Amy Bruckman, 33
Georgia Institute of Technology
One of the greatest potentials of the World Wide Web is the creation of online communities--electronic congregations of people with shared interests from all over the globe. But which environments best foster these interactions? Answering that question is the business of a new field--online community design. Amy Bruckman is a pioneer in this endeavor.
She develops virtual spaces called MUDs--multi-user domains--that allow many people to interact in real time. Bruckman specializes in a subset of MUDs called MOOs (MUD, object oriented), which allow users to interact not only with each other but also with "objects." As a graduate student, Bruckman founded an online community for new-media researchers called MediaMOO,as well as a MOO for children called MOOSE Crossing. Bruckman has undertaken "the most notable MOO research in education," says Aaron Tornberg, an educational technology researcher at the University of Cincinnati.
To make this possible, Bruckman had to design a new interface, as well as a new programming language. Once she creates virtual communities, Bruckman doffs her engineer’s cap, puts on her anthropologist hat, and studies how the online environment influences the interactions of its participants.