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...

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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.