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The Internet of Communities is your grandfather's business

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

Internet of Communities blog series part 3 of 8 (part 1)

In my last blog post, I discussed the idea of an Internet of Communities, that would serve the needs of human communities and society at large rather than of corporations or criminals. What might the Internet of Communities look like?

Let's start by asking a simple question - where, on the Internet, is a town in the real world? If I type into Google the name of my local town, what comes up is a Twitter feed, a Wikipedia page, a Google map, the town council website, and a few articles from local and national press aimed at tourists. These are all different, and with the debatable exception of the town council website, none are owned and managed by residents. More importantly, the map is not the territory. None of them describe what is really going on in the town.

One could use some of the links to make inferences about the activities and wellness of local residents, but none of them show current information directly - how local people are dealing with a range of social issues, the extremes in the area, and whether variations are correlated with location, employment type, demographics, or anything else. To set this human information into context, one also needs to know about local community assets (natural, human, and industrial), what support there is for making use of them, to what extent people are doing so, and how effective people are finding them.

It should then be possible to look a little deeper, and see what gaps and overlaps exist in support for community needs - including, critically, where there are investment opportunities that will pay dividends over time. My forthcoming book Supercommunities shows how communities can work towards becoming antifragile by taking ownership of their local assets and investing in them for the good of local people and the local environment. You can't do this unless you know where to direct resources, and and you have a means of doing so.

Some of this information could be produced through combining data harvested and analysed by Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. However, this may not be the direction we want to go as a society, since the interests of commercial entities cannot be the same as the interests of their data subjects. So, over the last few years, I have been working on open Web apps that allow individuals to provide, in a self-determined way, much of what will be needed in an Internet of Communities. One app empowers communities to Observe (cf the discussion of Boyd’s OODA loop in the first post of this series) by managing community assets to support local wellness (where you can make a wellness plan and form a personal support network to help you carry it out). The other app empowers communities to Act by selling stakes in small-scale projects (where you can help fund improvements to community assets, track their social benefits, and be rewarded with your money back plus a bit extra when a target is met). Now, looking at these apps in the light of the full Supercommunities vision, I wonder if they are in fact elements of a wider and deeper technology architecture - what this blog series calls the Internet of Communities.

Empowering individuals on the internet is far from a new idea. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, has been promoting since the 1990s the need to transition from sharing raw data to sharing online objects with meaning, and now has a startup providing personal data stores over which individuals retain control. There are many other startups with a similar aim, typically basing their products on some form of blockchain technology. However, it is hard to see any of these products becoming disruptive at an architectural level, since they are aimed at individuals and organisations concerned about privacy. We need to think more about socio-economics and socio-politics, and aim the Internet of Communities at groups within society that have ambitions beyond self-defence. We must build the Internet of Communities for communities, which aim not merely to stay intact and survive but to become supercommunities and thrive.

The Internet of Communities will take the top slot in Google search for your home town, with a new form of digital twin that aims not to market products to residents but to help residents build their own market. Like a street market of old, with which a community-owned digital twin may well be associated, the online market of the Internet of Communities is populated, owned, and managed by local people, with local interests at heart. It is a social business, full of other social businesses with local character, and its interactions are between people and organisations that know and respect each other across cultural, linguistic, and generational divides.

The Internet of Communities might not be your grandfather's internet - but it is your grandfather's business.

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