Websites foster sense of community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2003, 12:00am

Sites set up by residents to provide information about their districts are helping to forge social solidarity, say academics

Websites dedicated to Hong Kong districts are proving increasingly popular and helping to foster a greater sense of community spirit, according to information technology academics.

Fleming Woo Kam-ming, chief IT officer at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the use of the internet had become more common in the city, spurring people to create websites about their own communities.

'The internet today is not just for academics. The community websites can give people a sense of identity and create a kind of social cohesion as these sites serve the interests of the people in a certain district,' Dr Woo said.

Unlike commercial websites, community websites are often designed by local residents who want to provide information to generate interest about their district. For instance, websites have been created about Tai Po, Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Chai Wan, Discovery Bay and Tsuen Wan, offering information about transport, medication, housing, education, shopping, history and daily news.

People also use such sites to exchange ideas and communicate with one another via chat rooms and message boards.

Reggie Kwan Ching-ping, an associate professor of Hong Kong University's School of Science and Technology, said his wife often browsed the Discovery Bay website to learn more about the neighbourhood they lived in.

'These websites provide very good sources for the residents of a certain district to find out the news around them. For example, before you move in, you can familiarise yourself with the place and find out how to go to an area,' Dr Kwan said.

He added that some of his neighbours used the website to discuss problems and reach a consensus before filing a complaint with authorities. 'They may be annoyed with the bus schedules and so they chat with each other through these websites as they may not be able to meet each other. They will then file a complaint with sufficient backing in the community.'

He said community websites were pulling people together and creating social solidarity.

According to Dr Kwan, the mushrooming of community websites was mainly due to the ease and cost-effectiveness of setting them up.

'The cost is extremely low for producing a website by an individual. There are many companies providing free accounts for people to upload their websites. If you know how to use Microsoft Word, you can already make a website by using the hyperlink function. It only takes you a few minutes.'