Building online communities in Canada’s North

26 Sep

With a population of only 100,000 hardy souls spread out over an area half the size of Canada, and a climate that makes travel between communities a challenge for more than half the year, the North seems ready-made for the Internet.

That’s still waiting to happen.

Many communities don’t even have computers yet, let alone Internet access. Traditional ways of doing things remain deeply rooted.

While the progressive “southern” cities of Yellowknife and Whitehorse enjoy Tweet-ups and stay in touch on iPhones and Blackberries, the remote towns and villages are truly off the grid. Crucially, those two major cities make up only 40% of the population.

So how do you make inroads here?

As part of the workshop I was asked to lead at Kellett Communications this past week, our partner in T-CAAN, we brainstormed how to bring more of the North into online communities, using Copeland’s Dirt, Rocks, Diamonds technique.

The marketers present, be it NorthwesTel, the primary telecom provider to the North, BHP Billiton (the world’s largest mining company with the massive Ekati diamond mine 300 km north of Yellowknife), or Government Ministries and departments, all have a vested interest in finding ways to engage with the larger northern community.

The group generated in excess of 60 ideas during the session, then polished up the best of those into some gems (having a diamond mining company there no doubt helped).

Getting computers and Internet access into remote areas is obviously an area that needs corporate investment and commitment, so these were great players to have at the table. But making advocates and role-models of the early adopters was also a consistent theme. Getting those advocates out into the communities behind an event that binds the region – and hosting that event online – is a natural fit.

What’s binds the region? Pride in the North.

This is not a wishy-washy place. People are tough up here. They have a street named Ragged Ass Road. They get excited that winter is coming for Pete’s sake.

If they can live in -30 weather half the year, getting their communities more tightly knit online seems an easy sell for them.

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2 Responses to “Building online communities in Canada’s North”

  1. Janis La Couvée September 26, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    I really appreciate the emphasis on finding advocates in the community and bridging offline (IRL) to online (and vice-versa); it’s worked in Victoria and will work in any close knit community in my opinion.

  2. dougbrowncreative September 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Good point. And once the technology is in place, the communities will see the advantages over their traditional media. CBC radio may once have held the country together, but it didn’t build communication between communities like the Internet can.

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