Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Can you borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor’s avatar?

Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2008 by 2 comments

Thanks to Dave West for sharing this link

The City of Decatur, Georgia is evaluating the use of a virtual world interface to “encourage community networking, improve civic engagement, and promote economic development.”

Virtual Decatur will provide an environment in which residents, businesses, institutions and visitors can interact and connect…  it is it is imperative that the project go beyond the features of traditional virtual environments.  The overarching purpose of this project is to allow users to interact with the City in new and innovative ways that are not possible in the real world.”

Possible features of the proposed Virtual Decatur might include:

• Opportunities to gather citizen input on policies, topics of interest, city services, and happenings
• A Virtual City Hall Tour with multimedia capabilities.
• Opportunities to earn coupons for use in real stores/retail establishments.
• Streaming video of public meetings, ideally with a chat room feature that allows viewers to comment.
• Access to visitors information (store hours, directions, weather, etc.)

Well… I’m all for experiments, so I’m hopeful that the good folks in Georgia will go ahead with this and then report out results for the world to see.

In a way, it sounds like, as Dave put it, “Front Porch Forum 2.0.”  Hmm…  The purpose of Front Porch Forum is to kidnap peoples’ attention while online and redirect it back to the neighborhood, and, ultimately, get them face to face with neighbors for block parties, crime watches, yard sales, meals on wheels, city council hearings, etc.  That is, FPF is a gateway to real neighborliness and civic engagement (not just virtual facsimiles).  Perhaps the project above will do the same… or perhaps it will prove to be another way to avoid face-to-face contact with the people we live around.

I’m hoping for the best!  Good luck to Virtual Decatur.

Posted in: Clay Shirky, Community Building, Democracy, Front Porch Forum, Good Government, Knight Foundation, Local Online, MacArthur Fellows, Neighborhood, social capital, Social Media, Social Networking


  1. Kevin Harris says:

    I detect a hint of scepticism Michael, with which I completely agree. The five bullet points betray the poverty of understanding behind the project – they refer to communication between citizen and state or between citizen and business. All very well, but very 90s and nothing to do with stimulating interaction among residents locally. Sometimes it seems like an unending battle getting policy makers to understand the difference, but we’ll get there. Season’s greetings.

  2. Michael says:

    Indeed, some policy makers seem to prefer an uniformed, disengaged and not-networked citizenry.

    But I imagine that Virtual Decatur could go either way… it’s just that most such projects that I’ve seen end up promoting more screen time and less face-to-face time.

    Happy holidays Kevin!

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