The column in the last issue suggested that central government's systematic reduction of the role of local government might help trigger a reinvention of local governance and that the web may have a role as a medium for experiment.
Of course, the drivers of change are mainly political, not technological. But technological networks have been influential in the past in shaping options and suggesting possibilities - canals, railways and roads, telegraph and telephone. The web can support what already exists, such as information sharing or design participation - from discussions to simulations on the lines of SimCity. It is particularly suited to short-term alliances and lobbying for them, whether locally or nationally. It is becoming ubiquitous and offers relatively fast, cheap, flexible setup and communications.
Note I am avoiding the term 'virtual communities'. 'Virtual' suggests moving to an exclusively electronic world rather than the web adding an extra dimension to existing options. For example, however good the electronic networking behind the Countryside Alliance's demonstration earlier this year, its impact came mainly from many people standing next to each other in the flesh outside Parliament, although virtual presences will gain more influence in time.
Virtual 'communities' also suggests organisational permanence. That sometimes develops in time, as with the likes of Greenpeace (www. greenpeace.
com). But most people are not involved in permanent political organisations most of the time. The web helps facilitate involvement with the more-engaging spontaneity of the temporary, single issue alliance. (These are taken seriously as long as their view is not one-dimensional. ) Such a more-engaging, less-institutionalised, more-spontaneous politicking may even risk spilling over into the realms of fun. Back down to earth in the next column.