Distance No Object, Log on and the World's Your Oyster; INTERNET: Community-Based Websites Growing in Popularity

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY TRAINOR

THE traditional boundaries of communities are being extended as expatriates take an active part in the daily life of their home towns and villages.

It's just one aspect of the increasing use of the internet by millions of web surfers whose first port of call is their home from home on the world wide web.

Many of these virtual visitors appear to take an active part in the comings and goings of communities they may not even have seen since childhood.

And the point is fast approaching where a planning application to demolish an old chapel in Mid Wales might prompt an angry e-mail of objection to the local authority from an irate cyber surfer as far away as California.

The village of Llay in North Wales has an award-winning website known as LlayOnline (www.llay82.freeserve.co.uk). Its hit counter shows that more than 12,600 visits have been made to the site, which boasts an impressive world map enabling far-flung Llayites across the world to mark their location and send a message home.

This is quite a popularity rating for a mining village that didn't exist before 1922.

LlayOnline is even ranked number five in broadcaster Simon Mayo's top 10 community websites for BBC Radio Five Live - probably a tribute to its clever search engine ranking.

RossettOnline in Wrexham is another example of a website giving community events listings in a standard format. Its clarity has earned at least four web design awards.

A glance at the guest book indicates how the web is opening windows on the world.

A message from ``Jeanette'' in Laramie, Wyoming, wrote, ``What a great little website. I met someone from your little village in a chat room and he wanted me to check it out... looks like a really cool hamlet.''

The demand for faster internet access, more efficient modes of one-toone communication and conferencing have led to most community websites incorporating some form of chat room or, at the very least, a message board or discussion forum.

It is here that regulars mingle in cyberspace to check out the latest gossip, often about their local authority and its councillors.

The overwhelming success of AberdareOnline, the Cynon valley website, is largely due to its extensive range of local photography as well as a stormy message board, which enables discussion on topics like local government, genealogy, music and sport.

The site features an exceptional section on Cynon Valley history and an up-to-date list of local events. …