Michael Williams: Readers' editor

We're virtually all one happy family now
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The Independent Online

"My seven-year-old daughter knows her father congregates with a family of similar friends who seem to gather in his computer. Sometimes he talks to them, even if nobody else can see them...."

If you're a fan of online social networking, you may recognise these as the opening words of 'The Virtual Community', the pioneering book by Howard Rheingold that helped pave the way back in 1993 for Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and all those other networking sites many of us take for granted today.

You don't need to be a Californian cultural guru to do it. A few months ago, a pal and I sat in a pub and planned a blogsite. Now we have an "online family" like Rheingold's, who are not nerds, freaks or geeks. Why does this matter to 'Independent on Sunday' readers? I've just been talking to Jimmy Leach, the Independent titles' dynamic new director for digital, who has some exciting ideas for developing the Independent "family" of readers through the newspapers' own website over the coming months. He's working on some ambitious plans to give you more of a say and to get more involved online over the next few months.

He has already brought in a host of new features, including online match centres to give live coverage of football, rugby league, and cricket. The service offers live scores and commentary and kicks off with the Premiership this weekend at www.independent.co.uk/livefootball.

Also new is an extensive online listings service which allows you to plan your social life, find out what's going on in your local area from clubbing to ballet and read what our expert reviewers have to say ( www.independent.co.uk/goingout).

In the future, says Jimmy Leach, the best newspaper websites will not be just about breaking the latest news headlines (though this will still be important) but about interacting with the readers. When I first joined 'The Independent' more than 15 years ago, I was taken aside by a senior reporter and told to remember that it was more than just a newspaper – it was also a "community of like-minded people". New developments online allow us to make that conversation with our "friends" in the 'Independent' community even better.

Corrections and clarifications

In an article on Israel's 60th anniversary, (2 May 2008) we reported that it was illegal for Israeli civilians to go to the West Bank. We have been asked to clarify that this applies only to the areas of the West Bank under Palestinian control, and that the security barrier erected by Israel leaves many Palestinians on the Israeli side.

In The Compact Traveller (3 August) we said that Antigua had 33,000 UK visitors a year. Last year there were nearly 97,000 arrivals; between January and April this year there were already nearly 38,000.

Message Board: Are canals the future for the freight industry?

Last week's story on the comeback of Britain's waterways as a means of shipping goods unlocked a range of opinions:


The idea may have a few problems. First is the speed of delivering goods, particularly perishable materials. The other issue is security. A fleet of slow sailing vessels is critically vulnerable to piracy.

Dead Meat

Nice and slow is what the canals are good at: planning in advance for delivery of the ingredients of a finished product is the way forward, especially on the wide system accessible from the coastal ports.


Even if we do find new sources of power, it doesn't mean they are going to be cheap and solve our transportation problems. So we would well be advised to rebuild our canals and coastal sea lanes.


Problems: 1 The canal network is not as extensive as the road or rail network. 2 Not all canals and rivers are suitable for freight. Nice in principle for some goods but in practice can only be taken up by a few.

Stephen Boatman

British Waterways see the system as making a profit with minimal input. The pressures management put on their staff are disgraceful. I have never seen the lengthsmen and the bridge-keepers so unhappy.

Frank Lee

British Waterways became a leisure industry because no one else contributed. Business hoped BW would keep the network together on less funding on the off chance it would become commercially viable.

J Heywood

The Government needs to encourage and plan for the development of the canal and river network as part of a coherent transport system and environmental strategy.


Why stop at canals? Our rivers are woefully underused too. At least the supermarkets, so damaging in other ways, are trying to use the Thames to move goods around.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs