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Creating Virtual Connections through Boone Community Network, Scheduled to Launch in Spring 2013

By Megan Northcote

Rio Tazewell (right), co-founder of Boone Community Network, discusses education and outreach internship possibilities with ASU sustainability major Shannon Cowan (left) for the coming Spring. Photo by Megan Northcote

Dec. 3, 2012. A lot can happen when you bring together a diverse group of strangers all living in the same community to discuss common interests, social issues and community building tactics.

Just ask Appalachian State University alumnus Rio Tazewell and his roommate and soon-to-be ASU graduate Brian Swanson, who began hosting weekly interdisciplinary discussion groups at their house last August, inviting students, community members and local business owners to exchange ideas about building a stronger Boone community.

After months of collaborative brainstorming, the group recently announced plans for a Boone Community Network (BCN), a social networking site intended to create connections within the social, civic and economic circles of Boone and the surrounding community.

The site is scheduled to launch in late spring 2013.

“I like to tell people it’s like a cross between Facebook, Wikipedia and Craigslist,” Tazewell said. “Social networking is so prevalent these days. There are social networks for all different things, so I don’t even see this as all that revolutionary, it’s just taking it a step further and using this social networking technology to connect the Boone community.” 

In recent months, Tazewell and Swanson have been “crowd sourcing” the community, asking individuals to take online surveys specifically catered to their demographic – businesses, civic/religious groups, citizens – to assess which social networking features would be most beneficial for them and the community.

So far, two main anticipated site features include a public access network, similar to Facebook, which enables community members to tag their own interests and connect to others with similar interests and a virtual bulletin board for local businesses and civic/religious groups to learn about and promote their events and social gatherings.

Rio Tazewell, a 2010 ASU alumnus in interdisciplinary studies, is collaborating with the community to launch Boone Community Network next spring. Photo by Megan Northcote

The site will also feature a community exchange marketplace, similar to Craigslist, that utilizes a “Time Bank,” an alternative economic model which uses people’s time as a form of money and matches peoples’ skills with their needs.

For instance, a community member would perform a service, such as cooking, music lessons or auto repair for another community member and then “cash in” or exchange these “banked” hours for someone to perform a similar service for them.

Eventually, Tazewell hopes BCN will begin using a local currency to track this kind of marketplace exchange, similar to how the Watauga County Farmers Market or F.A.R.M Cafe operate.

Tazewell, who graduated from ASU in 2010 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, concentrating in sustainability and political science, traces the idea for the BCN to a summer he spent in Minnesota interning with Summer of Solutions, a program designed for college students working to create a nationwide social activist network.

“I’ve made progressive environmental and social change a big part of my life for the past five years, and this [BCN] project is really just a culmination of all that for me,” Tazewell said. “It’s not just a platform for people who want to do activist work, but also for people who want to promote their business or sell their art. It’s a platform for public engagement.”

Over the next few months, Tazewell and Swanson will continue collaborating with students, businesses, church groups and other community members to form five BCN committee groups including: education and outreach, event planning, media and public relations outreach, information technology design team and business development team.

Tazewell, who currently heads the education outreach team, has already received positive feedback from community members and especially students after making presentations in classrooms in public schools and at ASU.

Shannon Cowan, an ASU junior sustainable development major, plans to intern with the education and outreach team next spring.

“I’m intrigued by the up and coming methods of communication and am eager to get everyone in Boone working together to make positive change,” Cowan said.

The event planning team will ideally host two or three community socials next spring to raise awareness of BCN where participants can enjoy food, music, art and face-to-face community networking, Tazewell said.

Swanson will head the information technology team charged with designing and launching the networking site by March or April of next year.

“We want the site to be easy to navigate and use,” Swanson said. “All information on the site will be made public with no private setting options that some social media sites like Facebook use.”

Additionally, the website will serve as a centralized hub for all local businesses and organizations by including links to their websites as well.

In the future, Swanson envisions BCN as becoming a platform for selling food locally as well.

“We’re keeping [the site] local and not allowing corporate franchises to advertise on BCN,” Swanson said. “Personally, I think we need to focus more on the local creation of our food and products. We don’t need a franchise to sell burgers. I think a site like BCN might help us get there one day.”