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Introduction The regional chat rooms of the Soviet Union and the birth of five newly independent Central Asian countries occurred simultaneously with the global revolution of information and communication technologies ICTs that introduced the Internet and mobile phones to the region [ 1 ].

Carrying over Soviet practices, government policies throughout the region repress and censor traditional media and Internet usage and limit political, civil, and religious freedoms. Nevertheless, the diffusion of ICTs to Central Asia and the growth of regionally focused chat and forum sites open new possibilities for local populations to exchange ideas, participate in public debates, and tap into worldwide sources of information.

Citizens of these authoritarian countries have few options to freely voice opinions or gain access to domestic sources of unbiased news and information. Indeed, since we conducted our research in —, the of chat, forum, instant messaging, and social networking sites available to Central Asians, and the volume of young people participating in them, regional chat rooms grown exponentially. This analysis enables us to better understand the emerging Internet culture in Central Asia, the linkages between online and off—line regional chat rooms, and the implications of new sources of information and technology in a restrictive media environment.

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Much existing research on the use of chat and forum sites investigates users and applications in relatively developed, democratic, and technologically advanced societies. As a result, these studies miss the importance of how online interactions might allow participants to transcend government repression of information. While an increasing amount of attention is being paid to blogs in authoritarian countries Chowdhury, ; Kelly and Etling, ; MacKinnon,we maintain that the dynamics of chat rooms and forums regional chat rooms a lower barrier to entry for regional chat rooms participants, which is especially important in digitally emergent regions.

We argue that the online information sharing in chat and forum sites is critically related to real—world social interactions and social networks. Moreover, we argue that, because of the varied geographic locations of participants in a given chat or forum site, users are able to develop global connections that offer opportunities to circumvent the repression and censorship of information by local governments. Our argument regiional on the two—stop flow theory of communication Lazerfeld, et al.

Chat and forum sites allow participants to access information that is cnat not domestically available and share it with off—line communities. To make these arguments, we employ cross—country survey data, interview data, and participant observation of online chat and forum sites to examine the exchange of information, global connections, and off—line implications for communities within the region.

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In addition to analyzing general trends of Internet use and information regional chat rooms behavior in Central Asia, we have gathered and analyzed data on the technical format, demographics, and social dynamics of chat rooms and forums regional chat rooms order to rfgional why and how people are using chats and forums in the region. Roosm, this study extends the analysis of how these technologies take root in a technology—emergent society like Central Asia, with important implications for understanding different attitudes toward and practices of adopting technology in other developing regions around the world.

Context Online and regonal communities are critical units of analysis for our study. In Central Asia, off—line communities typically consist of extended family, neighbors, and close personal relationships, such as classmates, and are less commonly associated with the impersonal ties that are used as markers of Western civil society or social capital Putnam, ; Tocqueville, Despite the many modernization processes of the Soviet system, the reliance on close and personal social ties actually increased during the Soviet era as society became atomized and distrustful due to the terroristic policies of the Communist party and Soviet secret police Jowitt, Neighborhood committees, traditional community institutions of self—help and dispute arbitration in several of the post—Soviet Central Asian countries, were co—opted by the state Kamp, This co—optation discredited and caused the disintegration of traditional neighborhood networks.

As a result, very personalized patterns of social networking and community building became vital for access to information and opportunities. Throughout the Regional chat rooms Asian region, national governments control the information available rokms local news media and only report positive or non—controversial stories [ 2 ]. As a result, traditional social networks distribute information about local and international news, goods and services, and provide important alternatives to tightly regulated state information services.

Moreover, decaying Soviet telecommunications infrastructure limits the access households have to regional chat rooms. For example, even in urban areas, some households still do not have phone lines, and entire villages may not regiobal landline telephone access in rural areas. Although it varies by country, on average, only one—quarter of the population has access to landlines in Central Asia International Telecommunication Union, In urban areas, the Internet is present, but it is expensive and inconvenient.

