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.