The boundaries between the online and physical world are blending and becoming increasingly inter-connected - you can free-cycle with your neighbours, discuss traffic disruptions on Twitter, and find out about local community events on Facebook. Digital technology is bringing communities closer in more ways than ever before.
But what about those people on the fringes of society who, due to a combination of social, physical or economic barriers, are becoming further and further excluded? Digital technology offers huge potential in engaging these marginalised groups. Three projects - JAM Card, Ami and Virtual Doctors - provide inspiration for us all.
The JAM card, developed by NOW Group in Northern Ireland to support people with learning difficulties, autism or Asperger's, is one example of how digital technology is being used to strengthen communities in the physical world. 'JAM', an abbreviation for 'Just a Minute', emerged as a creative solution centred on a plastic information card that helps people with communication difficulties. Card-holders show their JAM card to staff in shops or on public transport to let them know they need a little extra time and patience when using their services. NOW Group has used its funding to develop a digital version of the JAM card, turning it into a smartphone app. As well as providing communications support when needed, the app also allows users to rate their experiences, encouraging businesses to improve their customer services and promoting a more inclusive society.
With 84% of British people reportedly having felt lonely and 13% feeling lonely 'all of the time' and parallel research suggesting that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it's good to know that there are thoughtful tech for good solutions being designed to tackle this pressing social challenge. One of these solutions is Ami, developed by Oxford Computer Consultants. Ami is an online matching platform providing an easy and secure way for people with spare time to connect with people in their community suffering with loneliness - for whom a friendly face offering help with the shopping, or just coming round for a cup of tea and chat, can make the world of difference.
Of course, there are also many innovators outside of the UK using digital technology to empower communities. Virtual Doctors is improving access to specialist healthcare and advice for communities in rural Zambia. Its sophisticated, yet easy to use, telemedicine solution combines software and internet-connected smartphones to link local health workers with volunteer doctors in the UK. With their support, patients are diagnosed more quickly and can often be treated in their own communities, reducing the need for demanding journeys to distant hospitals.
These are just three of the many projects now using digital tech to promote social inclusion in communities. The social entrepreneurs who have the tech expertise and desire to create these people-before-profit solutions, need a robust funding and support infrastructure to help them grow and achieve their goals. It is Nominet Trust's mission to seek out and nurture these life-enhancing tech for good projects, supporting them with grant funding from an early-stage, and helping them to grow so that they achieve impact through scale in tackling society's most persistent social challenges.