I can’t think of an official, government or state website that allows its visitors to talk among themselves, or even to see that there are other visitors present. I’m finishing a short essay on Tegnemaskin 1-12 and I’m thinking of how quiet government websites are. Like well-ordered, extremely silent libraries, full of information, but with no librarians, no visitors, nobody at all. You can only ever visit such a site as an individual. You’ll never see anyone else there. It’s newspapers and activists and private companies and hobbyists who run communities where people can talk to each other. The separation of government and public debate is absolute on the internet.
Or am I wrong? Are there government or other official websites that do allow us to speak together?
11 thoughts on “silent websites”
One site you might check out is bibliotekvakten.no. It is a collaborative project by various libraries in Norway where you can enquire a librarian by chat. I haven’t tried it yet, and the site could use some more peppy design, but at least it seems you can communicate with a real person.
I suppose libraries count as public web spaces. As do universities. They’re both publically funded.
The scottish parliament allows visitors to comment on its e-petitions, sometimes with quite amusing results (try the anti-social behaviour petition):
It’s still quite nascent and needs re-working, but it’s a little something.
Ah- good point.. I read ‘library’ and this just popped into my mind 😉
I think the difference is in approach. A librarian is supposed to be an impassive conduit, facilitating the flow information. (At least that’s what they tried to teach me in librarian school [Masters #2]) As such, there is, typically, an identified need to communicate back and forth to insure the information provided is really the information requested.
Governments run close to this idea, but they stumble heavily on the “impassive.” Motivated by politics, greed and power, most only increase their situation by putting as many barriers between themselves and their constituents.
It’s a matter of Open-ness and Access. And, I suppose, the Nature(s) of the Beast(s).
Actually, noreg.no (or norge.no if you prefer), the site that gathers most local and central government in Norway on the web, has a service very much like bibliotekvakten.no. You can chat in real time with the information people, but I guess that’s really just a faster alternative to e-mail.
As a frequent user of various governmental web sites, I would say your observation that visitors can’t see or interact with each other on these sites is very precise. You could see it as a symptom of neo-liberalism: These sites are there for us as customers or clients seeking information and services, not as citizens seeking to interact with our elected officials or one another.
PS: Did a quick check, and as I suspected, one of the country’s smallest countys, Modalen (www.modalen.kommune.no), actually has a discussion forum on their official local government pages, and it seems to be in use as intented as well. The head of the administration is out there participating and all. But then, Modalen can afford to give a laptop to every pupil in the local school, and there are so few inhabitants, they could just as well gather outside the general store…
Modalen’s site is gorgeous. “Why is the new activity house going to be THERE? I asked the mayor and he said…” Sounds kind of like our housing corporation.
What great examples – the Scottish and Modalen’s discussion forums, and the people who’ll actually help you online.
Surfing Odin I was getting nostalgic for just seeing other people. Filing my tax return by sending an SMS was wonderfully easy but perversely enough I sort of missed the communal feel of meeting dozens of other late-comers pushing the envelope into the slot five minutes before the deadline. I mean, I don’t really miss that exactly, but I do miss the nods to other people, the knowledge that other people are here too.
Administration is about bureaucracy, carrying out rules given by politicians (either directly or through laws). In this model the main input from the public to the legislative power is supposed to come on election day, (of course inbetween those there are other channels for communication and influence such as media and organisations). Bureaucracy dudes just don’t dig direct dialogue…
Though the old kinds of democracy involved standing in queues which while yes I hate queues at least there are other people there.
When waiting to renew my residency permit I can see the other immigrants, nod to them, chat a little with some of them.
I suppose I still can online, so long as the immigrants build their own discussion spaces, which they very often do. But then I’ll go to the Aussie expats, or the English-speaking immigrants sites and completely miss all the other immigrants. Obviously I nearly did anyway, even in the waiting room, but with the net I can totally ignore their existence.
Nothing new in these points really. They sound really old-fashioned, don’t they? I do like Modalens discussion forum, though.
I think the basic problem is the medium of the web. It has become the new agora (buzzword notwithstanding), but it isn’t really. There are very few websites that make you aware of who else is “present”. A lot of messaging board software now allow this kind of co-presence where you can see logged in user and send them private messages, which is nice.
To my knowledge, Instant Messaging (IM) and Massive Multiuser Online (MMO) games are the best implementations of genuine social interaction on the net, the most important feature being that you don’t have to decide explicitly to meet someone. Your IM software pops up your buddy list instantly, and in MMOs you (literally) run into people and get to know them (or kill them I guess…)
But no, I have never seen an official (or commercial, for that matter) web site encourage the kind of co-presence that exists in physical public spaces.
I have been advocating for open web bulletins in our government site for years–then we put one up and invariably we get a pornographic link. The powers that be have a real hard time dealing with the comments about how a government site could possibly support a pornographic link. Then the funding for the government program we put the site up for somehow disappears.
So…while we do have moderated lists, comment and responses pages, etc, we no longer even think about doing an unmoderated chat. Much as some of us would like to…