Ok then – this is not just a continuation of my “I need an iphone” lament but here is a quick article on the BBC site talking about the growth of the smart phone market.

The striking quote is about the fact that mobile internet is poised for the kind of growth we saw for the internet as a whole in the late ’90s.  Mobile web means realtime practical applications which deliver data and service at the time and place of your choosing.  This is not just the rather rubbish read only world of WAP – it’s a potential entry point to augmented reality applications which are HUGELY interesting.  Imagine being able to get directions which are overlaid on the scene you are seeing – that’s augmented reality and it’s not a million miles away.  In my world – imagine being able to turn on a feed of local information that gives people the chance to connect to their local community.

Now – I don’t want to get all sci-fi on you but its worth looking at some of the work of William Gibson (hes the Neuromancer guy who coined the term cyberspace).  He’s been playing around with ideas around real/virtual world intersections for a while – check out Pattern Recognition for one.  Given that we now use one of his phrases as an everyday piece of language then its worth seeing what he thinks.  And if this is all a bit much then just try searching for augmented reality on the Wired website.

It’s easy to say that all this is far too much in the future and we need to concentrate of connecting more people the internet as it is and figuring out what it all means.  But we may not have the time to do this.  Mobile web has the possibility of overtaking PC/Mac web in terms of penetration into hard to reach groups (think of third world infrastructures that leapfrogged tradditional comms and moved straight to mobile) so we really need to think about democratic and social applications of these technologies now if we want to be at least on the curve.

Thats all a bit much for a Monday morning…time for a cup of tea I think……


This post is really about trying to explain the mental framework by which I ‘organise’ the social web into different categories of behaviour and types of technologies. This is very much my own view but builds on frameworks and analysis by others which I referenced. I have written it as a glossary – please shout if you think it should have extra words or if you disagree / want to refine any definitions.

  • I use Social Web rather web 2.0 or social networking sites as I think it best describes the collection of services and technologies which are used in order to connect people to each other and to provide social content. I think web 2.0 is too technical a term and social networking is restrictive as a site can be social without connecting people together into a network (take YouTube for example).

  • Networked publics: This is a relatively new term which is being used to describe shared online spaces like facebook which can be see as shared communal spaces which are built around individual profiles rather than around specific interests. Danah Boyd has done lots of work on this and it is worth reading “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life”.
  • And these are as distinct from Online communities which bring people together around specific topics or interests. Sites such as Ning support online community creation as the aim is to create membership based spaces which require a greater degree of commitment / involvement from the participants than a networked public.
  • Blogs are a slightly different tool as they have more limited takeup and require far more effort than other social tools. Where they excel is in providing a simple to use yet rich online ‘home’ for social web users and you will often find that avid social web aficionados are also dedicated bloggers.
  • Video and audio sharing sites are different again as these are in fact very transactional with the main social interaction being around commenting and rating content.

A useful history of these things can be found in another Boyd article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. In particular I would draw attention to this quote which describes the move from online community to Social networks to networked publics:

“The rise of SNSs indicates a shift in the organization of online communities. While websites dedicated to communities of interest still exist and prosper, SNSs are primarily organized around people, not interests. Early public online communities such as Usenet and public discussion forums were structured by topics or according to topical hierarchies, but social network sites are structured as personal (or “egocentric”) networks, with the individual at the center of their own community. This more accurately mirrors unmediated social structures, where “the world is composed of networks, not groups” (Wellman, 1988, p. 37). The introduction of SNS features has introduced a new organizational framework for online communities, and with it, a vibrant new research context.”

More recently we have seen the rise of Real Time web services such as twitter or yammer which focus around the idea of the status update (Facebook was so concerned about this as to update their interface to embed the status update more centrally). These behave in a social way but have a far flatter structure than the networked publics and online community sites as you have two social choices – follow or not follow – rather than the more complex opportunities to create your online identity which are offered by other tools. The increased dominance of the iPhone and iPhone imitators are increasingly meaning that these real time social sites are being accessed rather ‘apps’ as well as through the PC which realises their earlier design goal which was linked to the 140 character limit of SMS.

In terms of how you might think of the social web as describing a ‘public sphere‘ you need to consider the difference between closed spaces which are seeking to be an online home for the users and the open networked spaces and real time services which are encouraging a free flow of information and debate between different groups rather than supporting the tendeancy to homegeneity within online communities. That being said, once action needs to be taken (for example democratic decision making) the greater social capital of the online community can be an important element in facilitating complex processes.

Ok then – that’s my view – please do say if you disagree……

Good piece in the guradian about the Talk about Local unconference – you can read about it here.

Perhaps its my reaction to reading the Coleman book this weekend but I think this hyperlocalism is very important and very much the approach we are taking with the virtual town hall pilot.  You can read about the organisers here.

