I am really writing this to put a marker down for future thinking. I am working on my research proposal for the PHD at the moment and this is a idea which is itching me but I can’t scratch it right now as I need to be focusing down on specifics of citizenscape for the proposal.
The more I think about online civic engagement and participation generally the more important I feel it is that government – local and national – creates new online spaces to house the debate. The underlying design assumptions of the sites which currently represent the social spaces online are in the main part entirely commercial. Facebook is not there to improve your social life! This is just a side benefit to their ambition to put advertising in front of you. Now – they may subvert this assumption if the community are happy to pay for ad free sites but the commercials are in the technical DNA of the site and can’t be easily ignored. Contrast this to early online communities like The Well (read all about this from Howard Rheinegold) where you see a common purpose to connect and build a community which had nothing to do with earning cash.
I have a rather puritanical radio 4 view of this and don’t really want to see serious debate happening in a place where it is constantly being interrupted for ad breaks. However I accept I may be on the extreme end of tolerance of advertising! What I don’t think we can ignore is this; the commercial underpinning of a site like facebook means that it is ephemeral. It will exist as long as it has a business model and that will only be true while it is the ‘big new thing’. Democracy needs a more permanent space online if we are to take digital democracy seriously and we ought to start thinking now about how to design this.
Right – got that off my chest – back to the research proposal.