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Abstract

This study explores the design and practice of the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV), a mature networked community. We describe findings from longitudinal survey data on the use and social impact of community computer networking. The survey data show that increased involvement with people, issues and community since going online is explained by education, extroversion and age. Using path models, we show that a person's sense of belonging and collective efficacy, group memberships, activism and social use of the Internet act as mediating variables. These findings extend evidence in support of the argument that Internet use can strengthen social contact, community engagement and attachment. Conversely, it underlines concern about the impact of computer networking on people with lower levels of education, extroversion, efficacy, and community belonging. We suggest design strategies and innovative tools for non-experts that might increase social interaction and improve usability for disadvantaged and underrepresented individuals and groups.