Local Social Networking

An interesting piece in the NYT, Gaia Pianigiani reports on “Italian Neighbors Build a Social Network, First Online, Then Off”.

People in Bologna set up a closed Facebook group to serve only people who live on their street. This social network quickly moved offline, and led to the original “analog” kind of social network: neighbors who know each other and take care for each other.

The idea is apparently spreading, within Italy, Europe, South America, New Zeeland. (I don’t see any in the US on their map.) Pianigiani reports testimony that the residents greet each other, trust each other, feel like they belong, and “life is much more tranquil and happy.”

Yes, please, can we have more of that!

OK, this is Bologna, Italy, and I can’t be surprised if Italians show the world how to use technology to live well.

The NYT and other commenters call attention to the way Facebook helps boot up and support these small communities. From the descriptions, Facebook is used to recruit (using profile information to identify neighbors), and for messaging. The latter include invitations and very local problem solving. Facebook gives a simple and full featured way to keep this messaging inside the group.

Much more than half the work is done “analog”: talking to people along the street, visiting in person, and helping each other in person. Facebook is probably helpful for scheduling events and asking for help, and, I suppose, for chatting on line.

It is interesting to me that Facebook qua Facebook is way overkill for this use. You do not need the ability to connect anywhere on the Internet, quite the opposite. The social network will never scale up to gigantic numbers. Note, too, that you don’t need your mobile device tracking your location to establish this highly desirable localized network. And you certainly don’t need adverts and all that dreck.

It is easy to imagine building a social platform that specifically supports this kind of networking, but it is obvious that using Facebook makes sense: it is more than good enough for the task, even if you don’t need everything.

The other thing that is interesting, of course, is how these groups reveal the difference between digital social networks and offline, “analog” social interactions. It is abundantly clear that the Facebook group alone would have very little value to the folks in the neighborhood. What people like, and what pays the benefits, is the face to face interactions. Sure, it is nice to flash a message to your neighbors when your sink is clogged, but the responses mean very little unless you know and trust the people.

Furthermore, this is a case where we aren’t worried too much about the social media experience being shallow, narcissistic, and lacking empathy. Since the digital social network is coexistent with a real world social network, the shallow screen experience isn’t hazardous to mental or social health. This is the way we want it to be, no?

It seems to me that this is very much the same thing as a Home Coworking Space, which is also community centered and face to face—and uses Facebook and other media to recruit and sustain the group.

This is really cool, and, of course, people have been doing this kind of thing forever without Facebook. But perhaps Facebook is a useful “plus”, making things easier and communications more reliable. If so: Killer. App.

4 thoughts on “Local Social Networking”

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