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Social media and online communities have their fans and their detractors, the dabblers, the conversationalists, the networkers, the curious and those who just don’t see the point.  When they serve a real purpose, they really work.  If they don’t, they writhe for a bit, then wither and die.  It’s a new kind of thing, organic, dynamic, democratic, and built from the ground up – you can’t tell people that they should or ought or would benefit from something that takes up their time, energy and emotion.  Henry Tapper, who created the hugely successful Pension Play Pen on LinkedIn and is also really influential in Mallowstreet, a virtual place where pension people discuss, well, pension stuff, said this in a recent blogpost ‘Building an Online Community’:

The Pension Play Pen , an online community I started 26 months ago, is full of people going about their lives this morning – nearly 2000 people! It is because of the Play Pen, that I am at Little Rollright near Chipping Norton in the mist on the side of the hill.

For any community to exist, there must be a reason. On-line communities do not grow like Cotswold villages or neolithic stone circles – they are not a place to live or a lasting memorial to those who have. They exist as a means to enhance one’s everyday living by getting insight into other’s thoughtstyles and lifestyles.

So here is my vision for the British Society of Gerontology online community.  We have a space where members of the BSG can have their say, vent their views, talk about their work, publicise events, and other BSG members can comment and join in those debates, and some of these become much read debates by all sort of people from children doing a project at school to people looking for information about a subject, practitioners and academics looking to engage, and journalists and politicians too find themselves enlightened by high quality debate.  This space is a multi-author blog, where any member of BSG, even if they have never used the internet before!! can use the BSG blog to have their say.  They can do it once in as lifetime, or once a week.  And lo!  We have created this space! And here it is, called Ageing Issues.  Since you’ve found us, if you’d like an email whenever there’s a post, click on the +Follow button, bottom right hand corner.  And if you’re a BSG members and think you might like to try posting something (flagrant self-publicity is completely fine!) email me, and it shall be done.

Twitter is part of my vision too – if you’re a tweep (and you’ll know who you are), then follow us on @britgerontology.  Twitter is positively alive and brimming with some of the highest quality social and political commentary of the day, a great big public conversation, and if you haven’t yet been out to see what it’s all about, do dip a toe.  I have made new friends and been influenced by and influenced people, in one liners about pensions, care, housing, health, even had a discussion about the vulnerability of older people to floods.

And LinkedIn.  Many of you are on it, many of you don’t really know why, and it’s never worked for you.  But link enough people with a common interest, and a reason to speak to each other, who want to share knowledge quickly and painlessly and pointedly, and wahay, away you go.  I’m a member of the LinkedIn group Age and Work, and Societal Impact of Pain, and if you are out there in LinkedIn space, then come and join the British Society of Gerontology Members on Linked In.  Or create your own group around the issues that matter to you.  You know you want to.

And what are we at the centre of BSG going to do to direct all this new activity?  Hmmmm.  Nothing.  It will work or it won’t or it will take a long time to get going.  The potential is there to make of it all what we will.  But in my vision, I see that the Twitter community benefits from timely information and links from @britgerontology and @britgerontology is able to retweet salient tweets for members;  BSG members blog and interact and let themselves be heard, and so the whole world benefits from Ageing Issues; and those of us on Linked In have a place to have conversations, ask each other for help, discuss things on our mind, advertise our jobs or ask for jobs, and generally hang out online over a cup of coffee.

Hope to see you, virtually, somewhere soon!