Nuances of Participation

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A recent article in Newsweek, titled Take This Blog and Shove It! presents some interesting numbers on digital (non-)participation. For example:

“While professional bloggers are “a rising class,” according to Technorati, hobbyists are in retreat, and about 95 percent of blogs are launched and quickly abandoned. A recent Pew study found that blogging has withered as a pastime, with the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who identify themselves as bloggers declining by half between 2006 and 2009. A shift to Twitter—or microblogging, as it’s called—partly accounts for these numbers. But while Twitter carries more than 50 million tweets per day, its army of keystrokers may not be as large as it seems. As many as 90 percent of tweets come from 10 percent of users, according to a 2009 Harvard study. The others are primarily “lurkers”—people who don’t contribute but track the postings of others. Between 60 and 70 percent of people who sign up for the 140-character platform quit within a month, according to a recent Nielsen report.”

The article refreshingly indicates that digital participation is not as widespread or as monolithic as it is often portrayed to be: many people do not participate, users who do participate do so differently than one another, and participation changes over time.

A Scale of Value in Participation

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Some more about reading interesting books… Clay Shirky of NYU carries the… mmm… suspicious title ‘internet guru’. I’m not familiar with his previous acclaimed book Here Comes Everybody but know many people appreciated the text. Just finished his new one,  Cognitive Surplus, Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. The biggest takeaway for me was his scale of participation, and the value related it,  in/through digital media/networks, from personal to communal to public to civic.

Again, I see this as a possible way of organising ideas or even findings (maybe, maybe :-). It also speaks to me, as I’ve been thinking of modalities of participation; as in the level of the individual (which is what Shirky breaks down in his scale), the level of media institutions, and the level of media policy-making (see, e.g., my chapter in RIPE@2009).

So here’s his scale in a nutshell:

– Personal: participants and benefactors of participation are individuals, get personal benefit (e.g., that others comment their uploads).

– Communal: Collaboration creates communal value, but within that particular community, e.g. meetup.com

– Public: like communal but very open to ‘outsiders’ and ‘newcomers’ , results also available to those who are not members

– Civic: Like public, but the explicit goal is to improve society. These are the kind of groups Aufderheide & Clark talk about, see the previous post.

What do you think — does this scale of participatory values work in real life?

Participation, Networks, and Politics

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On of the big questions I’m interested in in our project is what people feel participation means to them; whether within the framework of family and friends, work situation, conventional citizenship and politics, global issues and communities…

I encountered this wonderful new book & related website that talk about participation in a conventional (political) sense, yet with a totally new outlook: it discusses digital engagement for progressive causes , through networked  progressive media: Beyond the Echo Chamber. Check out the visualizations, awesome indeed!

The idea of several kinds of networks, from self-organized to institutionalized to those of media institutions to hybrids — what a useful idea not only when strategizing about progressive communication, but when when mapping people’s ideas of participation!

One of authors, that brilliant Jessica Clark, Director, Future of Public Media Project at Center for Social Media, American University, is also the coauthor of another significant text, a white paper on what public media 2.0 could be in our digital, ‘participatory’ era.  She and prof. Pat Aufderheide describe several websites that engage in socially relevant, common issues (from the US presidential campaign to environmental issues) and write:

What do all of these media projects have in common? They leverage participatory media technologies to allow people from a variety of perspectives to work together to tackle a topic or problem—to share stories and facts, to ask hard questions, and then shape a judgment on which they can act.

People come in as participants in a media project and leave recognizing themselves as members of a public—a group of people commonly affected by an issue. They have found each other and exchanged information on an issue in which they all see themselves as having a stake. In some cases, they take action based on this transformative act of communication.

This is the core function of public media 2.0 for a very simple reason: Publics are the element that keeps democracies democratic. Publics provide essential accountability in a healthy society, checking the natural tendency of people to do what’s easiest, cheapest, and in their own private interest. They are not rigid structures—publics regularly form around issues, problems, and opportunities for improvement—and this informality avoids the inevitable self-serving that happens in any institution. Publics are fed by the flow of communication.

At the same time, there’s another side to digital political participation, “Clicktivism”, and the recent article in the Guardian makes a good case of why it’s dangerous to progressive politics…

It will be fascinating to explore how the sense of participation in the sphere of the political is experienced by people in their everyday lives… Most of us remain outside of the active social justice activism, but how do people view clicking, election quizzes (in Finland, several media organization set up online quizzes for people to test which, MP or other, candidates match their views the best, see, e.g., this one by the biggest Finnish daily for the EU parliamentary elections…) and such i terms of political participation.