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From Communities to Mobile Communities of Values - INTRODUCTION, RELEVANCE OF COMMUNITIES, COMMUNITIES OF VALUE, CONCLUSION

community ict individuals social

Patricia McManus
Edith Cowan University, Australia

Craig Standing
Edith Cowan University, Australia

INTRODUCTION

The discussion around the impact of information communication technologies in human social interaction has been the centre of many studies and discussions. From 1960 until 1990, researchers, academics, business writers, and futurist novelists have tried to anticipate the impact of these technologies in society, in particular, in cities and urban centres (Graham, 2004). The views during these three decades, although different in many aspects, share in common a deterministic view of the impact of ICT on cities and urban centres. They all see ICT influence as a dooming factor to the existence of cities. These authors have often seen ICT as a leading factor in the disappearance of urban centres and/or cities (Graham; Marvin, 1997; Negroponte, 1995). According to Graham, these views tend to portray ICT impact without taking into consideration the fact that old technologies are not always replaced by newer ones; they can also superimpose and combine into to something else. These views also have generally assumed that the impact of ICT would be the same in all places and have not accounted for geographic differences that could affect the use of information communication technologies.

This article assesses the significance of the theory of consumption value as an explanatory framework for mobile commerce (m-commerce) adoption and use. It discusses whether perceived values can define the characteristics of any discrete “community of use” (group) of m-commerce users. It discusses the significance of online communities and their relation with mobile commerce. We first discuss the impact of ICT in cities. Second, we present the theory of consumption values as a framework to understand mobile commerce use. Then we assess the relevance of communities’ values as an explanatory theory to mobile commerce adoption. Finally, we explore the possibility that consumption values could be mobile-community-binding instruments.

There are a few weaknesses in these deterministic views of the impact of ICT on the development or dooming of cities. Most of them assume that technology impacts exactly the same way everywhere; that is, there is an assumption that a city is the same anywhere on the globe (Graham, 2004). This perspective, also, does not take into account the growth of physical mobility in urban centres (Graham) and the fact that technology does not promote only isolationism (Horan, 2004). Statistics show, for example, that there was a continuous rise in global motor vehicle ownership, from 350 million in 1980 to 500 million in 2001, and a forecast of 1 billion by 2030 (Bell & Gemmel, 2001). Moreover, “in 2001 more mobile phones were shipped than automobiles and PCs” (Clarke, 2001, p. 134). In 200l, out of the 200 million wireless devices sold in the U.S., 13.1 million were personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the other 187 million were mobile phones (Strauss, ElAnsary, & Frost, 2003). It is important, though, not to presume that some level of face-to-face contact is not going to be replaced by electronic technology. Refer, for example, to what is happening with many network-based services like online banking, EDI (electronic data interchange), or the DoCoMo phenomenon in Japan (Graham; Krishnamurthy, 2001). It becomes reasonable to assume that it is very unlikely that ICTs will bring death to the cities. On the contrary, they are deeply entrenched in urbanisation and social economic trends (Graham).

RELEVANCE OF COMMUNITIES

Many works in cultural geography, sociology, and anthropology refer to the mediating role of technologies in structuring the relationship between individuals and their social environment or community (Green, 2002). Community can be defined as “the formation of relatively stable long-term online group associations” (Barkardjiva & Feenberg, 2002, p. 183). Traditionally, the concept of community is associated with many circumstances or factors; however, a common physical location was for many years considered to be a key factor to determine their existence (Graham, 2004). With the development and popularization of ICTs, in particular, the Internet and mobile phones, it is possible to say that the key factor to determine the existence of a community is accessibility (Webber, 2004)

In the social sciences, the concept of community has generated so much discussion that it has already reached a theoretical sophistication (Komito, 1998). However, this theoretical sophistication has not been transferred to the concept of ICT-mediated communities (Komito). The broad interpretation of the community concept in the network environment has many different meanings, ranging from definitions like “norm or values shared by individuals,” “a loose collection of like-minded individuals,” or “a multifaceted social relation that develops when people live in the same locality and interact, involuntarily, with each other over time” (Komito, p. 97). We consider virtual communities to refer to different types of communities facilitated by information communication technology.

Authors Armstrong and Hagel (1999) were two of the pioneers in using the term virtual community. By virtual community they describe a group of technology enthusiasts in San Francisco. These high-tech enthusiasts created a space in the early days of the Internet prior the World Wide Web. This was and still is a site where people can get together to discuss and exchange cultural information, and today it has migrated to the Web. “The well has been a literate watering hole for thinkers from all walks of life, be they artists, journalists, programmers, educators or activists” (The Well, 2003). Haylock and Muscarella (1999) on the other hand, use the term virtual community when referring specifically to the World-Wide-Web-based communities, but kept their definition of community quite broad. To them a virtual community is a “group of individuals who belong to particular demographic, profession or share a particular personal interest” (p. 73).

