Most Wired Town: Building Community One Click at a Time

From Z. Kelly Queijo:

The Blacksburg Electronic Village project, launched in 1993, began with two goals in mind: 1) to build the physical infrastructure necessary to connect homes and businesses in the town of Blacksburg to the Internet and 2) to create a connected online community.

Andrew Cohill, former director of the BEV and now president and CEO of Design Nine, refers to the telecommunications infrastructure available today as mature, but notes that the social aspects of a connected community are still evolving.

“It's a paradox: We are simultaneously more and less connected.”

Of present day online communities, Cohill says, “Social media brings people together while at the same time creates isolation. Facebook and MySpace are the realization of what we wanted to do 15 years ago.”

The early years of the BEV predate search engines and Internet advertising. Yahoo came online in 1996, followed by Google in 1997. The staff involved in training “villagers” to use online tools focused primarily on how to log on and use email to connect with others online.

Andrea Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Center for Human/Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech, and former Director of Research of the BEV, refers to email as the ultimate “killer app.”

Pat Matthews, president of Mailtrust, concurs. “Email is certainly the killer cloud app.  It is the most important, widely used communication tool in the world, especially for businesses.  Billions of emails are sent and received every day.  Social media has certainly emerged and is thriving, but it serves a different purpose than email and in many cases is a compliment.  For example, social media is typically used for one-to-many communications (think Twitter) as opposed to one-to-one or one-to-a-few like email.”

How we meet for coffee in The Most Wired Town in America, Blacksburg, Virginia According to Kavanaugh, social networks are essential to being aware of what's going on about what you think is important.  Web 2.0 is the reason: “We've come full circle from the early days of the Bulletin Board System (BBS) to online chats. People are getting online to talk with each other. With Web 1.0, you had to be motivated to go to the BEV, login, and access Usenet groups to post your comment. It took heroic measures to interact compared with today.”

The members of the BEV project I spoke with, both past and present, share a keen interest in how people connect and the role that online tools play in making that happen. The paradox continues.

Andrew Cohill asserts that “texting [and] hanging out on Facebook is not a substitution for hanging out at Starbucks or Mill Mountain.”

Maybe it all comes together when the text reads “Meet me for coffee.”


To Handshake 2.0's Clicking Back Over the Years – Most Wired Town in America revisiting the 13th anniversary of Blacksburg, Virginia being dubbed "Most Wired Town in America," Andrew Cohill wrote a fascinating expansion and follow-up piece on his Design Nine Technology Futures blog entitled Blacksburg Electronic Village – "Most Wired Town."

And, interestingly enough, two of the Internet and World Wide Web pioneers mentioned in Clicking Back Over the Years – Most Wired Town in America have founded VT KnowledgeWorks member companies.


Z. Kelly Queijo writes about business and technology, people and their passions.  She is a frequent contributor to Handshake 2.0.

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  1. Email is the killer app. If your using the Internet today chances are you are using email. You really can’t live without it and be online.

    Even social media apps, that are redefining communication, like Twitter or Facebook all use email to keep people connected to their application. You get the updates, announcements, and more all through your inbox.

    As Pat said it’s the most “widely used communication tool in the world”. Just take one look at the stats, as Pew Internet and American Life Project data points out, 91% of US Internet users have gone online and sent or read email. There are no other applications used as widely or as often as email that can compete with the adoption of email.

  2. Thanks to Cameron Nouri, @cnouri, for permission to quote his statement on Twitter further defining a “killer cloud app”:

    @handshake20 Gotcha. The idea of a cloud app is that the application or computing power is delivered through the web.
    9:43 PM Feb 25th from twhirl in reply to handshake20

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