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Creating Communities Offline

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An interesting article I read in the FT at the weekend made me think more about how important it is to encourage online communities to meet offline. In the article, 'Valley of God' the journalist April Dembosky investigates technology employees looking for religion in Silicon Valley. 43% of residents claim to be members of a religious institution.

Dembosky points out that it's less than the national 50%, but 'more than expected in an area perceived as Godless'. It struck me as a lot, and what struck me as interesting is that the people she interviewed, who spend most of their working lives online, are seeking religion or on a more basic level (and this is what I took away from the piece) a physical community - a place, like a church where they can meet like-minded people face to face. A few of the techies interviewed have created meet-ups away from their online workspace. One Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Alexa Andrzejewki who created the app 'Foodspotting', came up with the idea of having lunch-time meet-ups with other techies that she's coined an 'eatup'.

This brings me nicely to an event I'm helping to organise taking place tonight called Nice To Meet You. The premise behind the event is for Art Wednesday's online community to meet offline; to create an event for readers and followers of the site to share ideas face to face. On arrival we give everyone name badges, which gets people talking. My colleague dubbed it a 'creative bonfire', but it's more than that. It's an opportunity for people who normally only interact with each other within an online space to interact in a physical way. Nice To Meet You has nothing to do with religion, but its core values are the same as Andrzejewki's eatups - it brings like-minded people together to share ideas and experience outside of the World Wide Web or blogosphere. It is about stimulating creativity in people by providing an inspirational speaker, music and food within a real space.

Andrzejewki claims she came up with the idea for her logo and website redesign while sitting
in church. Sitting in a real space, within a community and listening to someone speak who she finds inspiring, enabled her to think creatively. What a social meet-up does apart from giving your eyes a rest from the computer, is it also gives your brain time to think, to be creative and think away from the square screen. We spend so much of our lives online - on email, on Facebook and on search engines that it's important to step away from the screen and close the lid of the laptop - all this time online can be detrimental to our creativity, as well as for our personal and business relationships. Having worked in PR I know how important it is to meet journalists in person. And as a journalist it's far better for me to be pitched to face to face or failing that on the phone, than via an email that might get lost in my inbox.

In a world influenced by social media, it's important that sites cultivate and nurture an offline community, as well as encouraging their community to meet. Just as the simple gesture of shaking someone's hand, exchanging names and saying 'nice to meet you' is important in acknowledging someone's presence. We should be exploiting social media to its full potential and meeting.

Nice to Meet You is on tonight from 6:30pm in Dalston with a talk by Trevor Baylis OBE, music by Burberry model and singer/songwriter Roo Panes and food by Funthyme. For tickets visit
www.artwednesday.com