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Archive for November 2005

Wireless and "great good places"

Posted on Wed, Nov 30, 2005 at 12:10 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A fun little interview with William J. Mitchell got me thinking about social capital - one of the themes of Chapter 05. In this I discuss Ray Oldenburg's "third places" theory. Oldenburg argues that since the 1950s, planners and architects have failed to incorporate what he terms "great good places" in their suburban development schemes. Great good places provide meeting spaces away from work and the home. They may be public or perhaps semi-public spaces, such as cafés, bars, and hair salons, but the key point is that they regularly bring us into contact with others, and encourage serendipitous encounters that extend our social ties.

The interesting thing about Mitchell's theory of the wirelessly-powered urban environment is that the "great good places" become significant not for what they actually provide in the way of face to face human interaction but rather as venues where it is acceptable to connect with others not present. How many times have you walked into a Starbucks, looked around, and realised that everyone in the shop is communicating with someone physically absent, via phone, text, or email? The urban environment provides a sort of skeletal architecture for these things to occur - chairs, coffee, heating - but do these "great good places" now actually work in the way Oldenburg wants them to?

The WSIS outcome

Posted on Mon, Nov 21, 2005 at 11:03 AM by Andrew Chadwick

The second round of the WSIS has been completed and a decision made on Internet governance. The details are yet to fully emerge, but the basic result is a compromise: minor reform of the existing arrangements. ICANN will retain its control over the DNS, and the United States will formally retain its control over ICANN. A new Internet Governance Forum will be created to accommodate civil society groups, but its powers appear to be limited, and it is also uncertain how much of a role governments will play in its operation.

At the moment, the UN/intergovernmental control proposal - originally tabled by a group of countries including China, Brazil, Iran and Pakistan, and supported by the EU back in late summer - has been pushed aside. Strangely, the EU delegates remained very quiet on this. A report by Kieren McCarthy in the Guardian suggests that a letter from Condoleezza Rice in the build-up to the WSIS asked the EU to reconsider.

Most commentators seem to be suggesting that this is the beginning rather than the end of the Internet governance battle. There is an interesting perspective by Milton Mueller at ICANNwatch. He suggests that the decision strengthens the role of governments in ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee and the new Forum will also be open to governmental influence. In other words, those states pushing for greater control will have an opportunity to continue - inside ICANN's structures. All with US oversight of course.

Are you a mociologist?

Posted on Tue, Nov 15, 2005 at 10:47 PM by Andrew Chadwick

John Sutherland has a good little interview in The Guardian's 'ideas' feature, with Joe Trippi, former Dean campaign manager, and author of the superb book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Apparently mociology is a term Trippi uses to refer to things we do with mobile, Internet-enabled devices.

As for blogging, Trippi has some views about why the Democrats have embraced a more interactive web strategy:

There is, Trippi says, no inherent reason for mociology to favour liberal causes - "the technology doesn't know or care what ideology is using it" - but, in practice, it has not yet become a tool for the right. "I think the one problem the right has on the internet and blogging is that they tend to be so disciplined about command and control," he suggests. "That's worked very well for them up to now. But it doesn't, and it won't, work for them on the net. Conservatives tend to use the net as a data communications vehicle. For them, it's a messaging machine. The Democrats - the progressives - are much better at growing big connected communities."

I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced by this. The net appeals to those with a libertarian (small 'l') outlook. You can be a libertarian Democrat, a libertarian Republican, even a libertarian Marxist. The net appeals to all of these people. The Bush team use the Internet in the way they do because they are on the authoritarian side of the libertarian-authoritarian spectrum. Things could be different with a different type of Republican...

Blogging, smart mobs and the riots in France

Posted on Mon, Nov 14, 2005 at 5:36 PM by Andrew Chadwick

There's a good article in the Guardian Media section today by Jeff Jarvis about the role of blogs and other websites in the ongoing riots in Paris and other French cities [free registration required to access Media Guardian online].

There appear to have been some smart mob behaviours associated with the riots.

Of equal significance is the fact that the French minister arguably responsible for making the situation worse bought some ad space with Google - to make sure his side of the story appeared prominently in the form of clickable links when individuals searched for information about the disturbances.

Nice quote

Posted on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 at 11:07 AM by Andrew Chadwick
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth"

Oscar Wilde

E-democracy and e-government in Singapore

Posted on Tue, Nov 08, 2005 at 11:18 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Singapore is often held up as an excellent example of managerial e-government. It's often mentioned in the same breath that its model of e-government fits with its (relatively) authoritarian political system. It's doubly surprising therefore to find that this Government Consultation Portal appears to be thriving.

Wake-Up Wal-Mart

Posted on Mon, Nov 07, 2005 at 9:33 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Can you imagine this (particularly the blog and discussion forums) before the Internet?

Wake-Up Wal-Mart

New UK e-government strategy

Posted on Fri, Nov 04, 2005 at 12:47 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The British government has finally published its new e-government strategy, Transformational Government. This is the first big statement of where things are heading since the formation of the new Cabinet Office E-Government Unit and the appointment of Ian Watmore as CIO. This is from the section on 'Vision':

"The specific opportunities lie in improving transactional services (eg tax and benefits), in helping front line public servants to be more effective (eg doctors, nurses, police and teachers), in supporting effective policy outcomes (eg in joined-up, multi-agency approaches to offender management and domestic violence), in reforming the corporate services and infrastructure which government uses behind the scenes, and in taking swifter advantage of the latest technologies developed for the wider market."

and these are seen as the principal problems with the current state of e-government:

"Many systems are structured around the "product" or the underlying legislation rather than the customer (sometimes because, at the time, each system was big or difficult enough to do by itself). Often the customer experience is not joined up, especially when it crosses organisational boundaries.
Many systems were designed as islands, with their own data, infrastructure and security and identity procedures. This means that it is difficult to work with other parts of government or the voluntary and community sector to leverage each other's capabilities and delivery channels. It also leads to customer frustration, duplication of effort (for instance on customer change of address) and failure to make timely interventions, as the Bichard Inquiry showed. Choice requires services to be able to talk to each other."

Increasing co-ordination across government has been a core aim of e-government since the late 1990s, but once again we find fragmentation mentioned as one of the problems. And in this case it actually provides a context and rationale for the new strategy. The assumption for Watmore seems to be that the new public management fragmented government, e-government has so far reinforced it, but this now needs to be overcome. It's an interesting issue, because Patrick Dunleavy and Helen Margetts have argued [pdf] that the era of new public management is 'over', and has been replaced by a new era of co-ordination and coherence through e-government technologies. Reading the new strategy document, this seems like a contested interpretation.

OSU and UEA conferences on e-democracy

Posted on Tue, Nov 01, 2005 at 5:04 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This looks like an interesting conference. It is partly organized by Peter Shane, who edited a very good collection of essays on e-democracy, published by Routledge last year.

In the same vein, but on the other side of the Atlantic, there's a conference at De Montfort University, organized by Lawrence Pratchett and Scott Wright. No website yet, but it's on Wednesday November 23rd.

Hopefully the papers will be available online in due course.

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