So how do we build some real community?


It seems that our compulsive fixation on Social Software is rooted in a real lack of community in Real Life… Greg Hirsch

There is a lot of truth in this. New social media like Twitter and Facebook can connect us with people around the world – yet it can mean spending our time in front of the computer rather than connecting with people face to face.

But what makes this so compelling? Part of it is the addictive nature of constant updates we get online – a bit like the orienting response to television. But more positively, I suspect that many of us feel a real connection to people online, and our regular suburban or urban lives are not all that connected.

On the other hand, we can use social software to connect in the real world. We can find like-minded people locally, as well as on the other side of the planet, that we would never have connected with in the past. I see this improving as the semantic web grows – it should be much easier to mark our profiles with our location, and preferentially connect with people within  certain radius. Websites like Sydney Talks, are a great indicator of the potential of this – but the real power of such features is yet to be seen, I’m sure.

We can also find fulfillment and connection online outside the sometimes inane chatterings of social media – for myself and quite a number of people I know, that’s helping building a resource that makes a real difference in the world, such as Wikipedia or Appropedia. Though, seeing how people are using services such as microblogging ( or Twitter), I think wikis could potentially benefit from better integrating social features. (It’s already possible to allow you MediaWiki site to display your Twitter feed, for example, and that’s enabled on Appropedia – but there is much more to do to make this smoother. We have a few ideas, but need coders interested in working with us on this.)

And for all that MediaWiki is not designed for social networking, some of the coolest people I know, I’ve met in person through wikis: Wikipedia, Appropedia and other wikis. Lonny, the founder of Appropedia, actually first contacted me and invited me to check out Appropedia by leaving a note on my Wikipedia talk page.

We can use our new, like-minded online friendships to do something in the real world. For that to be most effective, I suspect it’s best to connect with those who are already doing something. For that reason I like Global Swadeshi as a social network – between them, these people are doing a lot of cool stuff. Some of us are talking about setting up an Appropriate technology village, somewhere such as the South of India, so we can do more work face-to-face.

My aim here is to start a conversation. There is much, much more to write about community in this era, about the creative real-world ways of acting for community, such as co-housing and other forms of intentional community. I also know this post could do with some editing. But excuse me if I post these initial thoughts in this rough form – I need to get away from the computer and meet people.

Be a Global Swadeshi


Apricots on the Factor E Farm: food is key to self-sufficiencySwadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline because one world is plenty, is a network of globally minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily an the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges, and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto

Open Sustainability Network – building on what’s here


In early discussions within the Open Sustainability Network, it was agreed that we didn’t want Yet Another Website. So we use existing resources: We didn’t set up a separate wiki, instead using Appropedia.* We didn’t set up a new social network, instead using an existing, like-minded community of people doing serious sustainability and knowledge-sharing work: Global Swadeshi. When someone suggested that OSN should be building a knowledge base, Lonny Grafman expressed that this is a job some of us are passionate about (indeed, that’s what Appropedia is doing) – but it’s not the role of OSN. OSN is for supporting and connecting these initiatives.

I like this approach – we exist to connect, and this new community is avoiding fragmentation and building on existing initiatives in very practical ways.

There is much more to report on OSNCamp last weekend – the first meeting of the Open Sustainability Network. Stay tuned.

*Appropedia is not the only wiki in the network, but it’s active one, a number of the organizers were Appropedians, and no one objected. (I was the one who suggested a separate wiki, but happily went with the flow when no one agreed.) In that spirit, when Vinay Gupta suggested an OSN social network, I objected and suggest we use the one he started: Global Swadeshi.

(Pardon the recent silence on this blog. There’s a backlog of inspiration in the Appropedia community, and we’ll be sharing it here again very soon…)