April 22, 2008
Localization in a Web 2.0 World

Last month, I read an article in The New York Times from Brad Stone, looking at a "Risk-esque" game created for Ivy League schools called GoCrossCampus. The game, called GXC, is called by their site "a team-based locally social online sport that revolves around your connections, location and interests. The game is billed as "a massively multiplayer game built on your social networks.

This local angle to digital culture is what I've been writing about for some time now and one of my greatest interests in the potential of new technologies. This post is not really about this Ivy League game per say but rather how social networking sites and initiatives like this are proving just how localized the global adoption of online technologies can be.

In a Web 2.0 world, global really is local. Many of the earliest, most utopian writings about the Web were about how people could transcend the boundaries of where they are from, their local community, in an effort to reach out to others like them. In other words, we could defy geographical boundaries and make new connections, based not on proximity but on genuine compatibility. Online fan communities, matchmaking sites, and a plethora of other social gatherings are built on this principle.

Then, there was the backlash, often making an extremist pronouncement of extreme isolation in a computer world, but nevertheless interjecting an important warning: the World Wide Web cannot, and should not, be separated from "real life."

The idea of a "virtual world" existing as separate from one's own world, rather than a technological tool to communicate in "the real world," is the type of technological determinist view we steer away from at the Consortium. This isn't to say that virtual relationships are "less real," but rather the "reality" of how people use online tools is that social networks become more often about staying connected to our geographical roots, or friends we knew from being in the same geographic proximity, than about meeting new people.

Back in 2006, I wrote about these issues in relation to newspapers, both here on the C3 blog, as well as for The Convergence Newsletter, focusing on how "hyper-local" newspapers can take advantage of a "convergence culture" environment.

Also, see this post on regional filmmaking in a digital world, Michael Duffy's work on "regionally digital filmmaking," and C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar's recent post on regional journalism in India.

Many of these issues are at the heart of the interests of The MIT Center for Future Civic Media, one of the six research initiatives the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT is involved in. For more information on the connection between new technologies and local community involvement and media-making, see their site.