I’m thinking and writing a lot about community groups and the Internet these days as I work on Webguide 2.0. I wrote the article below for CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui in July 2007.
The ‘social’ Internet is all about community. More people are more connected more frequently than ever before, in what some are calling ‘ambient intimacy’.
When Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web in 1991 its purpose was to store and connect documents, to create ‘a common information space’. (See The World Wide Web: A very short personal history.)
And for the last 15 years or so the Web (version 1) has connected information very successfully. New Zealand community groups have seen its value, and a significant number of groups now have a website providing information.
But recently communication technologies have exploded out into a new direction. The web (and cellphones) are no longer just about connecting documents. Instead the Web (version 2) is all about connecting people: creating community.
The speed, brevity and variety of communication have accelerated, while the cost has plummeted. A couple of decades ago you could make an expensive phone call overseas, or send a ‘wire’, or a cheaper but much slower letter. That about covered your options.
In 2007 you can use a cellphone to call or text or send a photo to a person anywhere in the world. You can use a computer to make a phonecall, free of calling charges, send an email, an Instant Message, make a video conference call. It costs just a few cents connection fee. And it’s instant.
Faster, briefer, more casual
Emails are briefer and more relaxed than letters. Text messaging is briefer than emails. Tweets — using the Twitter service, through web, Instant Messaging, SMS messaging, RSS feeds, or special software, and using a desktop or laptop or handheld computer, or a cellphone — are briefer still, more immediate and even more casual.
With the release of the iPhone, computers are becoming phones and cameras, while phones are turning into computers and cameras and voice recorders. Modern smartphones can surf the web, show YouTube videos, send emails (with attachments), take photos, send txt and pxt messages, store voicemail, carry a calendar and address book, remind you of meetings, find nearby restaurants and even provide a map with driving directions.
Web 2.0 is community
People are using the Internet, texting, and phonecalls to share. They share themselves and their lives: their thoughts and opinions through blogs; their knowledge through Wikipedia; their videos of what the child or the dog did that was cute; their home-made documentaries; their songs and favourite music; their web bookmarks; their photos; their restaurant reviews; the fact that they’re marching to Parliament, or they have to wash their hair, or that they just used their radio telescope to bounce poems off the moon.
“Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” — Leisa Reichelt (www.disambiguity.com/ambient-intimacy)
A challenge for community groups
The challenge for community groups is to keep up. To communicate with an audience you need to find out where that audience are. If the people you want to reach are using SMS and not email then there’s no point emailing them. If your audience are flocking to the Second Life virtual world, or the Facebook networking site then just offering a web page with some files to download is a waste of time.