Local social capital heading online?

'These days the buzz is all about flipping online interactions into real-world meetings'

Ever since the Internet entered the social consciousness there have been countless attempts to create online communities. The Well, for instance was an early San Francisco-based community started in 1985 which even inspired a few 'cyber universe' novels.

But these days the buzz is all about flipping online interactions into real-world meetings. Thus Meetup.com, Upcoming.com promote "meat space" (as the geeks call it) networking.

But attempts at taking the idea into the true mainstream of society, and particularly around the idea of your local neighbourhood, have had mixed results. The BBC Action Network, has (last time I looked) yet to ignite the political consciousness of the suburbs. UpMyStreet.com started well but is now more about checking your neighbours' house prices.

A recent addition to the pantheon of 'local' sites is MyNeighbourhoods.co.uk (nominated for an NMA award ) which allows you to lookup local information based on your postcode and contact local community members (so long as they too have signed up).

It's yet another valiant attempt to re-ignite the social capital we once had locally - and I mean pre-industrially - now that social mobility and the atomisation of the family means many of us rarely live in the same place for very long.

But there is a continuing problem with these ideas. Namely the existence of vertical niche online communities where people interact around one topic and then later on work out they are living closer to eachother.

At one end of the spectrum are sites like Mylocalbands.com, a US site which allows fans of a genre of pop music to find eachother on a Google map. Useful for all those sullen Emo fans stuck in Ohio who can't find eachother. In the UK we even now have a site for people who like taking pictures of their pet dog, Doggysnaps.com.

Socially networking with your neighbours online about a common interest - from music, to dogs, to whatever - seems closer to where all this is heading, as opposed to networking just because you happen to live near someone...