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.