So how do we build some real community?

It seems that our compulsive fixation on Social Software is rooted in a real lack of community in Real Life… Greg Hirsch

There is a lot of truth in this. New social media like Twitter and Facebook can connect us with people around the world – yet it can mean spending our time in front of the computer rather than connecting with people face to face.

But what makes this so compelling? Part of it is the addictive nature of constant updates we get online – a bit like the orienting response to television. But more positively, I suspect that many of us feel a real connection to people online, and our regular suburban or urban lives are not all that connected.

On the other hand, we can use social software to connect in the real world. We can find like-minded people locally, as well as on the other side of the planet, that we would never have connected with in the past. I see this improving as the semantic web grows – it should be much easier to mark our profiles with our location, and preferentially connect with people within  certain radius. Websites like Sydney Talks, are a great indicator of the potential of this – but the real power of such features is yet to be seen, I’m sure.

We can also find fulfillment and connection online outside the sometimes inane chatterings of social media – for myself and quite a number of people I know, that’s helping building a resource that makes a real difference in the world, such as Wikipedia or Appropedia. Though, seeing how people are using services such as microblogging (Identi.ca or Twitter), I think wikis could potentially benefit from better integrating social features. (It’s already possible to allow you MediaWiki site to display your Twitter feed, for example, and that’s enabled on Appropedia – but there is much more to do to make this smoother. We have a few ideas, but need coders interested in working with us on this.)

And for all that MediaWiki is not designed for social networking, some of the coolest people I know, I’ve met in person through wikis: Wikipedia, Appropedia and other wikis. Lonny, the founder of Appropedia, actually first contacted me and invited me to check out Appropedia by leaving a note on my Wikipedia talk page.

We can use our new, like-minded online friendships to do something in the real world. For that to be most effective, I suspect it’s best to connect with those who are already doing something. For that reason I like Global Swadeshi as a social network – between them, these people are doing a lot of cool stuff. Some of us are talking about setting up an Appropriate technology village, somewhere such as the South of India, so we can do more work face-to-face.

My aim here is to start a conversation. There is much, much more to write about community in this era, about the creative real-world ways of acting for community, such as co-housing and other forms of intentional community. I also know this post could do with some editing. But excuse me if I post these initial thoughts in this rough form – I need to get away from the computer and meet people.

Be informed through Twitter

I must apologize for the silence on this blog. We’ve all been busy – building the wiki is the priority, of course, and blogging is a conversation that we haven’t been making time for.

One reason for the silence is that I’ve been managing Appropedia’s Twitter account. There are different styles of “tweeting,” and the approach I’ve taken is to be informative, post links (not only to new Appropedia content but other great sites and blog posts) ask questions and engage in conversations with kindred spirits – but keeping chatter to a minimum. So if you’re a Twitter skeptic, and are afraid of inane comments about what we’re having for breakfast – fear not. You will be informed – so join the conversation, and follow @appropedia.

Note that Appropedia is also on identi.ca, the open microblogging service. I send a lot of posts via identi.ca to Twitter, but Twitter catches more of the conversations, as there are more followers on Twitter. But I use identi.ca where I can do so and connect with both communities. Open source and open content give us greater freedom, and deserve our support.

I’m also doing a report on open collaborations for appropriate technology for Akvo, the Dutch water NGO that’s really taking a lead with open knowledge. Very soon there will blog posts about that, and then one day I will dig into the couple of hundred draft blog posts I have and start posting on all manner of questions about knowledge sharing to change the world.

How should we use original works on Appropedia?

I’ve been thinking about the way we use original content – content produced elsewhere, and copied to Appropedia. Organizations like Practical Action release their excellent content under an open license, and we use it while giving attribution, but how do we present it? We as a community (including me) haven’t been really clear in our own minds, and that results in the confusing and not-always-inviting messages on the pages of original material:

and

Original ported content
This page represents the original version of content ported from another source. The page has been protected to preserve this original content. Editable pages may include content from this page as long as attribution is given to the source

and:

    The original content of this page, Water diversion (original), was taken, with permission for publication under the GNU-FDL, from “Beyond Dams”, authored by Elizabeth Brink of International Rivers Network (IRN) and Serena McClain and Steve Rothert of American Rivers (AR), and published by IRN and AR)

Now, we really want to invite people to edit this material, and Neil Noble from Practical Action tells me they would love to see contributions to their material as well. So how we make things more inviting?

For one thing, these notices need to specify either that the page is not open to editing (and point to an editable page) or they need to clearly invite edits. Putting the note at the bottom rather than the top will also make it less daunting.

