Too much time and public money is being wasted on closed systems which rarely work as networks.
If you’re a community group in Birmingham you can create your own free web presence on two new services Birmingham Voice (see also) and ChangeUp. The principal problem with both is ownership. Yes you can sign up and fill in your organisations details and create a webpage – but the chances of you using it are slim.
We know this from two other similar endeavours – the (excuse me for a moment while I bite a hand that feeds ) b:cen microsites and the similar Banf microsites. Neither work, they just create a series of moribund pages which are updated automatically with news from the central organisation. My own local Cannon Hill Neighbourhood Forum illustrates this perfectly (link).
Both also suffer from login mania. The b:cen chat rooms require you to login to see the conversation, never mind contribute to it. Imagine two rooms where people are talking, one with an open door the other a closed door. Which conversation are you most likely to join? Banf goes a step further with this little treat on the “Welcome” page telling us “If your are a citizen of Bimringham please register to access the resources on this site”.
Lessons from these two examples are that some people do register, some create their own miscrosites but virtually nobody uses them, updates them or visits them.
Why I ask should we expect Voices or Change Up to be any different? As sites they live in their own bubble. Change up has isolated itself from the modern web to the extent that not even it’s news page carries an rss feed. The terms and conditions for Voice include these two gems:
Except for setting-up of an approved link you are not entitled (nor will you assist others) to set up links from other websites to VOICE (whether by hypertext linking, deep-linking, framing, tagging or otherwise) without our prior written consent, which consent we may at our absolute discretion, and without providing a reason, grant or withhold.
Create links with other websites, without obtaining the relevant permission or authority where required
Which basically means you can’t link to or from this site without our permission!
Earlier today I popped round the corner and showed the administrator for a women’s project how to set up a free blog, went through the basics of rss feeds and talked about how to integrate content with Facebook and Youtube etc etc. Like Pete Ashton I know these are simple powerful and inexpensive tools. Like Stefan at 3form I believe it also needs to be explained how they help create networks and relationships. So showing people how to use these tools is a much more potent approach than any portal which essentially seeks to contain and control information. All the state needs to do then is create and share quality content on an RSS feed.
Thanks to Bounder for the email tip.