Continuing the posts about local digital communities, here are a couple of links to interesting research and publications on the subject, which I’ve been giving a re-read recently.
- The Online Neighbourhood Networks Study – from Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris. Loads of great resources and insight here.
- Joining the Conversation: an introduction to hyperlocal media – from the Young Foundation, very sensible advice for how local authorities should engage with local digital communities
- The future of local media – a great series of blog posts from Pete Ashton, written as research for Talk About Local
Of course, there has recently been a very interesting move in this space with the announcement of the Big Lottery funded Your Square Mile project, which has very close links with the wider Big Society agenda, and which involves some kind of relationship with the social networking platform SocialGo. David Wilcox blogs comprehensively here.
I’m not sure anyone has access to enough information about this to make a proper judgement, however, some alarm bells are ringing in my mind:
- As per the comments from Will and Manny highlighted in this post, government sponsored online community development does not have a great track record. I appreciate this is at arms length – but Your Square Mile is heavily linked with the Big Society Network, and therefore the current government
- People will drift towards the funded option, and if (and I emphasise if) SocialGo is the mandated or preferred solution from those with the cash, we are going to be in a one platform fits all situation, which doesn’t really work
- Objectives are important. Right now, I don’t fully understand Your Square Mile or what it is setting out to do. Hopefully internally they know exactly what they aim to achieve – because if it’s just a vague ‘we’ll get people to talk to each other on the internet and they’ll self organise themselves to do wonderful things’ then that might not work so well
- What about those organisations that have being doing this stuff for the last few years? Are they just going to be steamrollered by the beast?
I think my real worry is that the one thing that has become apparent, from conversations I have had with people about this stuff, is that with online local communities, in the majority of cases, you need the community before the online. It’s what brings sustainability to the online effort.
Online elements certainly bring visibility to the community’s activities and spread reach, and enable more people to be involved. But a square mile, online or off, is going to be pretty empty if there isn’t the desire or will to keep it going.