But do we keep the original content somewhere in an unchanged state? I was leaning away from this, personally, but I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to propose the idea of flagged revisions and/or approved pages, e.g. “This page is approved by XYZ” (where XYZ is Practical Action, or Akvo, or an academic body from a particular university…) These original pages might be a good starting point or forerunner of those approved articles.

One thing we would never want to do though, is hide away the open edit pages. I would imagine that the open pages would be the “landing pages” and they might have a link on the top right, say, to an “approved” article. This priority is important, as Appropedia relies on the power of open content.

A nourishing and abundant future

The Transition Towns movement began in the UK and is spreading around the world – towns that collectively sign up to transitioning to a net zero carbon economy.

One of the founders, Rob Hopkins, wrote The Transition Handbook, which is now being revamped for the second edition (and you can contribute – it’s a wiki!)

In the Introduction to The Transition Handbook,  writes:

Central to this book is the concept of resilience – familiar to ecologists, but less so to the rest of us. Resilience refers to the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside. This book, The Transition Handbook, argues that in our current (and long overdue) efforts to drastically cut carbon emissions, we must also give equal importance to the building, or more accurately to the rebuilding, of resilience. Indeed, I will argue that cutting emissions without resilience-building is ultimately futile. But what does resilience actually look like?

In 1990 I visited the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, which until the opening of the Karakorum Highway in 1978 had been almost completely cut off from the outside world. When I visited I knew nothing about permaculture, of the concept of resilience, or even a great deal about food, farming or the environment, but I knew when I arrived that this was an extraordinary place.

I found a quote in a book which I read as I travelled up towards Hunza (I no longer remember the title): “If on Earth there is a garden of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this.” They were words that replayed in my head many times over my two weeks in Hunza. Here was a society which lived within its limits and had evolved a dazzlingly sophisticated yet simple way of doing so. All the waste, including human waste, was carefully composted and returned to the land. The terraces which had been built into the mountainsides over centuries were irrigated through a network of channels that brought mineral-rich water from the glacier above down to the fields with astonishing precision.

Apricot trees were everywhere, as well as cherry, apple, almond and other fruit and nut trees. Around and beneath the trees grew potatoes, barley, wheat and other vegetables. The fields were orderly but not regimented. Plants grew in small blocks, rather than in huge monocultures. Being on the side of a mountain, I invariably had to walk up and down hills a great deal, and soon began to feel some of the fitness for which the people of Hunza are famed. The paths were lined with dry stone walls, and were designed for people and animals, not for cars.

People always seemed to have time to stop and talk to each other and spend time with the children who ran barefoot and dusty through the fields. Apricots were harvested and spread out to dry on the rooftops of the houses, a dazzling sight in the bright mountain sun. Buildings were built from locally-made mud bricks, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And there was always the majestic splendour of the mountains towering above. Hunza is quite simply the most beautiful, tranquil, happy and abundant place I have ever visited, before or since.

(Read or edit the complete introduction…)

This is not a book about how dreadful the future could be; rather it is an invitation to join the increasingly whole people in hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future a reality.
Rob Hopkins

Dartington, 2008

This extract and all Transition Handbook pages are released under GFDL and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. By contributing to these pages you agree to release you work under these terms.

Be a Global Swadeshi

Apricots on the Factor E Farm: food is key to self-sufficiencySwadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline because one world is plenty, is a network of globally minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily an the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges, and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto

Be a Global Swadeshi

Apricots on the Factor E Farm: food is key to self-sufficiencySwadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline because one world is plenty, is a network of globally minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily an the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges, and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto

Quieter wind turbines?

The Swift wind turbine developed by the Scottish company Renewable Devices was designed for quiet roof-top performance. Credit: Cascade Engineering. Green energy, like other kinds of energy, has external impacts. One is annoying your neighbors, and yourself, with a noisy wind turbine.

Before wind turbines on every house can make a serious contribution to our energy needs, we need not only an affordable design, but a quiet one. This quiet wind turbine has a ring to reduce vibration, and keeps the noise under 35dB. According to Wikipedia, 35dB is the threshold for “general annoyance”, so this should probably be seen as a step in the right direction, rather than The Answer.

Unfortunately it’s not the most affordable green change you can make to your house either – at $10,000 for a system that might reduce your bill by up to 30%, it needs to come down drastically before it becomes an attractive option.

Who will take these developments the extra steps needed, to create efficient, really quiet, cost-effective windmills?