Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Unique Aspects of Mobile Usage

Still working on the paper on mobile devices, social media and information seeking and sharing. I hate writing papers this time of year. Whomever made academic terms end in late December is a real Grinch that has stolen my Christmas for way too many years!

Anyway, in my research I think I have found three ways that mobile usage is unique from other media technology. I'd love to get some feedback (hopefully in time to incorporate into my paper!) on these, so I thought I'd share them here.

1) Ubiquity of access
Mobiles allow and encourage always-on, anywhere and anytime access.

Repercussions: nomadic information access; attention deficit; information capture to read later; changing sense of personal, work, and social spaces

speed of access; atomized content; file syncing and version control

cloud computing; proactive search; automated metadata

2) Unique design
Mobile devices not only entail smaller screens than PCs but also have a variety of (smaller) input mechanisms (touch screen, trackball, keyboards, etc.) modalities (text, speech, photography, video) and platforms .

Repercussions: multi-platform support

Needs: small scale design; multimedia content; touch screen input; limited user input (based on difficulty in entering large amounts of text)

Innovations: QR Codes; automated linking and integration with native applications; actions based on various input methods, e.g. user shaking device (iPhone); clustered browsing

3) Contextual awareness

Mobile devices are aware of a user's time and location and as mobiles tend to be single-user devices can draw upon automated or supplied profile data. The aspect most unique to mobile devices is the ability to determine a user's geographic location.

Repercussions: participatory surveillance; privacy concerns; geographic relevance

geotagged resources, GPS; precise location determination; widespread network access (incl. basements, rural, etc.)

Innovations: location-based applications and advertising; location sensitive maps and wayfinding aids; augmented reality; personalized content

Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2010

As the year draws to the close, I find it interesting to go over my blog posts to find the subjects I found interesting or topical. Having reviewed the Webslinger blog for 2010, I have compiled my favourite blog posts.

Political Participation Online in Canada
I love this post as it was so gratifying to see the involvement Canadians had in reaction to Harper proroguing parliament. I joined the Facebook protest group early and it was exciting to see it grow and turn to nation wide in-the-street movement. This blog post also examined Canada lagging use of digital media in government.

Short month, no posts

Conference Presentation on Web Accessibility Challenges
I presented the main finding from my research on web accessibility diffusion and implementation challenges. Overall, I found that the onus to implement accessibility falls on web practitioners yet there is insufficient support and promotion.

Facebook and the Problem of Collapsed Identity
Privacy and Facebook seem to be much discussed, but the ability to segment different facets of one's life online (and one's online life) in Facebook are not adequately addressed.

Participate in Shaping Canada's Digital Economy
Last spring, the Canadian government opened up discussions on Canada's "digital economy". I was glad to see government recognizing the need to improve here and allowing various ways for citizens to send feedback. In addition to voting and commenting on ideas raised by others on the government's website, I participated in a group wiki for the UofT to submit their report

Canada's Cyber Celebs - 2010
It is great to see that so many Canadians (as loosely as that is defined by me) having achieved such significant results to the development and culture of the Internet. This was an update to a prior list, but I doubled it.

Delicious Numbers
I find it so sad to hear about Delicious probable demise. It is now bittersweet to reread this post where I itemize my great devotion to Delicious.

Foursquare User Types
My ethnographic research into Foursquare users resulted in a paper and some findings that I rolled up into this and another post. I thought Foursquare was the bees knees, but sadly over the last two months I haven't checked into Foursquare once. Their value proposition could not extend beyond novelty - although I think it's annotated space functionality will still come in handy if looking for restaurants. For specific information I now use the Yellow Pages app - which truly is the bees knees, if less sexy.

Canada's Role in a Mobile Media World and Canada and the Role of Location - Mobile Media World Conference
This was one of the best conferences I attended in 2010. It has interesting speakers raising some good points. It reaffirmed my decision to segue to mobile Internet - even if the caterer did give me food poisoning.

Another Thing to Blog Home About
On the fourth anniversary of this blog, I started my second ever blog. It reminded me of the invaluable role blogging can play individually and collectively.

Lessons From In-the-Trenches Webcasting
The trenches can be a bloody mess but a real eye-opener. I got an in-depth, crash course on the latest developments for webcasting and gained best practices (mostly from learning the hard way) which I share in this post.