In his 1998 article, Komito discusses extensively the community concept and develops a taxonomy for virtual and electronic communities. He identifies three basic kinds of communities: the moral community (the character of the social relationship is paramount), normative or cognitive community (existence of preset rules of behaviour), and proximate community (interaction happens not because of roles or stereotypes, but because of individuals). A moral community refers to people who share a common ethical system, and it is this shared ethical system that identifies their members. According to Komito, this kind of community is difficult to identify in a computer-mediated communication environment, with the moral purpose of the community being difficult to identify. The normative community is probably the most common type of community associated with ICT. This kind of community is not bound physically or geographically, but is bound by common meaning and culture, such as members being medical doctors, Jews, or jazz aficionados. The individual participants in these communities may never interact with all the other members of this particular community. Authors such as Komito believe that the concepts of community of interest and community of practice borrowed their framework from cognitive communities. Proximate communities have a social emphasis. In this model of community, the interaction between members happens not only in terms of roles or stereotypes, but at the individual level; it is in this kind of community where relationships are developed and conflicts managed (Komito). Although he presented a typology for ICT-mediated communities, Komito concludes that the most useful way of looking at ICT-mediated communities would be to treat the community as a background and concentrate on how individuals and groups deal and adapt to continuously changing environments in terms of social interaction rules. With this in mind, we suggest that a group of individuals who share the same consumption values in relation to mobile services could be members of the same community. The concept of consumption values comes from Sheth, Newman, and Gross’ (1991a, 1991b) theory, described next.

COMMUNITIES OF VALUE

The community concept has been used in a number of areas in information systems research. The emergence of networked technologies and the popularization of the Internet have brought a new approach to the study of communities (Bakardjiva & Feenberg, 2000; Haylock and Muscarella, 1999; Komito, 1998). Authors have used the terms online community and virtual community interchangeably. However, one can say that the term virtual community is far broader and may include any technology-mediated communication, whilst online community would be more applicable to the Internet or the World-Wide-Web portion of the Internet. Also, communities of practice have been in the centre of academic journals’ and practitioners’ publications’ attention; however, this community is not dependent on technology. In fact, they have been around for centuries. They can be defined “as groups of individuals informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a shared enterprise” (Wenger & Snyder, 2000, p. 139). When studying virtual communities, researchers seek to understand and classify the role that network technology plays in structuring relationships, societies, and their subsets (Armstrong & Hagel, 1999; Bakardjiva & Feenberg; Haylock & Muscarella, 1999). The interest on communities of practice has been driven by researchers who have identified these informal, self-organised nodes. These groups have been identified as beneficial to organisations, and their strength lies in their ability to self-perpetuate and generate knowledge (Wenger & Snyder).

In information systems, studies of communities have helped to better understand systems adoption and usability. In marketing, communities are now an alternative way to segment consumers (Table 1). Mobile technologies have had a profound impact on people’s everyday lives to the point of reshaping time and space (Green, 2002). Green explores the impact of mobile technologies in time and space. Underpinning her arguments are concepts such as proximity, mobile work, flexible schedules, and so forth, which depict this new understanding of temporality. In today’s life, social relationships have become fragmented, and mobile technologies represent a way to bring continuity back (Green). This new mobile lifestyle is quite prevalent in teenagers. Spero’s (2003) white paper points out that the old demographic segmentation of teenagers (ages seven to 10 as tweens, 11 to 13 as young teens, 14 to 16 as teenagers, and 16 and older as young adults) is no longer effective, and a more efficient alternative is segmentation based on mobile lifestyle. These lifestyle traits encompass things like interest, behaviour, up-bringing, and eating habits. We propose that identifying communities of mobile service value through the underlying reasons why users perceive those values, from Sheth et al.’s (1991a, 1991b) theory, provides a theoretical framework for understanding mobile service adoption.

CONCLUSION

There are great expectations in relation to the adoption of m-commerce. This article has discussed the utilization of the theory of consumption value (Sheth et al., 1991a, 1991b) as an alternative framework to understand m-commerce adoption and use. The value theory provides deeper explanatory ability as it examines the underlying rationale in the decision-making process. This can more easily be used for predictive purposes. For example, a main driver for teenagers using mobile phones is the relatively low cost of text messaging; however, the motivator for use is the intrinsic social aspect of the service, which caters and builds upon an existing community of use.

Product and service developers need to examine these deeper factors to come to a sophisticated understanding of adoption-related decisions. Previous theoretical explanations for technology adoption are low in terms of predictive capabilities. This article suggests that the consumer perceived-values approach has significant potential not only in explaining adoption decisions on an individual level, but also across communities of use or practice. These communities exist in the business world as well as society in general.

The concept of community of use represents a more effective way to identify different groups or segments as demographics are no longer reliable. People within the same age group do not necessarily have the same lifestyle and perceive the same values in a service.


The value perceived in a service or product could be what binds groups of individuals in communities, generating what one would call communities of values. The reasons why individuals perceive some values in mobile services can explain group behaviour.

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