Roman Tol on Thu, 15 May 2008 10:54:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Politics: Web 2.0 - Conference review/summary

On April 17th and 18th 2008 I attended ***Politics: Web 2.0: an
international conference<>
* at the department of Politics and International Relations of the Royal
Holloway University of London.

The Institute of Network Cultures asked me to post a review/summary of the
event at INC's blog.

An excerpt is posted below. For the full article check the Institute of
Network Cultures

Dear regards,

On April 17th and 18th 2008 the department of Politics and International
Relations at the Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) organized
Web 2.0: an international
*. The conference was large and diverse, with six distinguished keynotes,
120 papers organized into 41 panels, and over 180 participants drawn from
over 30 countries. The big star of the conference was…. You!

Of course we all remember winning the TIME's Person of the year award in
2006 for seizing the reins of the global media and, whilst working for
nothing, founding the new digital democracy. TIME rightly observed a new
trend in the Web – a shift that allows for bringing together the small
contributions of millions of people and making them matter. *We call it Web

Web 2.0, coined by Tim O'Reilly in 2004, is the idea of mutually maximizing
collective intelligence and added value for each participant by dynamic
information sharing and creation. Web 2.0 includes all those Internet
utilities and services which can be modified by users whether in its content
(adding, changing or deleting- information or associating metadata with the
existing information), or how to display them, or in content and external
aspect simultaneously. The user generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the
million-channel people's network YouTube and online social network
conurbations such as Facebook and MySpace are a mere few examples of the new
web direction.

Though it may not be obvious, the road marks in Web 2.0 are political:
grassroots participation, forging new connections, and empowering from the
ground up. The ideal democratic process is participatory and Web 2.0 is
about democratizing digital technology. It may therefore be relevant to ask
if there has been a shift in political use of the internet and digital new
media - a new Web 2.0 politics based on participatory values. Moreover, how
do broader social, cultural, and economic shift towards Web 2.0 impact, if
at all, on the contexts, the organizational structures, and the
communication of politics and policy? Essentially, does Web 2.0 hinder or
help democratic citizenship?

After an hour travel from London I arrived in Egham, a small town in the
Runnymede borough of Surrey, in the south-east of England. The picturesque
houses of Egham are home for a population of six thousand people. Just
outside Egham is the Royal Holloway University of London which caters eight
thousand students. The campus, which is set in 55 hectares of parkland, is
dominated by its original building, known as the "Founder's Building",
designed by William Henry Crossland and inspired by the Château de Chambord
in the Loire Valley, France.

The department of Politics and International relations, *Andrew
Chadwick*(Director) explains in the opening speech of the conference,
was created to
study the 'new' in new media technologies, such as the Internet, mobile
technologies, and global TV. The main issue with new media phenomena is that
they get over estimated in the short term and drastically underestimated in
the long term. It is therefore essential to analyze and research changes in
the Web without delay. The current accent of the web seems to be on social
networking and sharing. Its success hints at possibilities for a working
political and social system based on mutual respect for each other's
cultures, free of prejudice.

This article is divided in two sections: firstly I will discuss the keynote
speakers; then in the second half I will discuss six case-studies. The
article will be wrapped up with a short conclusion including comments on the
overall event.

The keynote presentations include:

• Professor Rachel Gibson – Trickle-up Politics? The Impact of Web 2.0
technologies on citizen participation.
• Micah Sifry – The Revolution will be Networked: How Open Source Politics
is Emerging in America.
• Professor Robin Mansell – The Light and the Dark Sides of Web 2.0
• Professor Helen Margetts – Digital-era Governance: Peer production, Co-
creation and the Future of Government.

The case-studies include:

• Severine Arsene – Web 2.0 in China: the collaborative development of
citizen's rational discussion and its limits.
• Cuiming Pang – Self-censorship and the rise of cyber-organizations: an
anthropological study of Chinese online community.
• Maura Conway & Lisa McInerney – Broadcast Yourself: A History &
Categorization of Terrorist Video Propaganda.
• Kostas Zafiropoulos and Vasiliki Vrana – An exploration of political
blogging in Greece
• Paul Zube – VulnerableSpace: A comparison of 2008 Official Campaign
Websites and MySpace.
• Rebecca Hayes – Reaching out on their own turf: Social networking sites
and Campaign 2008.




Professor *Rachel Gibson*'s presentation 'Trickle-politics?' concerned the
impact of Web 2.0 technologies on political communication and citizen
participation. 'Trickle-up politics' in fact refers to Reagan/Bush's
'trickle-down' economic policy - which is used in political rhetoric to
classify economic policies perceived to primarily benefit the wealthy and
then 'trickle-down' to the middle and lower classes. What Rachel means with
trickle-up is a bottom-up tactic, referring to the deregulated,
decentralized political space that is the web. Rachel's talk was
particularly interesting because she set-out a concise historical trajectory
to define the present-day web/politics.

