What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Anonymity, community and identity

A while ago, I got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about anonymity online, and why it sucked. This was in the wake of the ‘Civil Serf‘ (remember her?) kerfuffle, when a blogger working in government said some things she shouldn’t have done, thinking she was protected by anonymity. She wasn’t of course, and got found out.

Generally speaking, I’m in favour of people being transparent online about who they are: it builds trust and adds credence to what people are saying. There are exceptions of course, for whistleblowers and political activists, for whom being open about their identity could be dangerous.

For me, the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory usually holds true:

Internet dickwad theory

I was reminded of the topic a few weeks back, when I posted about forums, and specifically 4chan. 4chan is a remarkably popular site, and also a remarkably foul one, which is why I’m not linking to it (not because I disaprove, just that I wouldn’t like to be responsible for someone having their internet access taken away from them). It’s an ‘image board’ – basically a pretty simple forum where people post images or text in thread discussions. Sophisticated it ain’t.

What sets 4chan apart from many online communities is that anonymity is not only tolerated, but encouraged. This freedom to post without reprisals results in some truly shocking things being said, but for those with the constitution to sift through it, also some genuinely creative stuff. Quite a few of the popular internet memes started on 4chan – including LOLcats and Rickrolling. Fine, hardly the stuff of huge cultural significance, but creative and cool, and worthwhile.

Anyway, there’s a great article about 4chan, and its founder, Christopher Poole (aka ‘moot’) in Technology Review, which you really ought to read in full:

Support for anonymous communication often comes down to a standard set of arguments: people should have a place where they can speak truth to power (blow a whistle on corruption, assess whether an emperor has clothes) without fear of reprisal; they should also have a place where they can be true to themselves (explore an unconventional sexuality, seek treatment for a stigmatized disease) without risking ostracism and worse. But while Poole embraces these arguments, what he says in defense of the anonymity on 4chan is at once less high-minded and (in ways he is only slowly coming to understand) more far-reaching: “People deserve a place to be wrong.”

The article links to Poole’s talk at the Ted conference, which is both interesting and short:

Identity is a massive issue, particularly for government, and especially where services are being delivered. Yet in terms of the fluffier, engagement stuff I wonder whether we need to be too bothered about anonymity in every case. I’m obviously not recommending that we use 4chan as a consultation platform. Although… no. It wouldn’t work. Would it? No. Definitely not.

Maybe it’s easier sometimes to keep the barriers to entry as low as possible and be prepared to have to sift through an awful lot of stuff to find the gems. Put the burden on the askers, not the answerers.

Bookmarks for July 11th through July 16th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • How to work with online communities at Helpful Technology – "But there are many other ways to build relationships, and lots more experience to share. To help explore this further, I’m helping to convene Meet The Communities, a free, one-off event probably in Central London during September, bringing together some of the leading online communities with the government clients, PR & digital agencies for an afternoon of storytelling and speednetworking."
  • App Inventor and the culture wars – O’Reilly Radar – "Creativity–whether the creativity of others or your own–is what makes life worthwhile, and enabling creativity is a heroic act. Google has built a culture around enabling others' creativity, and that's worth celebrating. "
  • The Big Society – the evidence base – "Building on David Kane’s blog-post on the numbers behind the Big Society, the NCVO research team is keen to explore in greater depth the evidence behind this important policy agenda which emphasises the need to transform the relationship between citizens and the state."
  • Should Governments Develop iPhone Apps? – "No, governments should not develop iPhone apps, the community should."
  • Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications – "With Google applications we return to the app to do something specific and then go on to something else, whereas great social applications are designed to lure us back and make us never want to leave."
  • WordPress Plugins to Reduce Load-time : Performancing – Doubt my blog will ever run into performance problems due to traffic, but some interesting stuff here nonetheless.
  • BBC – dot.Rory: Martha’s manifesto – "But it's hard to see how the pledge of universal web access for the UK workforce – which may well be backed by the prime minister later today – can be fulfilled without some government money."
  • UK Government Goes Social for Budget Cuts: Do Not Hold Your Breath – "Once again, this is the unavoidable asymmetry of government 2.0 in action: it is easier (and certainly more pressworthy) to call for ideas on channels that government controls, rather than to gather them where they already are."
  • How Local Government can do Facebook « The Dan Slee Blog – Great roundup and hints and tips from Dan.
  • CycleStreets: UK-wide Cycle Journey Planner and Photomap – "CycleStreets is a UK-wide cycle journey planner system, which lets you plan routes from A to B by bike. It is designed by cyclists, for cyclists, and caters for the needs of both confident and less confident cyclists."

