From Crisis Response to Community Recovery – for Christchurch, Stories from Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

As the role of social media generates headlines from Cairo to Christchurch, I have some bad news for you.

The “Like” culture of Facebook is extremely lightweight when it comes to creating the deep bonds required for sustained local community building. The 140 character exchanges on Twitter create a surface sense among the most extroverted that dropping words into the rapids of community information stream does the trick when in reality the value for many is swept away in hours if not minutes. Twitter allows democratizing organic group formation that is revolutionary. Facebook connects friends and family at is core and is beginning to introduce important “public life” aspects even if it is on private virtual property. Both Facebook and Twitter have serious limitations when it comes to linking local people in the common interest as part of community life.

The “Like” culture is also bad news for us because our fundamentally in-depth and strong bond building model appears to be a lot of hard work compared to slapping up a Facebook Page. People are also more and more resistant to new website registration. Luckily our volunteers in Christchurch New Zealand (where we have had a regional politics forum since 2007 and where our GroupServer technology come from) understand that connecting neighbours intensely online with a long-term perspective is worth the effort.

We’ve just opened a 20+ network of new forums at

The Sumner forum is open and topics have included water access, “toilet bags,” and an invite to a community gathering.

There is a huge amount of work to do with recruitment, but already our extremely effective paper sign-up approach is in the field. Many of the forum will not attract critical mass participation, but by turning our launch model upside down during this time of great need we can serve as many communities as possible. We do need more local and remote virtual volunteers to join our efforts here to increase the chance of success.

Information Stories

It is timely that the Knight Foundation released a series called Information Stories, where Tim Erickson our Issues Forum leader for many years (and now the proud owner of Mr. Tai’s Chinese/Asian Restaurant) produced this video about the use of our city-wide forums during the tragic I-35W bridge collapse across the Mississippi in Minneapolis.

Stay tuned for more lessons from our Christchurch effort.

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