Politics before the web – early 20th century through to WWII – can be
characterized as being direct, localized and face-to-face. The town meeting,
for instance, used to be an effective intermediate. In fact, Rachel
continues, politics at this time had a 'live' quality, the emphasis was on a
confrontation 'in the flesh'. Politics gradually became more mediated and
indirect between WWII and the turn of the century. With advancement in
electronic mass media, the position of the mediator increasingly became
independent and subjective, as well as a critical factor in the election
outcome. Hence, personality driven candidates have become vital in
persuading publics to vote for a party, consequently parties lost their
supremacy. Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats in the 1930's and the
first televised presidential debate in 1960 - John F. Kennedy versus Richard
Nixon – are two defining moments, or as Rachel calls them, *seeds of change*

In the period between 1990 and 2004 the Internet progressively became a
consumer friendly domestic commodity, and with it political communication
found a new medium, one with a potential to evade sound-bites and negative
ads. Of course the Internet had a long history prior to the emergence of the
WWW. It is debatable when exactly the WWW was invented, however, one common
date is 1990 when TBL published 'Proposal for a hypertext
The immediate consequence for political communication was an increase in
speed, volume, and individual user control over consumption and production.
Moreover, it provided a new way of targeting and allowed for
'narrowcasting'. The internet opened a decentralized control structure and
offered the user new forms of interactivity, putting an accent on
multi-media formats.

The expectations were high; in 'The Virtual Community' (1993) Howard
Rheingold wrote that "the future of the Net is connected to the future of
community, democracy, education, science and intellectual life… The
political significance of CMC lies in its capacity to challenge the existing
political hierarchy's monopoly on powerful commercial media, and perhaps
thus revitalize citizen-based democracy." Nicholas Negroponte wrote in
'Being Digital' (1995) that "as we interconnect ourselves, many of the
values of a nation state will give way to those of both larger and smaller
electronic communities. [there is] …A decentralized mindset growing in our
society, driven by young citizenry in the digital world. The traditional
centralist view of life will become a thing of the past."

And in 1998 Esther Dyson wrote in 'Release 2.1: a design for living in the
digital age' that for her "the great hope of the Net is that more and more
people will be led to get involved with it, and that using it will change
their overall experience of life… The Internet is a powerful lever for
people to use to accomplish their own goals in collaboration with other
people. Its more than a source of information, it's a way for people to
organize themselves. It gives them power for themselves. Rather than over

But, then, what did all this buoyancy bring forth? Rachel answers by showing
slides of Tony Blair's incredibly meager home page from 1995, plus some
other laugh-raising political campaign sites familiar to British voters.
Obviously it takes time to master technological innovation, Rachel notes.
Then, in 2004, came web 2.0. The technological definition of Web 2.0 is that
the web functions as a platform, supplanting the desktop and PC. The browser
is now the key tool to access a suite of new increasingly interoperable
applications that work behind the scenes to link up a wide range of online
functionalities – i.e. manage a home page.

At its core, this frame refers to social and participatory elements of the
web: communicate with friends, share/publish pictures, and receive news. Web
2.0 is based around social networking activities as it relies on and is
built trough 'social or participatory' software. Typical applications are
blogs, wikis, social networking and file sharing sites, such as Myspace,
Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. Hallmark of these applications is the way in
which they devolve creative and classificatory power to 'ordinary' users. In
a nutshell Web 2.0, as defined by blogger Nicholas Carr, concerns "the
distribution of production into the hands of the many".

But what does it mean for politics? It is more and more difficult to
identify media 'effects' at the individual and collective/societal level. We
therefore need new methods and data to capture how and why people are using
the technology. The Web is becoming an 'environment' and a context. Where it
is probably having most effect is in changing the culture of participation
particularly among younger people. However, Rachel argues, we are not at the
stage yet where we can definitively point to changes in citizen
participation. Yet, there are significant signs of a shift taking place
coming from recent elections in the US, France, Australia and beyond.

Emergent trends include the blurring of boundaries between users and
producers, causing what Rachel calls an 'amateurization' of politics. On the
other hand politics is speeded up; Rachel observes a 'quickening' of
coordinating citizen demands and responses, fostered by tools like MySociety
and Central Desktop, hopefully leading to a more open form of decision
making. In addition, the boundaries between public and private are blurring,
which causes an 'informalizing' of politics. Furthermore, Rachel notes a
pluralizing and disaggregating of choices, hinting at a long tail of
politics. In politics the long tail has been talked about in terms of
tapping small donors, but she argues that it also applies to people's
discrete interests and the opportunity to respond to more than the top four
survey items in a poll.

In this sense, Rachel's 'trickle-up politics' refers to diffused and
decentralized individualistic micro-networks that are continuous,
citizen-based in a non-institutional setting, and characterized by niche
audiences. So, where do we go from here? While we ponder the nature of
politics associated with the Web 2.0 era it is interesting to think about
what the next shift might be. Web 3.0? If Web 1.0 relates to a receive/read
mode and Web 2.0 includes a send/write mode (user generated content), then
Web 3.0 could very well be, Rachel reasons, a more immersive mode, for
instance create/speak/act. So, does this mean we will all be having
avatar-to-avatar fire-side chats with upcoming politicians in Second/Third
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