Disney World - From Analog to Digital
I've started looking at my stats over the past few months and found out that this blog is read by more than just me and my wife. Someone else loved this post and sent me a decent amount of traffic. I think this posts captures the cultural shift from analog to digital media as epitomized by Disney.

My blog has been including more coverage of non-Internet topics that address my growing academic transitions. So an honourable mentions go to my posts on how to get Canadian graduate research grants, which is the most popular blog post of all time.

Here's to an interesting, eventful 2011!

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 the Year of Mobile

I'm writing a paper on trends on the use of mobile social media apps and sites for information seeking and sharing. I was trying to support the claim that 2010 was the year of mobile as definitely appeared to be judging from the rapid uptake and development of devices and applications. I saw this video from Mobile Future and it makes my complete case for me.

Although the stats presented are American, I'm sure they apply equally well in Canada (with the exception of carrier choice and prices - we suck in that area). I think I'm definitely studying the right area!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Klick! Holiday Video

Over the years I have received numerous corporate holiday e-cards and videos. Some were cool, most lame, and none memorable.

Except this one.

This one is hilarious! From Toronto-based communications agency Klick, this holiday video looks like the results of an open bar hours after the office holiday party. It's also a contest to spot the various viral media references.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Disney World - From Analog to Digital

I got back last week from a week-long family vacation at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. My first trip there was when it first opened in 1971. We were the first family in the small town where I was born to go to Disney World, so that family trip made it into the local paper (complete with a picture of me in a highchair happily sporting the trademark mouse-ears). Since that visit I have been back to Disney at least once every decade.

Disney World has always made use of cutting-edge technology to deliver entertainment. It was just this past trip, however, that the dramatic technological shift with their attractions became apparent to me. Analog may still remain supreme there, but the future appears to be digital.

Analog experiences are still aplenty at Disney. My daughter's favourite experiences were the theatrical shows, costumed characters, decorations, and dark rides . She also loved the log flume ride and I loved the rollercoasters. But rollercoasters are still rollercoasters (albeit greatly enhanced at Disney by special effects and art direction). Although the motion simulator and immersive experience of Mission: Space is an experience completely unique (and the only ride ever to almost make me vomit).

But, I love how old school tech still holds up well at Disney. Haunted Mansion is a great example of the excellent use of projectors, smoke, and mirrors. Disney perfected the dark ride (a term I didn't know until recently either, according to Wikipedia it is a enclosed ride with animatronics, manequins in tableaux, and special lighting and sound effects) and they are still crowd-pleasers. Haunted Mansion was my daughter's second favourite ride as it was mine when I was a kid (her favourite was Splash Mountain, mine was, and still is, Space Mountain).

Our two favourite parts of Haunted Mansion were ghostly apparitions both achieved via mirrors (including a technique called "Pepper's Ghost" from the 1850s). Okay, I had no idea what Pepper's Ghost was before reading it on Wikipedia but my point is the analog techniques are still effective. (Less so with Country Bear Jamboree and Tiki Room as the animatronics seem like something from the old scifi flick Westworld).

It was my 1992 visit, that I noticed a big switch in entertainment styles at Disney World. A year earlier MuppetVision opened at Hollywood Studios. MuppetVision was my first effective 3D experience (the ones on TV in the 80s didn't really cut it) and it was my first experience with 4D (i.e. combining 3D film with physical events in the theatre). It was Disney's second 4D experience (Michael Jackson's Captain Eo in 1986 was the first). The technology worked incredibly for me. I had never seen such a vivid 3D film before and I hadn't even conceived of 4D (although putting buzzers in people's seats to shock them during pivotal scenes was done in the 60s). 4D was so new to me that when a bubble smacked me in the face, when explosions went off in the theatre, and when a costumed-actor burst into the crowd - it rocked my world!

4D still rocks but is now getting less thrilling with its ubiquity. There is one per Disney park, i.e. Mickey's PhilharMagic in Magic Kingdom, It's Tough to Be a Bug at Animal Kingdom, and Soarin' at Epcot) and we've encountered them at Ontario Place and Niagara Falls. (BTW, I'd like to start a campaign to use the Ontario 4D film at Ontario Place to replace the dreadful show at the Canada pavilion at Epcot.)

3D/4D may use computers in production and digital projection, but it still seems like an analog experience. The real fundamental switch to a completely different type of experience was Toy Story Midway Mania! - a completely digital experience.