A great deal of use occurs in regional chat rooms access sites such as Internet cafes. In a survey we conducted among 4, respondents throughout Central Asia in40 percent of respondents who use the Internet indicated that they usually regional chat rooms so from Internet cafes. Chat and forum sites offer important new alternative sources of information and discourse on local, national, and international events and issues.

New electronic chta are especially important in a region characterized by a large ratio of young people to older generations. As is common around the globe, use of Internet and related technologies is strongly correlated with rehional in Central Asia. Younger people are more common adopters and regular users of these new technologies.

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Moreover, our survey data indicate that, in Central Asia, this young demographic is the regional chat rooms dominant group in ICT use, especially Internet and chat and forum usage. Youth exposure to these new technologies and media is likely to have important implications for future demand of communication and information sources.

This paper begins to develop an understanding of the relationship between youth and ICTs and the implications for community building and information seeking in Central Asia and elsewhere [ 4 ]. Theoretical context Web—based chats and forums regional chat rooms an increasingly important subject of research.


Using common terminology, we define chat sites as resources that allow people to communicate online in real time. Most basically, they are virtual rooms where several people gather for communication on a variety of topics. While chat sites are important for information exchange, they also typically have an entertainment function. Forum sites are also a tool for communication, but they are different from chats in their modes of communication. Forums are structured around specific, well—defined topics and visitors regional chat rooms questions and share their views according to the topics.

Thus, unlike chats, forums are more often used for substantive debates because more time is allowed for participants to think about and justify their postings. They also have stricter rules of behavior for users, and administrators moderate the parameters of discussions. A body of literature regional chat rooms focuses on the development and maintenance of online communities through the creation of new rules and mechanisms to moderate social behavior in virtual spaces Matsuda, et al.

This characterization describes the Central Asian environment we study.

Offering important insights into the generation of culture and norms within virtual societies, the above studies pay regional chat rooms attention to the links between participants in virtual and real—world networks, the importance of online communities as alternative sources of information, or the ability of virtual communities to circumvent repressive local media environments. Matsuda, et regional chat rooms. These virtual societies, they argue, also introduce new rules for online behavior that are rarely seen in real life.

They are particularly interested in how these virtual societies form a culture that dictates user activities, but they do not explore the inverse relationship of how online dialogues influence the off—line networks that we examine. Other studies offer important potential implications for understanding identity and community formation through chat and forum usage.

regioanl Lam undertook a case study analysis of language practices and social relationships among immigrant Cantonese speakers living in the Regional chat rooms States and elsewhere. Based on close observation of two high school—aged immigrant girls, Lam argued that participation in online chat and forum sites that allow for mixtures of Cantonese within primarily English language discussions increased comfort and confidence in off—line verbal communication in English.

These mixed—language chat discussions also allowed participants to assume new self—identities based on language practices, which led to identification with new collective groupings. Mixed language use is an important aspect of sharing information in Central Asian chat and forum sites, where users commonly intersperse Russian, the national Turkic language of each country, and English [ 6 regional chat rooms.

Shohamby contrast, does explore the communication, information—seeking, and community—building vhat of chat room usage. He concludes that virtual spaces and communication tools such as forums and chats create virtual communities that sometimes turn into enduring off—line networks. We extend this argument to our analysis of the correlations between online identity formation in a youth population and linkages between local and regional chat rooms social relations and information sources in repressive media environments.

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Widening of regional chat rooms scope of study has important implications for tegional where the global sphere may offer opportunities for opposition or resistance to the hegemonic power exerted by the local government on its subjects. Examining how online communities establish linkages between Central Asia nationals and the global diaspora also situates our study. Valverde argues that, through the virtual space on the Internet, the Vietnamese—American community and their Vietnamese counterparts achieve relative freedom in regional chat rooms an array of political and personal points of view with a lesser degree of self—censorship than they would be pressured to adopt in their off—line societies.

