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Study Shows North Country Communities Online Identities Not Favorable to Economic Growth

PLATTSBURGH, NY __ A team of communication researchers at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh has published data showing that the majority of communities in the Adirondack-North Country do not exhibit online identities attractive to visitors and investors.

In a study appearing in the spring issue of the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies (AJES), the Community Web Visibility (CWV) project team reveals that many North Country communities have paid little attention to their online identities, a phenomenon that could have negative consequences for these communities' current and future economic development.

The team, consisting of Dr. Jonathan Slater, Dr. Elizabeth Bernat and Timothy Clukey, all assistant professors of communication at Plattsburgh State, looked at more than 1,400 Web pages connected with 48 North Country communities. They found that less than 20 percent of the Web pages were created at the community or grassroots level. The remaining 80 percent of the pages were created by external agents outside of the community (i.e. hotels.com, e-history.com, e-podunk.com and dinnercoupon.com, to name a few).

In the article titled, "Libraries, Lakes and Liposuction: An Exploratory Content Analysis of Adirondack-North Country Communities' Web Identities," the team concludes that a great deal of the communication that searchers retrieve from the World Wide Web about local places is mainly the result of external commercial interests without coherent connections to those communities.

"After searching for general information about North Country communities on the Web, one would hope to come away with some sort of impression of those communities," said Slater. "But with the overwhelming majority of the Web pages being generated by external agents, the identities of the North Country communities are being fashioned by those from the outside. In the end, the hometown flavor of these communities is missing from the Web."

One of the objectives of initiating communication at the community level is to promote local economic development. The second major finding of the study showed that of the 1,400 Web pages studied, 65 percent were relevant to economic development. However, if the users were to navigate through these sites, most often the search yielded no returns and effectively disabled any potential for economic gain. The conclusion of the study showed that only 18 percent of the 1,400 Web pages were produced locally and added to economic development in the North Country.

The research group presented its paper and findings to the Adirondack Research Consortium Conference in Saranac Lake on May 26. The group is now in the second phase of this ongoing study that began four years ago.

The CWV project team - under the auspices of a Presidential Research Award from Plattsburgh State - will soon begin a pilot project to provide in-depth Web profiles of three key tourist communities in the region.

Bernat said, "As our communities consider the importance of their Web identities and plan self-promotion in this new communication landscape, it will become imperative that they fully appreciate the relationship between their online presence and their ability to stimulate economic development. Quite clearly, a small handful of communities have already made use of the rich resource of the Web - the difference can be seen within 10 minutes of searching."

According to Bernat, the pilot project will include direct interventions with three communities under study and will compare their physical features and identities with how they are perceived on the Web by potential visitors. In the next two to three years, the team intends to expand such outreach activities to many more of the 48 Adirondack-North Country communities the project has been monitoring since 2000.

For more information about the CWV project, go to www.communitywebvisibility.com or contact Clukey at 518-564-4290.

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