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for April 19th through April 23rd

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Open innovation, why bother? – 100% Open – "…if open innovation is to deliver sustainable business advantage then we need a better understanding of what motivates contributors to these initiatives, else there is a risk of a backlash against them…"
  • Docs.com – MS Office + Facebook beats Google Docs? Am not convinced!
  • TALKI – The easiest way to embed a forum – Embed a forum on your website – just like that! Users can sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts.
  • Government 2.0 Can and Must Save Money – "I think that the current shortage of resources and a sometimes dramatic budgetary situation can be a powerful incentive to make this change happen, to tap into the creativity of employees as well as external resources." YES!!!
  • Red Sweater Blog – Apple Downloads – VERY interesting – is Apple going to go down the App Store route for vetting Mac software now, too?
  • HTML5 presentation – "Slideshow-style presentation on HTML5 made using HTML5."
  • CDC Provides a Great Example of What Social Media Is About – "CDC’s strategy puts them in a better position to identify patterns where trust may be shifting elsewhere early enough to take action: many other agencies worldwide, which just care about publishing data and creating their Facebook pages, will be taken by surprise."
  • data.lincoln.gov.uk (beta) – Lincoln City Council start publishing data publicly – great work, and props to Andrew Beeken who must have driven this through.
  • Simplifying the social web with XAuth – "We think that XAuth can simplify and improve the social web, while keeping your private information safe. This is just one of many steps that Google is taking, along with others in the industry, to make the social web easier and more personalized."
  • Open Government and the Future of Public Sector IT – Great talk from Microsoft's Dave Coplin.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Communicosm

A short while ago, I wrote a little piece about a possible idea to enter into the Building Democracy competition, which was to create a social ‘directory’ of online community groups. I put directory in inverted comments because that isn’t really what it is, but I could think of a better word. Anyway, I’ve come up with a working title for the project: Communicosm – it’s like a microcosm of communities. Or something. I dunno.

Anyway, for the Building Democracy site, I need to answer some questions about the project. Here’s my draft responses, which will hopefully give more detail on how this thing might just work. Once again, all feedback gratefully received! I need to get this up on the site next week really, so chop chop people.

What is your idea’s name?

Communicosm.

A short description of your idea (in twenty words or less)

A socially generated directory of online communities, tagged by areas of interest, that organisations can use to find people to talk to. (This is 22 words. Dammit.)

Describe your idea. What will you do?

Create a wiki based site which will contain details of online communities, which organisations such as central and local government can use to find the people they need to get in touch with for consultations, etc. Each community will have a page describing it and its interests, with tags describing it with keywords, which can then be used by organisations to find the right communities quickly whether through a search engine or a tag cloud. Time will be spent at the beginning researching and finding communities and adding them to the site so that when it launches, it is full of content for people to get their teeth into. After this initial burst of activity, it will be a community generated job. Further additions to functionality might be for people to make lists of communities that they have found on the site, which can be emailed to them or shared on the site.

What will the benefits be?

The site will save time for those searching for groups to contact and engage with. Searching online for communities is a time consuming business, not least because some human research element is required to judge activity levels and how relevant the community is to a project.

Who will you target?

Online community groups will be targetted and encouraged to add themselves to the site. Non-online community group could also be added, though if they have no online presence this could be tricky. It will also be publicised amongst government and other organisations to encourage use.

Is your idea linked to a particular town or region? If so, where?

No, it’s a national thing. A local version already kind of exists with GroupsNearYou.

What kind of assistance would you like from others?

Help in identifying, adding and tagging communities on the site once up and running. Encouragement of organisations to make use of the site’s content.

My Building Democracy idea

I just had a request from someone asking what the best community sites are for a certain – fairly specific – group of people. A little digging, partly Google, partly ‘I know I’ve seen something like this somewhere…’, soon produced some good results. I emailed them off and my contact was a happy chappy (hopefully).

This set me off thinking, that some kind of online resource for government, both central and local, and other organisations, could use to identify where the places are that people are talking about certain topics. It could be community maintained and updated, but would need some seriously work in the first place to firstly identify key target groups that would be good places to start, and secondly do the grunt work to track down the most popular communities and forums, and then list them on the site.

A further development could then be to add other communities which aren’t necessarily online based – though if they have no web presence at all, that might be tricky.

So, some time is required to get it up and running, which if I were to do it (and why not?) I’d probably like to be paid for. Which made me think of Building Democracy, the competition to identify projects which help ‘stimulate public discussion’. I reckon this idea suits that remit pretty well. I need to do some maths around how much time it would take to scope and do the initial work, but I doubt it will use up very much of the available £150,000 at all.

Before I post it up to the site, though, I’d like some initial feedback:

  • Is it a good idea?
  • Does something like this already exist?
  • Can you see any problems at this early stage of the idea’s development?

Any thoughts welcomed! Oh, and please don’t steal my idea!

A thought…

…that’s occurred to me since being at Online Information last week.

People still seem to be under the impression that having a forum on a website, whether internal or external, means you have a community. You don’t. A community needs so much more than just that.

But it seems for a lot of people, the forum is the be-all and end-all of a conversational approach to the web. For those of us trying to be a little more ambitious, there is plenty of opportunity out there, I think.