How can all of the excitement of sharing things on the Internet happen at the most local level?
How might online social media bridge communities and network local life in a collective way, much like an allotment site rather than a landscape of fenced private gardens?
Yes, there are community websites and local forums. Yes, applications like NetVibes. Yes, groups on Facebook. Yes, opportunities for networking via Ning. And yes, lots of brilliant initiatives around the world that encourage digital activism, storytelling and new content creation.
But is there a process that can be rolled out over time locally that encompasses all of these things, brings them together, networks activity, pools interest, shares knowledge and could become a platform for collaborative local change in the future?
These are some of the questions behind a digital design workshop that will take place in Butetown, Cardiff, in the Old Banking Hall, Bute Street, July 24th 2009 (1000 - 1800hrs).
The workshop will pool the knowledge of people actively working on the development and application of social technology for social benefit.
It will be a practical session that maps existing online networks, matches them against offline communities and then comes up with a practical plan to implement what might be called - for a slightly hippy phrase - online community weaving. (with respect to June Holley and Network Weaving for inspiration).
The event is being organised by Tom Beardshaw of Native Media, Jeremy Gould of Whitehall Webby and me. It follows research in to local internet use, analysed by Kelly Page of Cardiff Business School; and will be a backroom brainstorm in advance of an event in the Autumn which will invite local internet users to work with social media geeks to co-design a forward plan.
Butetown in Cardiff is home to 14,000 people and over forty-six different nationalities. It may be cash poor - but it is culturally super-rich.
There are many dynamic members of the community working together on renewal of the area and people keen to explore online media as a way of sharing information, experience and supporting local initiative.
This is all great.
But the fragmentation of online social networking mirrors the fragmentation of real life - between new and old communities, diverse ethnic groups, communities of interest and different issues of concern.
If you believe in the power of communication and see the online space as a place that could be socially useful and productive, there's a job to be done to try and find a way to gather online activity effectively.
And if you believe that a key to the future of public management is online public involvement, the digital space in a place like Butetown needs to be supported in such a way as to be ready and able to contribute to the social and economic planning of the area.
Please join our Google Group. Tell us there if you are interested in contributing to the event on 24th July. And look out for the hash-tag #digitalbutetown.
Digital Butetown is a British Council Wales project and part of a larger, pan-European initiative called OPENCities. And it is supported by igloo Regeneration, an investment fund managed by Aviva and described by the United Nations as "the world's first socially responsible property fund".
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