There were digital predecessors at Disney. The dark ride Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (opened in 1998) allowed riders to shoot lazers at targets with scores tabulated instantly on the rider's car. And the lame-o ride Spaceship Earth had a redo in 2008 that added interactive, digital components. The traditional dark ride components (the lame-o part) is augmented by an interactive component that uses a photograph of the rider and user-supplied choices to create a customized, futuristic vision video (which can then be emailed).

The epitome of digital at Disney World, however, is Toy Story Midway Mania. It opened 2008 at a cost of $80M. It is much-hyped and immensely popular - by noon at their slowest time of year they ran out of fast passes and the queue was well over an hour. Basically, the attraction is a series of 3D shooting games (modelled on old-style midway attractions such as darts and ring toss). Riders are transported from game to game in a vehicle and a running score is displayed in the car. There are 4D special effects such as wind blowing at you if you pop a balloon, but they are infrequent and minor.

According to some Disney travel writers, they believe this type of attraction is the future. I can see its appeal to the company as updating them is much simpler and cheaper. Instead of tearing down existing structures and scenes and building new ones, they can just install a new program. Despite the hype, however, it didn't seem that much better than at-home games. It seemed frenetic and lacked the charm or immersiveness of other Disney attractions.

A Disney attraction that I do think has tremendous potential and I believe will be more common among amusement parks and tourist destinations is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. Guests pick up a mobile device from a mission kiosk and then go to one of the country pavillons to unravel a mystery. The mobile plays clue videos and allows individual input based on the players' real-world findings. It also makes use of the device's camera and positioning functionality. Based on successful gamer responses, it triggers real-world action, such as sound effects and the motion of sets or statues. Overall, I loved it! But it wasn't a tremendous hit with my daughter. The storyline was a little too complicated, long and hard to hear. Still I think the Kim Possible game combines analog and digital experiences in a really vivid, interactive and compelling way.

My family already wants to go back to Disney, but it may be awhile before we actually return. When I do return, I'll be eager to see whether digital has indeed taken over or whether analog holds strong.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tips for Writing a SSHRC Program of Study

I've previously blogged about on getting Canadian graduate grants including my top ten tips. This year, I had the opportunity to look at several prospective masters programs of study. Below are common concerns that I noticed.

Common SSHRC program of study issues:

- good storytelling is important - proposals must engage the reader and entice them to read on (and not instantly discard), so don't start with "I am in my first year of a MA..."

- if including one's personal background it should be related to the program of study so specify this relationship. Don't include one's life story or a laundry list of classes taken

- acknowledge ethical concerns - if your proposed research is low risk,then once sentence will probably suffice to acknowledge your intention to follow university process here. I read some students proposals that dealt with sensitive populations or were proposing research that may actually result (indirectly) in harm to participants - in these cases it's important to deal with this.

- watch the scope is not too broad or suffers from Miss Universe syndrome (i.e. my research will save the world)

- mention (even briefly) sampling, access, and data analysis

- don't use of the term "subjects" or other dehumanizing labels for research participants

- define key terms and/or operationalize central concepts

- a clearly articulated research question is important

- explain how the research fits into your current area of study. I read some programs of study that appeared as if the student was in the wrong program as they referred exclusively to the concepts of other disciplines. It is important to fit one's research into one's current discipline not only to show that you are on a logical, appropriate academic path, but also applications are vetted by one's department so don't alienate them

- include a good title

- cite sources correctly!

I believe addressing these issues will make a program of study read better and be more academically appropriate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lessons From In-the-Trenches Webcasting

I recently finished three days of orchestrating webcasts for a local social media conference. Prior to this, I had participated in the back-end production and front-end participation of webcasts, but hadn't gotten deep into the trenches of overseeing all aspects of the webcasts. It was a learning experience, to say the least. Without getting into the details of the decision whether or not to webcast or the event management details, I'll outline my experience to offer tips and caveats for anyone considering webcasting.

I had four days to find a video recording and webcasting solution. Fortunately, the IT guys at my department already had a solution in place and were incredibly helpful. I would not have been able to do this without technical support and an integrated solution. So my first tip for anyone attempting this is to make sure they have experienced technical help in place before even embarking on such a project.

As the conference relied on volunteer labour, it meant that I didn't know whom exactly was helping out until the day of the event. Ideally, a meeting and some training beforehand would help - but I realize this isn't always feasible. Considering the uncertainty of volunteer expertise and availability, it was essential to keep everything simple and operable by one person.

