This world is crap, can I go live in the net?

Just finished reading a column by Andrew Walmsley of i-level in which he holds forth on the ‘social revolution’ brought about by online communities. If you are looking for a laugh, this is the article for you. It made me laugh, but it was also diasppointing.

On the basis of stardoll.com (a site where little girls can potter away a few hours making up celebrity wardrobes) and some sweeping statements about Facebook, Walmsley spouts forth a sort of marketing-cum-psuedo-sociological utopian hyperbole that would be more appropriate in the late-Nineties when all this stuff first hit our consciousness.

Walmsley has a narrow understanding of the meaning and manifestation of ‘community’, illustrated by statements like ‘hundreds of millions of people across the globe participate in real communities online… more real and relevant to them than their local ones’. Come on! This suggests that we all lived in a sort of primitive, mundane hunter-gatherer world fluctuating between states of boredom and fear of ‘them next door’ until Mark Zuckerberg came ridin’ in.

While I am ultra-enthusiastic about the available opportunities and range of online communities, articles like this only serve to confound people and do nothing to develop the form or function of online communities beyond their commoditisation.

This was a missed opportunity to say something much more interesting and valuable. Let’s discuss ways in which online communities can – and already are – reconnecting or adding value to location-based communities (in addition to sustaining interest-based and asynchronous communities). Yes, don’t worry there’ll be an opportunity to make a quick buck along the way if you want, but the social capital is what what we should focus on first-and-foremost.

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2 thoughts on “This world is crap, can I go live in the net?

  1. Hi Ross

    First don’t dismiss sites like Stardoll. Eight million “little girls” love this site, and it’s really important to them. It really does open up a world of friendships to them.

    Second, the hypothesis isn’t based simply on Stardoll and Facebook – there are hundreds of sites like this through which millions of people across the world reach out to each other – but with just 650 words to play with, a list wouldn’t really add much interest to the piece.

    I don’t think that observing that for many people these online communities are more real and relevant for them than local communities is a particularly controversial statement. It’s not a narrow understanding either – what it says (note the word ‘often’) is that online community has added a new layer to people’s capacity to socialise.

    It is true that for many this is more relevant to their lives than local community. But it doesn’t mean that local community doesn’t exist – just that for some this is more important.

    That’s a pretty important thing. It reflects the widespread impact of the internet on the centrality of geography in our lives, and it’s an important thing for marketers to think about. I don’t think anyone will be confounded by the thought (as you do), but it is pretty patronising to consider that Marketing readers would be.

    You say this was a missed opportunity to talk about local community, and you say this would be more interesting and valuable.

    I’d say that’d be interesting too (neither more nor less), but perhaps it would be a different article.

    Best wishes
    Andrew Walmsley

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