I’ve just finished reading “The Internet and Democratic Citizenship; Theory, Practice and Policy (by Stephen Coleman and Jay Blumler) so this my research note for my literature review so there are some observations and then a wrap up from me….this is a long one so you may just want the highlights:

  • The analysis of the problem of democratic deficit and political disengagement is excellent

  • The authors are proposing a civic commons which is run by an arms length government organisation – something I am profoundly uncomfortable with

  • There is a lack of sophisticated interpretation of the social web and the implications of the social connections between individuals – they are still talking about websites as destinations rather than feeds and individual control

  • The idea of co-creation is not explored to the extent which I think it warrants.

For those of you with more interest in this here are the notes – or you can just jump to my conclusions.  (more…)

Perhaps it is just because I have only started twittering this week but there did seem to be a lot of talk about the new conservative party website – but perhaps the twitterati are always this vocal!

Of the articles/blogs I’ve read today I thought the futuregov one was probably gives the best summary/analysis – you can read it here.  One thing I would pick up on is mentioned in the FutureGov piece – there is no social networking or online community building included as part of the site.  Now in some ways you can just see this as more honest – I can’t imagine the party machine (of any party) listening to on online debate on their manifesto – but its a fairly stark admission in my mind.  Its all about broadcast views and comments – not about valuing the community and their contribution.  This is so very similar to the way that government has ended up relying on consultation rather than listening and debate – but I think really highlights the fact that “politics” seems to be getting in the way of actually engaging with the issues.

But the reason that this has set us all chirping is the parallel’s with the Obama campaign and its huge success in the online arena – and its clear that as a campaigning platform this is very impressive and I hope the other parties step up to the plate.  I have to say I do wonder if the website will be able to mobilise the party followers in the same was as was achieved in the US – but I don’t really know enough about grassroot party membership to know – please comment if you do!

I guess the thought to finish with was something said to me today by one of the people in the Virtual Town Hall Pilot:  “I am quite excited to see UK politics pick up on the Obama banner/strategy +interested to see how it works here…potential to get more online people engaged in UK politics – surely knock on to local – which is what people really care/can make a difference. This is why we need to be in a position to funnel users into our democratic channels etc.” And I have to say I agree – feel free to criticise me but I feel very little connection with politics at a national level – but I do have a huge belief in the opportnity for local politics to improve.  Hopefully the spotlight of fancy new websites and a general election is something we can use to help achieve this.

PS – the only reason for the title was the idea that you might want your own conservatives – I just find this rather odd – it kind of assumes that the site is only for people who have made up their mind – but on reflection perhaps this is exactly what it is!

Busy week as we had the kick off meeting for the Virtual Town Hall pilot as well as getting EU funding bids finalised. Both went well! I also met Liz Azyan who, part from being a huge source of knowledge about what people are doing online via her blog has the dubious honour of having actually persuaded me to try twitter – new widget on the side bar to celebrate!!

But this post is really about an intriguing article I read this weekend – I actually found it in The Times but couldn’t find a link – so here it is from marketing week.  But if you don’t fancy clicking on the link I can tell you that Sport England have signed a partnership deal with Facebook to create a sport hub on the platform to try and increase the number of people actually taking part in sport. Now, lots of things about this are interesting:

  • Its the first major deal I have come across between Facebook and a government agency
  • Its shows a lot of faith in the connection between the online and offline world – we’re not talking about getting people onto wii fit here – this is actual running around
  • The article talks about the idea of a ‘hub’ – which seems to be a new kind of facebook furniture – but this is not yet clear

The quote from Facebook in the article talks about “using our social tool as a tool for social change” and this is perhaps the most interesting part of the whole thing.

Now – I have huge doubts about the integrity of an environment like Facebook when discussed in terms of social change. I think that underlying design assumptions are enormously important and I think that Facebook is based on the idea of selling advertising and not on the idea of helping people get away from their computers. However – like it or not Facebook is currently one of our largest networked publics (good article on this here) and as such we need to pay attention to this first foray by government into actually using it to effect social change.

PS  I couldn’t find an ‘official’ press release but will keep an eye out

PPS As you can see its a new look for the blog – I think theme browsing on WordPress may have been developed as the perfect time waster. Please feel free to let me know what you think of it!

Just been at the eDem09 conference in Vienna – I will post properly once I am on a proper keyboard and not the phone one but just wanted to capture the headlines:

* lots of talking about social networks and I think a big question was posed as to whether or not politics and democracy can support an entire networked public or, as I believe, we need to be harvesting the discussions from exisiting sites
* The technologists are thankfully dominating the field less and there were great contributions from political scientists, sociologists and media studies/journalism folks
* lots of stuff made me think about ‘the tragedy of the commons’ – more on that later
* will be reading more about self-efficacy thanks to Peter Cruikshank

one last thought – these is still no real sense of which academic field all this falls into and I guess there won’t be one as we gradually drop the ‘e’ and start talking just about democracy and participation.

More anon