It also helps to see the environment one will be working in to figure out what are going to be any camera, audio, power, and network issues. We didn't get to see all the rooms, so we packed extra power bars, extension cords, and cable extenders (another great idea).

The webcasting system
Considering the circumstances and availability of equipment and expertise, I decided that the integrated solution my department provided was ideal. They had already purchased a subscription to webcasting software. This includes web-based recording management software and desktop recording software. We had fairly small webcams that had a omni-directional microphone, auto focus, and automatic light and colour correction. This makes operation of the camera and microphone incredibly easy. The webcams have a stand/clamp that makes positioning it easy. The webcams fed into a netbook. The software can also record the speaker's PowerPoint presentation if it is preloaded onto the computer - this would then be seen with the webcam via a split screen during the webcast. The cameras capture the session and then upload to server. We used both the wireless and wired network connection. Once on the Web, sessions can be managed, edited, and shared.

The set-up
Our job was to cover 3 break-out conference panels for the 3 days of the conference (15 sessions in total). Including myself, we had 3 volunteers. I had about one hour to meet with the volunteers to set-up equipment and train them how to use the software.

Technical problems
As to be expected, there are always problems that arise - some that cannot be anticipated. Of the three days of the conference, I had a new batch of problems come up suddenly and dramatically every day. These include:
  • wireless network connection unstable and slow and wired connection didn't seem to always work either
  • camera stand tips easily
  • camera or microphones can't zoom in - so people sitting far away from the camera aren't seen or heard particularly well
  • camera can't capture details of a presentation screen well-enough to be able to read it
  • backlight from windows or projector beam light overwhelms camera
  • webcasting software would mysteriously uninstall itself and need reinstalling
  • one of the netbooks died
Having back-up netbooks minimized problems with hardware and having lots of powerbars and cable extenders also helped.

Human issues
  • problems would come up and volunteers would have to leave recording to resolve them
  • speakers refused (for various reasons) to be recorded
  • pre-loading presentations onto netbooks takes too long if doing multiple speakers
  • locks on equipment didn't work, so room would have to be locked and unlocked regularly
  • no tech support available on weekends
  • attendees and speakers needed help with various things (e.g. getting onto Internet, where's washroom, projectors, etc.) and in doing this it takes time away from recording set-up
  • speakers that read their papers (often in a monotone) make for incredibly boring webcasts
  • real-time communication between volunteers and conference organizers across buildings and rooms was a problem
Having more volunteers to act as a float and resolve the other non-webcasting issues would have help - as would have a technical expert on stand-by (even if only available via telephone).

Considering all the problems, I would be tempted to say it was an ideal solution. If we had access to high-def cameras, tripods, and full suite of microphoness it would have certainly provided a better quality recording. But these are more difficult to operate and the use of various microphones would have meant we would have fed things into an audio board. Certainly, not something one, untrained person could feasibly do alone. To cover this many sessions, it would have also required lots of computer memory - not cheap. This type of equipment tends to be bigger and require more space and cords for set-up.

The webcams and netbooks are highly portable and don't take up much space - considering the small size of some of the rooms this is an asset. This system is also easy to set-up and fast to upload. As quality wasn't as essential as making use of existing resources (both technical and labour), it was a good solution. I believe most of the problems would be addressed with better real-time communication and at least 1-2 more volunteers.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why I Really Love Delicious

As a daily web surfer since 1998, I have encountered almost innumerable webpages, many of which I wish to record or revisit. Without a robust and scalable solution, I would not be able to easily store and retrieve online resources essential to my career and personal life. For the past four years, I have used Delicious for my web bookmarks.

I use Delicious almost exclusively for my bookmarks as it offers me superior classification flexibility compared to tree-based bookmarking systems and it offers memory aids unequaled by search engines. I previously blogged about my Delicious usage. But in short, I tend to create 75 bookmarks a month on Delicious and visit their website about 2-3 times a week. Less frequently, I also use it to aid my sharing of webpages, to connect with similar bookmarkers, and to find new information.

But it is not just the utility or social networking that has garnered such devotion in me. I was wondering why I really love Delicious, so I tried to think more consciously and reflectively of my usage for a few days.

I noticed that I bookmarked not only for future retrieval but also as a form of nostalgic memory aid. I bookmark to recall life events such as family vacations, conferences attended and experiences, such as humourous findings and my bizarre interests. My bookmarks are my version of photo album and diary.

