Publication Details

Freeman, M. & Freeman, A. (2010). Bonding over bushfires: social networks in action. ISTAS 2010: IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society: Social Implications of Emerging Technologies (pp. 419-426). Piscataway, New Jersey, USA: IEEE.


A world-first nation-wide community website scheme was established in Australia in 2006 to enhance existing, and build new, social networks within geographic communities. By doing so, it sought to promote geographic community engagement. Initially, this paper presents an overview of the scheme since its inception and review the current geographic community groups participating in the scheme. To date the scheme has had limited success in attracting a critical mass of communities that value the promoted benefits of social networks in this format, with only 154 community websites across Australia. While it has not achieved the expected level of uptake, the scheme has shown some potential in developing community engagement online. One example of these websites harnessing offline experiences and using shared bonds to establish and enhance social networks occurred during the Victorian bushfires in January/February 2009. Geography-specific community websites allowed individuals to connect during this tragic event – sharing experiences and coordinating re-building efforts. Six months on from the bushfires, many of the community websites based in affected areas showed high levels, when ‘owned’ by the community, of activity and interaction between community members, demonstrating effective and meaningful social networks in action.



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