Online communities come in many forms. The most common are where people share an interest and produce something together, of course Linux and Wikipedia are examples that are named first. One of the main characteristics of these communities is that organization is decentralized. Another is that millions of people are contributing, the internet makes that possible.
These characteristics are of course not only applicable for software development or writing an encyclopedia. It is good to see that other types of initiatives can succeed as well. One great example is ‘Nabuur’, a Dutch nongovernmental organization that started business in 2001. Nabuur strives to be an anti-hierarchical, self-organizing, open-source network whose volunteers help people in the developing world directly, based on what those people ask of them.
On the Nabuur site, which means neighbor in old-Dutch, real villages can ask for assistance in all kinds of ways. For example, a project can be started to help improve the local water quality. People from all over the world can contribute to these projects by answering those questions and giving advice. The assumption is that small communities can carry out many public-works projects by themselves if provided with the right information. Projects can exist in all imaginable areas, from web design to farming, and from building houses to sawing clothes.
How does it work? A local community asks for help. When nabuur.com approves, the initiative will receive a ‘village’ on the site. Nabuur.com coaches someone from the community to represent the village. Nabuur provides for promotion and online volunteers (the neighbors), and also for the guidance of a facilitator at the site to coordinate the progress. The local representative describes the problem, the project and the steps to take, and makes concrete tasks for the neighbors, thus helping peers. Online solutions are proposed and implemented locally. There is feedback to the site through photographs and stories in the online ‘village’. Thus, more and more new projects are created on the site to help the village develop.
- Virtual Volunteers Listen First, Then Reach Out (NY Times)
- Nabuur, een concreet voorbeeld van peer-to-peer helpen