Social media has exploded our opportunities to connect to people with whom we share interests all over the globe. But what about our immediate neighbors, especially those with whom we don’t share interests? Are our neighborhoods becoming less friendly and less important places as more people bury their faces in phones to get their social fix online? I’d love to see the power of digital communication enhance social life and diversify interaction within our neighborhoods.

Ellen Dunham-Jones asks: Can online communities strengthen neighborhoods?

Comunitats answers:

I believe online communities are starting to play a crucial role in the ways people from the same neighborhood connect. Online communities can help connect citizens online and in person to share goods, knowledge, time and spaces. Good examples of this new kind of online community are collaborative consumption sites, barter and time banks and crowdsourcing sites. Here we are not only sharing images, videos and documents, but we can share knowledge, time resources and spaces in different ways—like giving away, lending, renting, selling, sharing or swapping.

Efficiency will be the new mantra. In the next years we’ll see how things that may currently be considered ‘alternative’ will become a natural way to organize, because they will help us to improve our quality of life.

Technology and online communities make it easier to find and connect with those who have knowledge or tools relevant to one’s goals. Technology also makes it easier to develop social networks based on interests and passions, and it will be useful in reaching agreements and tracking these agreements in order to help control all the things we share, trade, lend and give.

And further, through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding communities, we are starting to be able to connect with other professionals and entrepreneurs from our neighborhood and around the globe in order to develop and find projects to collaborate and work on.

At Comunitats we think all this is useful for neighborhoods. That’s why we are offering the chance to create online time banks. It is meant to help neighbors connect in order to share their knowledge, time and skills.

Finally, I would like to say that online communities focused on connecting people for sharing, lending and swapping will help improve the mental health of communities, reintroducing the key understanding of the benefits of sharing (the sense of reassurance you get when you feel useful, the cost reductions and the new friends and connections we get when we operate this way).

Power to the people!