Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the Our Society front lately. This post is about #twicket, which is one of the reasons I haven't been here much lately.
I am not going to tell the full story of #twicket, as I have documented it all, in quite some detail here http://wp.me/ppLRZ-dH. If you don't know what #twicket is, then the rest of this post may not make much sense to you, so I suggest you read that post first, or listen to my interview about it on Radio New Zealand http://wp.me/ppLRZ-fc.
I want to talk about what #twicket has taught me about community and social capital.
The first point is about serendipity. I put together two random tweets and built something which became a lot bigger than I had ever envisaged. I think this illustrates how the internet is increasingly being used help people find common cause with others, from those seeking social change in North Africa, to those wanting to discuss the intricacies of 1970's prog rock lyrics. And, in defiance of the tabloid newspaper headlines, I believe we are finding new ways of using online interactions to reinforce, enhance and develop face-to-face relationships, rather than replacing them. I think Our Society is a good illustration of this factor, keeping the conversations going in between face-to-face events. From those random beginnings, #twicket quickly built a community of people interested in pushing back the boundaries of the web, rural broadband, content creation, and cricket. And this proved to be a much bigger community than I had ever imagined. Not all of them were equally interested in each of the elements, but there were enough people interested in their intersection, and interested to different degrees in bits of the package, to make the whole thing a major success. And then there were people who said to me "I hate cricket, but I'm going to be watching this match".
A key element in the success of #twicket was that it was built around a fun activity. I hope those people who have been championing the cause of rural broadband for years do not mind too much that #twicket seemed to generate more interest in 15 days than much of their campaigning has done in years; but, I think the point is that putting the cricket match up front made people turn their heads in my direction and I then had a platform from which to make some serious points about countryside connectivity, which I was able to do on the regional BBC TV News, Radio Lancashire, the Guardian Technology Blog, the Metro Newspaper, and Radio New Zealand. It was a bit frustrating that TalkSport and BBC London both chose to focus exclusively on the cricket match and to interview players involved, which was great for them, but wasted the opportunity to make some of the main points to other audiences.
And so to my final point, about social capital. I've been grappling with this one since the whole thing started, but I was blown away by the people who were prepared to chip in and offer time and resources to help make the project happen. I suppose you could call this cashing in social capital. I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped, whether they were in Wray on the day making the event happen technically, or writing Wikipedia entries, or just re-tweeting the latest news as events unfolded. I hope all those who helped got as much of a buzz out of it as I did, and I sincerely hope that those who donated time and resources to the cause get a positive business outcome from it. Some of the people who helped out in big ways I had never met before #twicket began, so I think that does show that Twitter friendships can become real friendships and that social media can generate social capital as much as helping people in "real life".
I think there are important lessons here for Our Society, Big Society, Community Organising, and Localism. We must mix online and offline interactions and activism if we are to include everyone. Online work can fill in the gaps between real life actions, maintain the conversation and embrace those not able, because of time or access issues, to take part in physical interactions. And we should not dismiss online relationships as ephemeral as they can be just as important, if perhaps in different ways, to the friendships we experience in the offline world.
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