My Delicious bookmarking also fosters a sense of control. Not only are there seemingly infinite numbers of webpages to manage, but I also have many topics my career requires me to master. Faithfully bookmarking allows me to feel that these resources and the information contained therein is within my domain, readily within my grasp.

Delicious' interface is certainly simple and their browser plug-in makes using it even simpler. But it is Delicious' functionality that hooks me by being so well-suited to allowing me to obsessively grow (over 3400 bookmarks) and control this element of my life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thinking of Studying Mobile Social Media for Libraries

Okay, I'm in my second year of PhD studies and I still haven't settled on my exact research area let alone the research question.

So I need your - anybody's really - help in finding a good research area. So I'm wondering if anyone can provide me an example of mobile social media apps/sites. I'll get into the specifics...

Part of my problem is I have a lot of research interests, many of which fit well within the auspices of an Information program. The overall themes of my interests are user experience (including usability and accessibility), user participation (i.e. social media), and mobile media (specifically either a mobile website or mobile app.).

Within these areas I'm starting to look for a research problem. One domain that I think needs research is the user experience of mobile social media for libraries.

At this point, I'm defining my terms fairly broadly.

Mobile - I'm using it to indicate a device with Internet connection and input functionality. This includes smartphones (BlackBerry, iPhones, Androids, Nokia, etc.) and tablets (iPad, Blackberry's tablet.) I do not include e-Readers (eg.Kindle) as they have limited input functionality. I am not planning to include netbooks or laptops as although they can be quite small and portable they do not yet have the easy and quick access that mobile devices allow.

Social media - I'm defining this problem as any online content that allows users to add, edit, or share collectively. I'm not including tools that allow for individual customization.

Library - due to the newness of this area, I'm opening up my initial exploration from the now-common digital library to any bounded body of information on resources. Resources can be books, movies, journals, magazines, tv shows, bookmarks, etc.

So I would love to hear of any examples - and your opinions and experiences - with any mobile social media apps/sites for "libraries". (BTW, I'm not looking for libraries that have mobile apps/sites unless they have a social media component.)

I'm aware of (and love) some web library examples - such as LibraryThing, Zotero, Delicious, IMDB, Google Books, etc. But haven't encountered great examples in the mobile space. Any help in hastening my PhD studies would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Presentation to Prospective PhD Students at Royal Roads

This is the visuals for my presentation today. The content of what I said is in my earlier post here.

Check out the presentation slides here or see my notes on SlideShare.
View more presentations from glenfarrelly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Many Considerations for Considering Doing a PhD

I was asked to speak to my masters alma mater on doing a PhD. There are many factors to consider both academic and lifestyle. Assuming you have already decided that a PhD is right for you, you are willing to make the sacrifices, and can't be convinced not to do a PhD, then here are the key considerations.

Choosing a Program
Try to have an open mind when exploring and evaluating PhD programs. It's important that you feel that you will fit into the program (trust your hunches) but no program will be perfect. Here is the process I went through, in order:

1) Consider disciplines
Communication majors might want to consider related fields like information, journalism, English, etc. Also consider various different names for essential similar programs, so communication can also be very similar to Media Studies and Cultural Studies. Also think about ones programs covering topics you like but from different approaches, for example sociology, anthropology, engineering (if you go too far afield, however, you may need extra time to learn the basics of the field).

2) Consider programs
Once you have a sense of the academic discipline, check out specific programs. The best way to start is by reading their websites. Websites have the official material for prospective students, but check out their recent course list (if there is nothing offered that interests you in the last couple years, that's a good warning). Also ask your social network for their thoughts or experience. Once you have a handful of programs that interest you, contact the admissions officer to ask them your specific questions. Another good way to get a sense of a program is to look at all their recent graduates (say for the past five years) dissertations (via ProQuest). If the program is not graduating any students doing anything remotely up your alley, that's another warning sign.

3) Consider the university
As there are a glut of PhD grads every year and only a handful of tenure-track position, the reputation of your university does matter. There are various lists of top universities, but also consider the standing of the program as well. Also consider the location (commute time, aesthetics, etc.) and facilities (office space, library, labs) of the university as well.

4) Consider the faculty
PhD programs require students to work very closely with a handful of professors. So it is essential that you find permanent faculty (i.e. tenure-track) who will support you and your research interests. If you already know of a professor whose work you admire, arrange to talk to them and tell them your plans. Otherwise, go over faculty biographies (usually published on the website) and check their background and research interests. Read their recent publications.

