Last night I presented at the Facebook Developer Garage London.
It was a fun event where I learnt, amongst other things, that the Farmville game on Facebook has nearly 60 million users a month.
I was making an argument, based on the work we have done in New Cross Gate, that many of the problems which governments try to solve can be best understood as network problems. We can think of high levels of spatially concentrated unemployment, feelings of powerlessness and even low mental well being as network problems.
Going further we can argue that these problems are best solved using the logic of social networks. Rather than focusing on dealing with individuals or groups we could focus on building or diversifying connections.
This points to the power of social media and hence my presence at a Facebook Developers Garage.
Social media has a unique role in building more empowered, resilient communities
•Researchers in the US find internet users tend to have more bridging social capital than non-users
•17% of British users say they communicate with strangers and 35% with friends of friends via social networking sites.
•The various mySociety projects, such as Pledgebank and Fixmystreet, employ the interactive, networked capabilities of the internet to help people coordinate their political and local concerns, and feed them into the democratic process
•The internet allows campaigns to ‘scale’ quickly, in the sense that small groups can swiftly turn into large-scale networks and campaigns, with no extra cost
•There is a growing number of online projects that seek to circulate specifically local information and put residents in touch with each other. Harringay Online is an exemplary site, featuring discussion forums, a blogging platform, a user search and event announcements.
I could add more but this certainly suggests to me that social media has a unique role in building more empowered, resilient communities.
I am not making the argument, which Gladwell recently dismissed, that social media will lead to more or more effective activism. Rather, I am suggesting that if a group or agency is seeking to invest in and build connections in a given area that social media is an invaluable tool.
One of the most moving findings in our work from New Cross Gate concerns people who are extremely isolated. One 75 year old man told our researcher “all I do is watch TV all day”. Perhaps, for him, social television, which allows viewers to discuss what they are watching with others, would be a better way of breaking down this isolation than coffee mornings.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.