(Via Designing for Civil Society). iSociety was exploring the idea of using social software in local contexts, specifically in a local residential area (a set of skyscrapers). They see the potential of social software in its ability to
- facilitate better face-to-face [communication] : create introductions between people who recognise their shared interests and want to meet
- circumvent face-to-face [communication] : enable weak norms of cooperation between people who don’t want to meet, or can’t, but still have shared interests (which they may not even be aware of)
I would call this last case « loosely coupled communication » in the same way the blogosphere enables distributed conversation.
They identified three fields of use for local social software :
- infrastructure : transforming your local facility manager into a blogger so that residents get involved in managing shared facilities (elevators, shared areas, …)
- tasks : facilitating the scheduling of activities such as sport, local trade or childcare with an online reputation system and group forming features
- culture: for people interested in linkage with neighbours for it’s own sake
They think the higher potential is in the « task » field because
studies show that activities such as these which require cooperation have a better impact on social capital than projects such as community centres, which promote cooperation.
In other words, as they say :
Social capital is best pursued obliquely
Their conclusion that local residential areas may not need generic social software but task-oriented social software.
This reminds me of a community project I ran when I was younger : the volunteer team I was part of wanted to socialize with some youngsters who lived in nearby slums because we were curious about how it was to live in such poor districts. The best way we found to get into this distant social context was to first identify a very concrete project that would require us to meet these other teenagers. We heard a local association in such a slum was training volunteers in improvised acting. My team was poor on acting but we were strong in video technical skills. So we had in hand a reason to go to this association and ask for help to complete our task/project : making a short video fiction with other young volunteers. We made this short movie together (it took one year of work during our week-ends) and it was a lot of fun ! Moreover, this project was a success in building local social capital because it was task-oriented and its success required strong cooperation.