You need to find at least one faculty member who could feasibly be your advisor, but I recommend having more than one person that you can see yourself working for. Professors frequently leave for various reasons (e.g. denied tenure, better job opportunity, sabbatical leaves, retirement, death). You will also need professors to serve on your committee so while not everyone has to have similar interests to you, there should be others that will not be diametrically opposed to your work.

To make sure there is a good fit with your potential advisor or committee members and to improve your chances of acceptance, arrange to meet with faculty.

Paying For Your PhD
A good thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't have to pay to do your PhD. Most programs will offer some sort of funding (however minuscule it may be). If you can't find any program, anywhere willing to cover your tuition and a share of your living expenses, then that may be a sign to reconsider doing a PhD.

There are various sources of PhD funding, including:
  • grants (offerred by the university, province, country, or a company)
  • teaching assistantships
  • research assistantships
Also consider the benefits you'd qualify for such as health care, dental plans, daycare reimbursement, etc. These may come from a graduate students union or a TA union.

How To Do Well
Consider your career goals and work towards from day one. Many people doing a PhD aspire to be a full professor. I heard that only 1/3 PhD graduates in Canada will work in academia - and this may mean adjunct faculty or non-teaching roles. If you do desire a tenure-track position, from the first year you should be building your record of:
  • publishing in peer-reviewed journals
  • awards
  • presenting at conferences
  • teaching portfolio
  • service
Considering the lack of tenure-track positions, I continue to develop my Plan B. This could be a career in professional research, consulting, non-university teaching, etc. PhD students don't have a lot of free time, but I do think it is worthwhile to do some work to keep viable alternatives.

PhD is a life sentence, so making the choices right for you are crucial.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

YouTube is Not Enough: A Call for Greater e-Participation in Canada through Online Deliberation

Here's is a paper I wrote for a class a few months ago on how Canada is (not) using the Internet sufficiently to engage citizens in the political process. I survey the options and consider online deliberation as a form that would help improve Canadians' democratic participation.

The democratizing technical potential of the Internet has not delivered a parallel democratic political outcome. The Internet makes direct citizen involvement in political decision-making more feasible by lessening temporal and spatial barriers, yet governments have been reluctant to embrace e-participation. As of December 2009, governments in the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand through policy and practice had demonstrated a commitment to using digital media to enable greater citizen participation. A case study of Canada’s use of direct democratic methods, online and offline, reveals a contrasting lack of opportunities for effective political participation. This paper examines various e-participation methods in terms of their ability to enable Canadians to express their voice and exert their influence with government. Of these methods, it is argued, online deliberation allows for more inclusive, focused, collaborative, and effective participation. Design and system considerations of an online deliberation platform are briefly posed.

Key words: Deliberation, e-participation, online participation, e-politics, participation, participatory democracy

Section 1: Introduction
As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, several nations released plans to transform their governments in the digital era aided by online means. December 2009 saw the United Kingdom, United States, and Australian governments committing to more open and collaborative government, with the Internet central to achieving this. On December 8, the Obama administration in the US released their Open Government Initiative with three core goals of transparency, participation and collaboration (Orszag, 2009). This effort builds on Obama’s earlier commitment to more open, accessible government and the use of online technologies in delivering these goals. Brown, prime minister of the UK, released a plan addressing government reform on December 7. This report, Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government, included online means to make government more responsive and engaging to citizens (HM Government, n.d.). Australia followed on December 22 with their report, entitled Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 (Government 2.0, 2009). New Zealand was ahead of the pack, releasing a similar report, When Government Engages: Online participation - An introduction, in 2007 (New Zealand, 2007). Prior to these announcements, these countries were already making innovative forays into online participation. Under Obama, various US government departments opened up to citizen involvement. Examples include launching a website to solicit citizens’ input on health reform and the Department of Defense converting traditional top-down field guides to soldier-written wikis (White House, n.d.). The prime minister’s office of the UK instituted an e-petition process wherein the government guarantees a reply to any petition that obtains over 500 e-signatures (Number10.gov.uk, n.d.). New Zealand’s Family Commission launched “The Coach,” a self-selected panel of citizens that answer polls and questionnaires to guide policy (n.d.). Various municipalities in Australia have used online technologies to facilitate citizen discussion, information gathering, and polling on particular issues (Bang the Table, n.d.).

