These sites are brilliant.
Because whatever their commercial imperative and however cynical their wiring, these places are personal, bright and fun - and they network people and their passions smartly.
I've picked up on the value of all of this in an article in this month's edition of design magazine Volume.
With a nod in the direction of the epic, the edition is subtitled Architecture of Hope.
In the magazine, I'm not confessing to a fetish for liquid leggings or multi-colored Heelys shoes - you'll be pleased to know - but sharing some first ideas on ways to capture and link the energy, commitment, enthusiasm and speed we invest in online social media to cities, their development and expression.
Why bother? Because if you take a look around, you'll see cities full of extraordinary human diversity and energy turned in to identikit latte landscapes that are planned monotone or badged inert.
I've designed and am now starting to run two online social media initiatives in Russia (Moscow) and Wales (Cardiff) that try to link and apply the energy and brightness of one to the other.
In Volume, I've set out the project in Wales, a nine-stage Road to Damascus in which
a multicultural community is not bounded by walls and windows.
It's a project that tries to engineer a process that allows for
improved flows and exchanges of experiences between people and existing groups and seeks to establish a platform for growth by supporting distributed activity and innovation.
Here are some sketch steps in the project plan:
- research current use of online networks by local people on the net and mobile telephones
- identify sources of local knowledge on different aspects of the area's way of life, such as its environment, sports or shopping
- provide these people with training in writing and editing blogs and wikis
- create a homepage for the area that takes feeds from diverse digital content sources, such as personal blogs, photo blogs and micro-blogs
- encourage knowledge sources to upload and share what they know online
- share this web space with others and allow them to add to or edit its resources
- over time, re-position the site as a space to prioritize local issues and collaboratively action plan
- offer local government the services of this platform and its community to create strategies for the future public management of the area
Arjen Oosterman writes in his introduction to Volume 19 that:
The inclination to see the current crisis as merely passing and the tendency to say "take cover, then we can get on with it" is great. Yet every day makes is less likely that this will be sufficient.
Arjen suggests that one answer is to advance contemporary practices of communication development.
Advancing communication development in cities is a precondition to enabling a new architecture of hope.