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Where am I? (Part 2)

September 14, 2010

So much (in Part 1) for how a few weeks’ thinking has taught me to concentrate on action, for fear of being swept away by the great Big Society debate. But what has the same period of time taught me about what to actually do? See my ‘kick-off’ post if you’re wondering “do about what?” at this stage.

The main thing is that I have had to reverse a prejudice.

I knew that I had to have a boiled-down, realistic story about how and why I wanted my neighbours (i.e. everyone in a circle of area 1 square mile around my home) to consider becoming better connected with each other and what sorts of things, thereafter, they might want to do together. I had to have a version of this that dispelled the notion that I was just some kind of nutcase – however harmless.  I’ve pretty much done that – and the rendering down and trying out on people has been worthwhile and important. I’ll post the final version in the next day or so.

But my prejudice was that, at the next step, I should avoid putting a social media project centre stage. I kept talking about how it was important for me to relegate social media to the status of a valuable tool, or a way of making things quicker and easier… maybe using the growing familiarity of social networking as a way to make people feel less reticent about the awkward business of becoming more neighbourly.

But I was wrong! At the point where people say “Yes – I buy that. Now what?”, unless you want to organise big ungainly face-to-face meet-ups by phoning a load of people, or by collecting and using their e-mail adresses – you have to have somewhere for them to go… somewhere for them to hang out for a while whilst enough other people catch up, somewhere for them to say hello to each other, remind themselves of what it was you’d got them to buy in to, and somewhere they could use to consider and suggest options for action. The last one is quite important. Even if you could convene enough effective church-hall meetings you would have to accept that bringing such events to order would probably require that you take a degree of control, narrow the agenda, hold people’s concentration for a fixed space of time in the real world. [All, of course, skills and preferences that make for a traditional politician but not for a facilitator or match-maker.]

So, having intentionally suppressed my reflex for wanting to jump straight to an online space of some kind, I ended up concluding that this was what I needed pretty much first… or at least once I had <reverb> The Proposition </reverb>

Yes.. I know, I know… “DOH!”. But it’s all a bit circular. It’s my collectivism gene that made me susceptible to social media in the first place, so then over a period of years I got to see all kinds of positive examples and see all kinds of possibilities that I now take for granted. OK, the worst that happened is that I have discovered again from first principles, all over again, that it really is this 2.0 stuff that has made it possible to contemplate new ways of looking at civil society; and that these possibilities get stronger with every day that more people go online, more people start to use social tools, and more people go web-native and start to feel at home with all sorts of behaviours and new relationships to other web users.

Right now, then, I need a platform. Along the way I’ve discovered wonderful people and networks in recent months such as Networked Neighbourhoods, Gloucester Likal and Talk About Local, who you can now see in my list of Tools over on the right there. I’m also going along to a couple of events in the next two weeks which seem to have been created just to help me out. But it’s still worth my articulating the decision and the requirements.

The basic decision is blog vs forum vs network/community [… vs something I never even thought of]. There’s maybe a second decision around totally templated out of the box, vs needs-a-bit-of-configuring out of the box, vs something a bit more custom… and the corresponding options for hosting. But, believe me, whatever it is it’s going to have to be about as ready, and easy to roll, as a wordpress.com blog like this one.

The requirements?

  • An online place where people can show up as a result of having said ‘yes’ to my generic neighbourliness proposition
  • Somewhere that they can show up with the minimum necessary barriers to access.
  • Somewhere that the other people who have said ‘yes’ can immediately be visible to each other. Not necessarily with all kinds of profiling – but at least recognisable as real people, and countable, to make it clear that we are many. [Well, many-ish]
  • Something that looks clean and professional – intuitive. Neither overly official nor something that looks like a portal to the afterworld of My Little Pony [You all know what I mean!]
  • Something that reminds people what it was they said ‘yes’ to – ideally including a clear, but not necessarily dynamic, map of the neighbourhood.
  • Somewhere to record and discuss ‘possibilities’ – i.e. things to make and do… that I may have discovered or suggested, or that they may now want to propose, or that third party organisations would like a response to.
  • A means of acting as a source of information – some static (history, geography, services, organisations) and some dynamic (events, news…)

I reckon that would be enough to get started. I’m not too worried about future-proofing it for all sorts of other options such as sharing via multi-media uploads, or a range of self-sorting groups, personal blogs and peer-to-peer private dialogues. But maybe I should be? At present I look at this question and think that if, in a year’s time, there’s a viable group of people, regularly engaged and active, complaining that we’re going to have to port a whole load of content and data onto a new platform so that they can do all sorts of new and complex things, then I can die a happy man.

One other point to make is that I am happy, in choosing a type of platform and thus shapingthe type of interaction that takes place there, to do something that’s a little bit ‘me centric’. Why? Because that gets me off the whole circular square mile hook. This is me doing something, in response to the challenge of the Square Mile, to foster something within my operating range – my me-bourhood. So I don’t have to worry too much about place names and boundaries. It’s much easier to be the self-appointed kick starter of my square mile online, than it is to be the self-appointed convenor of Wilmington or Dartford or wherever.

That’s all just me thinking out loud I suppose; and creating a bit of a waypoint. There’s lots for me to read, and lots of existing examples to look at and play spot-the-platform. But some collaborative filtering wouldn’t go amiss.

Professionally I’ve been here many times before of course. But I’ve always had a development budget of >£0. And this just feels different!

Answers on an electric postcard please.

[Note to self – really must start doing some images and more interesting formatting. These things are starting to look a bit dull]

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 8:45 pm

    Great exploration – thanks Nick. Real.
    If this is Your Square Mile, and others will have their own … then is it just a blog, and encourage others to have their blogs too? Then look at how to aggregate
    To experiment, you could try WordPress-based Amplify.com which allows you to micro-blog, clip and comment, cross-post, and create group as well as personal spaces – e.g. http://bigsociety.amplify.com/ (not much to show)

    • njbdartford permalink*
      September 14, 2010 8:55 pm

      Thanks David. You mentioned Amplify before and (now that my project has got a bit clearer) I can see how it might fit. Timely reminder. Watch this space… and that one over there… ;0)

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