Given the many initiatives of these other countries, one might ask where Canada stands on this issue? Canada has been criticized for its failure to deliver similar commitments (Bell, 2009; Geist, 2009). In March 2009, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, stirred significant media attention, if not citizen attention, by holding an interactive citizen Q&A session online via YouTube. This was Harper’s first foray into e-participation. Rather than revealing a commitment to more open and online government, it was widely felt that this move showed Harper as merely following Obama, who had conducted a similar session almost exactly a year earlier.

For five years, from 2001 to 2005, Canada’s national government earned the distinction from Accenture of having the world’s best e-government (Accenture, 2005). The survey has been discontinued, but Canada has continued to earn praise for its efforts to transfer administrative functions online. Administratively, Canada has made use of Internet technologies to launch innovations such as the world’s first online census and one of the first online tax filing systems (Accenture, 2005).

In looking at Canada’s current state of e-government offerings promoting transparency, participation or collaboration, however, there are few examples and none particularly inspiring. A 2005 study of Canadian parliamentarians’ use of the Internet found that although citizens had increased the volume of contact with their elected representative through the use of e-mail, there had been no increase in citizen participation or reciprocal dialogue (Francoli). In examining more recent examples of the government’s use of the Internet, it appears to have not changed since Francoli’s study. One rather disheartening example is an invitation to “join the conversation” on the website of Canada’s governing party, the Conservatives. The multimedia “conversation” begins with Mike Duffy greeting website visitors by name, but then launches into a monologue concluding in an appeal to donate to the party. As with other countries, Canada has enabled citizens to comment on policy electronically. Two examples drawn from December 2009, include British Columbia’s proposed changes to their fresh water act (Penner, 2009) or a national campaign for copyright reform (Government of Canada, n.d.). I was unable to find any Canadian examples with formalized outcomes of citizen e-participation.

Although formats for online political participation have been studied, there appears to be little academic research examining the Canadian context. In the absence of official Canadian policy or significant scholarship on Canadian political participation online, this paper attempts to lay the groundwork for consideration of online deliberation. I will argue that this method can aid in a more innovative, effective, and democratic use of e-government. First, I will briefly discuss critiques leveled against contemporary politics in Canada and developed nations. Greater citizen participation is posed as a means to redress growing citizen apathy and democratic inertia. I will then briefly outline various existing methods of citizen online political participation. This forms a basis upon which to position my argument for online deliberation. The benefits and design considerations of online deliberative democracy benefits will then be examined.

Section 2: The Political Landscape

The Democratic Deficit

In Canada, as with other developed states, over 50 years of progressively declining voter turnout and trust for politicians, have led to what can be called the democratic deficit. Addressing this deficit is essential to maintaining a healthy democracy (McNut, 2008). A definitive course of action remains elusive, due to the complex, multi-faceted nature of the problem. One proposed change to address the democratic deficit is to increase citizen participation in governance. Proponents of participatory democracy believe that giving citizens more political influence will not only increases civic engagement but will also increase the perceived legitimacy of governments (McNutt, 2008). Participation is empowering; it allows citizens to contribute to their country based on their relevant knowledge (Fuchs, 2008). The notion of citizen apathy is questioned by scholars who suggest citizens have not been invited to participate before or requests were not suitably framed: “no one is apathetic. Everyone cares deeply about something. People will get involved to the extent that we can tap into their passion” (Diers, 2008, p. 12). Although not a panacea, greater citizen participation may be a step toward reducing apathy and increasing citizen engagement with government.

Why Online Participation?
Online methods of political participation (henceforth e-participation) alone will not address the democratic deficit, but they do offer unique opportunities to improve it. The Internet is often praised for its ability to address temporal and spatial barriers to participation. In large countries such as Canada and with today’s hectic lifestyle, the ability to participate at a time and location of one’s choice extends the reach of many initiatives (Price, 2009). An additional benefit of e-participation is the potential of cost savings, particularly when compared to staging a series of national town halls. Perhaps the greatest benefit of Internet media, as I will discuss later, is the ability to structure new and effective means of participation.

Although the Internet does open the doors to allow some to participate who would otherwise be unable to physically attend offline sessions, it may close doors to people with economic, disability, language, or other barriers. Specific projects have arranged for participants to receive computers, adaptive technology, or training sessions to facilitate technology usage – any e-government initiatives should consider this a model to follow. Critics of e-participation suggest there are generational barriers. Seniors are a fast growing segment of Internet users, so this criticism will progressively lessen. Indeed, it is the Internet’s appeal to youth that represents another strength of e-participation. Involving youth, a group with low voter turnout, in the political process is fundamental to sustain democratic improvement. In the US, youth are the largest age group participating in online political activities (Smith, 2009). Similarly, an Australian study found Internet projects developed youths’ political identities and increased their civic participation (Collin, 2008).

