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It was a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds.

But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it,

each labeled with a name in minuscule writing. Astounded, Harry bent

over it. A labeled dot in the top left corner showed that Professor

Dumbledore was pacing his study; the caretaker’s cat, Mrs. Norris,

was prowling the second floor; and Peeves the Poltergeist was currently

bouncing around the trophy room (Rowling, 1999, pp.192-193).


Improvements in communication and transportation technology over recent

centuries have resulted in shifts in community ties from being primarily peopleto-

people-in-geographical-places to people-to-people irrespective of local

geography (Wellman et al., 2001; Gillepsie & Williams, 1988; Carincross,

1997). Much effort has gone into freeing interpersonal interactions from

geographic constraints and into enabling communication any-where, anytime.

However, there are many situations in which communication within a local

geographical context is desirable. For example, an administrator of a physical

university campus may see increased interactive communication between

students, faculty, and staff as beneficial to campus life. Similarly, local

community activists might see increased interactions between local residents as

being of significant value.

Until recently our ability to use technology to seamlessly locate individuals and

provide them with geographically contextualized personal information manageSupporting

ment tools was quite limited. However, this situation is now changing with the

widespread adoption of wireless technologies, such as the global positioning

system, 802.11, Bluetooth, RFID, etc., and geographical routing technologies.

Using such technologies, computer mediated communication (CMC) and

location data such as the geographic location a user is communicating from or

to, can be combined to provide appropriate geographic context to interactions.

A number of proof-of-concept systems have explored this possibility. For

example, various systems have enabled individuals and groups to associate text

notes with locations (Burrell et al., 2000; Marmasse & Schmandt, 2000;

Persson et al., 2001). Others have provided users with an interface that

provides awareness in terms of the location and availability of “buddies” as

means to increase informal interactions (e.g., Griswold et al., 2003). These

developments show how the emerging technology environment raises the

opportunity for a new and emerging category of information systems that

connects People-to-People-to-geographical-Place, which we refer to here as


Proximate communities are communities built around individuals co-located in

a physical region. In this chapter we explore how P3-Systems can provide

support for proximate community interactions in four steps. First, theoretical

concepts of community, proximate community, and online community are

examined. Secondly, the emerging technology environment that now enables

new P3-Systems to be developed and deployed is described. Thirdly, P3-

Systems design approaches are categorized and described. Fourthly, the

potential advantages and difficulties associated with various P3-System design

approaches for supporting proximate communities are examined. We conclude

the chapter with a review of our observations and make suggestions as to key

research that could be undertaken to improve our understanding of the utility

of various P3-System design approaches.

Community and Online Community

Proximate Community

In the literature, the term “community” is replete with ambiguity, and so in this

section we will briefly explore the term and state how it is understood in the

context of this chapter. In the 1950s, the analysis of various definitions of

community was a thriving sociological industry. The piece de resistance was

Hillery’s analysis of ninety-four definitions in his paper Definitions of Community:

Areas of Agreement (1955). In the early 1970s, Bell & Newby wrote

that, “the concept of community has been the concern of sociologists for more

than two hundred years, yet a satisfactory definition of it in sociological terms

appears as remote as ever” (1972, p.21). In late 1980s, The Penguin

Dictionary of Sociology stated that, “the term community is one of the most

elusive and vague in sociology and is by now largely without specific meaning”

(Abercrombie, 1988).

Part of the problem has arisen from a debate around the relationship between

physical space and community. In 1960, Nelson et al. wrote “the confusion of

space with the community itself is doubtless a result of the strong influence of

space upon human relations” (Nelson et al., 1960). This is in part due to the fact

that historically the towns and villages where people lived and worked were

automatic places of “community,” as people were interdependent and not

isolated from each other. By the 1970s it was realized that “community” was

independent of the concept of locale. By the end of the 1980s this had led many

sociologists to argue for a conceptual revolution in defining the term community

in terms of social networks (Wellman et al., 1988).

The social network approach arose in part from sociologists examining how

technological changes have affected community (Wellman & Gulia, 1999).

Until the 1950s sociologists feared that rapid modernization would mean the

loss of “community,” which was operationalized to mean that individuals would

only have a handful of transitory, disconnected, weakly supportive relationships

or “social ties” (Stein, 1960). However, research into the validity of this

position concluded that this was not the case, because individuals can maintain

strong social networks of kin, friends, and workmates who do not necessarily

live in the same neighborhoods (Wellman, 1988). It is now clear that

community can survive physical distance and social differentiation. The result

of this has been that many sociologists interested in community came to see

individual and shared social networks, and the strengths of social ties, as of

primary importance. This led such researchers to write about “group communities”

and “personal communities,” and to define community as “networks of

interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of

belonging, and social identity” (Wellman, 1988). In line with this thinking, we

adopt the notion of “communities” as a set of individuals with partially

overlapping personal social networks that collectively provides a sense of


It can be concluded from the above that in the modern world connections are

dependent on personal networks that are highly mediated by technology and

the market system. As a result, people can now occupy the same residential

areas or urban work environments while having only very limited number of

interactions with their geographic neighbors. This raises the issue of how

emerging technologies can be used to build and maintain proximate communities.

Proximate communities are communities where the personal social

network ties of members are associated with a particular geographic area,

place, or region. Proximate communities may be residential geographic

communities or may result from a shared work physical work environment such

as a university campus or central business district.