its aesthetic qualities and the role of aesthetics implied in those social relations. In this way the analysis seeks to bridge the divide between content analysis traditions and social science traditions by taking account of aesthetics in the analysis of social relations. Following the work of Hesmondhalgh (2007) (and earlier work by Ang 1985, and Radway 1987) the approach to aesthetic value is made through audience reception-based methods in which the user determines the value system applied to the aesthetics. Comments and ratings associated with content and interviews with participants create the ground for the analysis of the role of aesthetics in social relations formed or strengthened by the use of the site.
This paper will present key findings from an ongoing in-depth analysis of user participation and interaction on edgeX. It will highlight successful and unsuccessful elements of the site, and examine the role of local ties in the online edgeX community.
Ang, I. (1985) Watching Dallas, Methuen, London.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007) European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10, 507-527.
Radway, J. (1987) Reading the Romance, Verso, London.