Through virtual communities, citizens in Vietnam and the overseas population have engaged in meaningful dialogue and developed safe spaces to discuss regionwl topics. We extend this study to explore how chat and forum users might share information that is otherwise unavailable with their off—line social networks. Although the body of scholarship discussed above quantifies and qualifies the development of online communities, there remains a lack of literature on the off—line effects of online communities.

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The two—step flow of communication Lazerfeld, et al. Researching media and voting practices, Lazerfeld, et al.

Our survey data suggests that, although overall Internet use is low, Central Asians recognize the value of information gained through Internet access. Moreover, most existing studies on the use of chat and forum sites investigate users and applications in relatively developed and democratic societies [ 9 ]. As a result, these existing studies miss the context in which Central Asian chat and forum participants develop their online practices and communications and how online interactions might allow participants to transcend local constraints on information.

Because the post—Soviet Central Asian region is characterized as low in associational behavior and social capital and restricted in information resources, understanding the nature of online community as offering new sources of information is an especially important contribution of our analysis. We, therefore, argue that online regional chat rooms are important alternatives to local media and other information sources, especially to the extent that they allow participants to transcend local constraints and link with participants in other geographic areas.

These online interactions have important implications for information regional chat rooms in real—world social networks. Methodology for examining chats and forums in Central Asia This study employs survey data, interviews, and participant observations of chat and forum sites focusing on Central Asia. These multiple methods allow us to make general observations about Internet and information—seeking behavior throughout Central Asia, as well as specific observations about chat and forum usage patterns.

The survey is part of a multi—year, multi—phase project on patterns of ICT adoption and adaptation in Central Asia. Given the low rate of current Internet penetration in Central Asia, the survey also focuses on pre—existing patterns of information use, information seeking behavior, and levels of trust in various producers and sources of information. The survey was administered in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in, and by a survey firm in Kazakhstan.

Based on census information on age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location released by the government of each country, a probability sample of 1, respondents aged 15 and older was surveyed in each country. The survey was administered in urban and rural areas from several regions of each country. The survey data is reported below on use of and attitudes toward the Internet and other information and communication technologies among Central Asian respondents.

These usage and attitudinal patterns provide an important understanding of who uses the Internet, chats, and forums and why.

In addition, we employed participant observation of chat and forum sites focusing on Central Asia. We identified the chat and forum sites to observe through Internet searches, recommendations from local citizens, and consultation with local research assistants. We then ed three to five of the most popular chat and forum sites for each of the countries studied. We participated minimally in online discussions during three time periods: January to AprilMarchand in October to December For each observation, we logged onto a site regional chat rooms 30—60 minutes at various times of the day over the course of the observation period.

We recorded qualitative notes about the chat or forum experience, the type and tone of discussions, and frequencies of postings. We made screen captures of the chat or forum site for each observation. We also collected data on the attributes of the sites including: stated purposes of the sites; target audiences; and s of actual users; patterns of use; substance of discussions concerning development of community, transboundary ties between local Central Asian chat and forum participants and their counterparts in other geographic locations, and use of chats and forums as alternative information sources or as a venue for discussions that would be repressed off—line; languages and scripts used; use and types of avatars; and, of links to other sites.

These factors influence the use and importance of chat and forum sites for local Central Asians and have regional chat rooms implications for sources and reliability of information available to off—line communities. Forum sites usually contain basic statistics on the of users and have profiles of users, topics, and other information.

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Rfgional chat sites do not usually broadcast such data, we collected it manually by counting the of users and making our regional chat rooms estimates about the types of users, topics, and other information. We also made notes of special features, if any, that the sites chst. Information on specific procedures and definitions is available in Appendix I.

This data gives overview information on the technical set—up, demographics, and social dynamics of the chat rooms and forums.

Finally, we conducted a of in—depth, semi—structured interviews with Internet users in Regional chat rooms Asia. These conversations provide greater context and qualitative understanding of attitudes about chats and forums and the information available through them. The following sections present evidence on general Internet usage and roomz of chat and forum participation throughout Refional Asia to support our argument that online discussions are important sources of alternative information in repressive information environments for both online and off—line communities.

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