Gebied Online is based on the belief that connecting people, both within a community and between different neighbourhoods, will encourage active discussion of their issues and develop ideas and relationships that have positive social and economic impact.
It began in 2012 when Michael Vogler created a website for his neighbourhood of IJburg, Amsterdam, to bring citizens together to discuss how to improve the area. The project grew so popular that other neighbourhoods became interested in adapting the tool for themselves. As a result, the website template, which provided a number of modular and customisable features, was made available to other neighbourhoods in 2016. It allows users to share events; start projects; propose, debate and rank ideas for the community democratically; and even create marketplaces for exchanging goods.
This network of neighbourhoods is organised as a cooperative, allowing the community to decide how the platform should be managed and customised. So far the initiative has been moderately well received in the Netherlands with five neighbourhoods deploying their own sites, the largest of which now has 4,000 citizens enrolled.
The platform’s business model and governance structure stands in contrast to other emerging digital platforms for local communities. Neighbourhood social networks are a fast growing opportunity in Silicon Valley, where the primary business model is to increase revenue through data-driven advertising. For instance, the platform NextDoor aims to offer targeting based on users’ home addresses, a function which no other social media platform currently provides.
However, cooperatives like Gebied Online are more driven by satisfying the community and by reinvesting profits back into improving the local area. Gebied Online is now working with the DECODE project to include features which will allow members to have full control over how their personal is managed and used on the platform.