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Of Lightweight Crowds and Heavyweight Communities

The second round of keynotes at CeDEM 2011 starts with Caroline Haythornthwaite, whose focus is on making sense of online community structures. She begins from a social network analysis perspective, which understands social networks as constituted of relations between actors. Such social networks transcend online social networks, of course; rather, we now need to take a whole-of-system perspective in which social networking takes place across a range of networks, including online networks.

What’s especially important here, too, is a focus on new forms of collaborating and organising; with the shift towards Web 2.0, but also with many other concurrent shifts, there’s been a transition in attitudes and practices towards collaboration. Indeed, Caroline suggests that we’ve entered a Web 2+ period now. Alongside this are shifts towards user-driven practices, the perpetual beta where things are constantly in flux, and where data and information are mashed up and remixed all the time.

Networks of Political Blogging in Greece

The final speaker in this CeDEM 2011 session is Kostas Zafiropoulos, whose interest is in political blogging in Greece. He describes Greek blogs as a self-organising community, and begins by showing the well-known image from Adamic & Glance’s study of the US political blogosphere around the 2004 election (which, analysing the patterns of interlinking between blogs, showed a highly polarised environment at the time).

Kostas’s project undertook a similar study for Greece. They began by using Technorati to find Greek political blogs (with “some” authority, according to Technorati’s measures), and tagged them according to their political orientation. During May 2009, they identified some 101 blogs through this process.

Uses of Political Blogging in the 2010 Swedish Election

The next speaker at CeDEM 2011 is Jakob Svensson, who shifts our attention towards the individual in political participation. He does this against the background of the 2010 Swedish elections, which for the first time used social media in a significant way. Jakob focussed on Nina Larsson, a politician of the conservative Liberal’s Party, who used two blogs during her campaign.

Jakob notes the different forms of rationalities (deliberative, but especially also expressive) which are on display in such uses; beyond this, there is also a more instrumental use of social media to influence election outcomes, of course (at worst, this simply refers to naked political spin). All of this needs to be considered in a wider theoretical context of digital late modernity and networked individualism, of course. The process of individualisation opens up other spheres for participation, too – life politics, for example. Blogs and other social networking sites are sometimes seen as saviours for this, but there are strong critiques of such perspectives, too.

Twitter in e-Participation

The next CeDEM 2011 session starts with a presentation by Peter Mambrey, whose focus is on the potential role of Twitter in e-participation. He begins by noting the expansion of the media ecology and the take-up of new media forms by specific groups in society; this creates new opportunities for political participation and self-empowerment, but also challenges for local administration and government.

There is a rising expectation of service quality, growing demands for local service delivery and expertise, competition between cities for citizens and enterprises, demographic change (with a marked population decline in some areas in Germany, for example), and financial problems in the wake of the global financial crisis. General questions include transparency and input-legitimacy, dialogue and output-legitimacy, collaboration and participation, identity management and public relations, and an erosion of the representative system (also through lobbying).

Building towards Deliberation and Civic Intelligence

I’ve made it to Austria for the third year running, to attend the Conference on e-Democracy. We begin the day with a keynote by Douglas Schuler – and my own keynote will come later today, too. The proceedings from the conference will appear soon on Google Books, by the way – in line with the open access philosophy espoused by many e-democracy initiatives. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #cedem11, by the way.

Doug begins his talk with the premise that current trends aren’t adequate for the challenges we face – can we intelligently readjust our activities? What’s necessary here are interdisciplinary approaches, aiming for research that makes a real difference. Doug’s focus is on deliberation: we are in desperate need of good decisions and actions, which help fix our current problems. Such decisions don’t necessarily happen through conventional mechanisms (including the free market); we won’t luck into better solutions, but need clear and effective mechanisms for better deliberation to reach them.

A Technological Shaping of the Social in Evidence-Based Policymaking Platforms

The next speaker at AoIR 2010 is Anders Madsen, whose focus is on design choices in policy-oriented technologies of knowledge management. This operates in the context of discussions over the role of knowledge in democracy – how is the relevance of information and facts settled? Two divergent approaches to this highlight the role of science in generating evidence-based policy (which responds to well-defined problems), or alternatively see a range of wicked problems that need broad participation and socially robust policies.

Digital democracy can aid policymaking in these contexts; policymaking procedures can be grounded in new technologies of knowledge management – but this too is either simply about efficient and transparent data-sharing, or about the collaborative production of knowledge, reflecting the earlier division. Some of this leads to discussions of Web design - for example drawing on clearly structured Semantic Web developments, or more folksonomically organised Web 2.0 structures.

Theorising the Net as a Universal Public Service

The final speaker at AoIR 2010 is Sebastian Deterding, who is interested in reframing Web 2.0 as a public service right to communicate. One example of the debates around this is the French HADOPI three-strikes law around filesharing, which would remove Net access from offending users; others have framed Google or Facebook as universal public services, and describe broadband access as just as important as water or electricity.

The Internet is now a core communicative backbone for various communication networks, then – but how might we think about the Net as a public service in a more systematic, technology-neutral manner? First, public services are generally seen as services of general public interest that are subject to specific obligations or regulations. While usually the market provides, these are essential services where public needs may not be fully satisfied by markets alone. Indeed, the Net even serves as a backbone for some of the more conventional public services now.

e-Government? First Educate Politicians about ICTs

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Julie Freeman, whose interest is in impediments to local e-government development. She suggests that there needs to be further education about ICTs of policy makers; one of the councillors of the city of Casey, in the south-east of Melbourne, whom she interviewed asked whether email was considered to be Internet use, for example.

The current population of Casey is around 256,000 residents (on 400 square kilometres), and continues to grow; some 89% are under 60. There are 11 councillors representing residents in the city council. The city has an extensive and sophisticated Website (with multilingual information and mobile versions), and its Twitter account (@CityOfCasey) has some 500 followers; there are significant visitor numbers (over 700,000 in 2008/9), while call centre calls are slowly declining. There is also a civic networking site, and the overall e-government costs are around $10,000 per annum.


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