Howard Dean, Social Capital, and the Internet: Global Organizing of Local Activity

For years now, I’ve been monitoring social capital building efforts on the Internet. I think I’ve now accumulated enough examples to articulate an important category of social capital building opportunities on the Internet: non-local sites that help organize local activities.

General architecture:

  1. there’s some interest-based (not geographic) draw that brings lots of people to a web site.
  2. people type in their zip codes, and get matched to local activities (on-line or especially off-line) where they connect with other people geographically near them.

Examples:

  1. upmystreet.com conversations in England (conversation system where you see messages from people geographically near you)
  2. geocaching.com GPS-based “treasure hunt” game (though interaction may be limited to hiding and finding treasures)
  3. Net Day (use map to pick a school; get connected to others who picked the same school to wire).
  4. bettertogether.org (though we never quite figured out how to get people involved, and then connected to each other, after they were matched to stories in their geography)
  5. Now the Dean for President campaign. There’s a buzz now that’s driving people to their site. But it’s interesting what happens when you get there. Instead of just signing up and waiting for the campaign to contact you, you can create a local event, and others can then sign up for them. In both Michigan and Pennsylvania, I found a fair bit of activity that was at the pre-organizational stage. My wife Caroline went to the site intending just to make a financial contribution and ended up signing up to go to a house party.
    In other words, Dean supporters are using the Internet to find each other and then create local organizations on their own.
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About Paul Resnick

Professor, University of Michigan School of Information Personal home page
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