Can websites build a local community?

My street doesn't have a central meeting place where people bump into each other. In the old days you would have the well or the pump where people had to go for water - you'd bump into other people there and have a chat and a gossip. More recently there was the corner shop which was a place people popped in on an almost daily basis. I grew up in a corner shop and I remember it as a warm welcoming place where people went to buy stuff but also just to chat, customers would even come in for a good old natter and then leave not being able to remember what they wanted to buy! It was also the local source of news and information, a very localised local paper. We had a bunch of postcards in the front window advertising local tradesmen or babysitters, things for sale or swap. 10p per card per week. We'd put up posters for local events, coffe mornings, concerts by the local choir, that kind of thing. Tesco is great for shopping, but it will never be able to offer that sense of local community - it's just too big. For any group, there seems to be an optimum size which corresponds roughly to a big tribe or a small village - a group where you can roughly speaking, know everybody's name. Companies tend to be around this size, 80 to 250 people, anything bigger requires another layer of management which detracts from the feeling of family and belonging. I would like to see small scale internet based communities serving about this number of people. Maybe the size of a street, or a couple of streets, or around a local landmark. Anything bigger than this tends to be too impersonal to matter and you have to really shout to be heard, comments on BBC news stories rof example often go into hundreds of posts which nobody (surely) can be bothered to read. So what would be on our local community site? We could have local news, missing pets, things for sale, a chest of drawers that you couldn't sell on ebay might be ideal for somebody 5 doors down who would otherwise never know about it. There could be a forum and chat rooms for discussions and gossip. Get to know you neighbours online and I'm sure it would lead to more communication in the real world. I'm a member of a couple of online communities based around particular interests and they both have regular real world events. Interestingly enough they are both quite small with memberships of around the 250 mark, which means enough people to articipate but not so many as to create a din. Doing a quick search for internet communities I've found some geographically based communities, but they are all based on advertising revenues and so need to appeal to a larger target audience, a community of 20,000 people is just a load of strangers, a community set up just for the people on your street is a different proposition altogether! But, unfortunately, small scale sites like these would probably not be commercially viable - which is where the government needs to step in and provide funding. David Cameron says he wants to fix Britain, maybe this is one of the glues he could use to stick us all back together again.


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