Section 3: Considering Forms of E-Participation

Methods of e-participation vary in the amount of citizen voice and influence they enable. A method enabling a high degree of citizen voice allows participants to express their own relevant experience and propose their own policy solutions, essential to move beyond token projects. Influence is also crucial. Citizens need to see that their participation contributed to political outcomes or participation becomes little more than a venue for venting. Figure 1 demonstrates my assessment of common e-participation methods on a double continuum of citizen voice and political influence. Some methods that might appear to let citizens have their own say are constrained in that they are reacting against an existing policy.

Figure 1: e-participation methods represented on scales of enabling degrees of citizen voice and political influence

(Note: This figure was inspired by Coleman & Gøtze, 2001)

E-Participation in a Representative Democracy
Within a representative democracy citizens may have the opportunity to participate directly, to varying degrees, in campaigning, elections, agenda setting, policy development, and rulemaking. Campaigning online offers methods not significantly different from the offline counterparts of information distribution and donation solicitation. Increasingly social media is being used to build citizen networks that convince and mobilize voters and promote events. The powerful capability of online citizen involvement to aid a political campaign is often highlighted by Obama’s electoral campaign (Carr, 2008). In Canada, the governing party, undoubtedly mindful of their minority of seats in parliament, offers online campaigning features to encourage citizens to share party information with friends, connect with politicians on social media, and interactively discredit the opposition leader.

Voting online appears to have been used only municipally in Canada. Although citizens can assist in getting representatives elected through online means; once representatives are elected, the ability for citizens to have direct political involvement is curtailed. There is not a direct way for citizens to contribute to a government’s agenda or policy formation online or offline once they are elected beyond offering input if requested or offering unsolicited feedback. There are examples of how citizens could e-participate in agenda setting. A citizen built website, Top Priorities for Parliament, allows citizens to propose items of national significance (Parliament 2, n.d.). Citizens can then vote for and debate the prioritization of that issue. Alternatively, a wiki can be used to collaboratively author and refine policy. Policy wikis offer the greatest amount of voice and influence (if binding) but are rare, likely as they give citizens more control than most governments would be comfortable with. The Green Party of Canada appears to be the only party in Canada to have devised any policy documents through a wiki (Raynes-Golide & Fono, 2009). The Greens experienced difficulties with their policy wiki in that it publicly revealed internal conflicts, provoked unproductive discussion, and stirred party grievances. Most importantly, it did not lead to meaningful dialogue or collaboration, but was largely resulted in isolated, solitary action (Raynes-Golide & Fono, 2009). The policy wiki did have the benefit that it aided transparency, a primary goal of the party, and produced a tangible product opposed to mere talk.

The rulemaking process, where the specific regulations of laws are enacted by applicable government agencies, is largely open to Canadians to submit input. Many agencies, such as the CRTC, now allow citizens to make their submissions via a web-based form. This, however, can still be a reactive process as citizens are often commenting on existing matters rather than proposing their own items. Some scholars suggest e-participation in rulemaking is an area where citizen can have the highest degree of depth and quantity of direct involvement in governance (Carlitz & Gunn, 2002). Agencies may be required to received citizen submissions, however, they are not obliged to consider them. Other e-participation methods in a representative democracy system such as filling in a census or answering online public opinion polls surveys offer little opportunity for citizens to offer their own experiences and may contribute little more than providing profiling data in aggregate for policy research. More innovation in both technology and usage is clearly needed to refine and invent e-participation methods applicable for representative democracy.

E-Participation in a Direct Democracy
Harkening back to Athenian ideals of citizen assembly (however exclusive their notion of citizenship was), direct democracy is the rule of the people. It exists more as an ideal than as an actual practice. Elements of direct democracy exist in many states, such that the concept can be thought of as a continuum. Contemporary direct democracy methods are primarily the initiative, referendum, plebiscite, recall, popular veto, and binding petition. The terms referendum and plebiscite are often used interchangeably, although some political scientists consider referenda to be binding while plebiscites are not. Canada has less experience with direct democracy than the United States where several states allow citizen led recalls and initiatives. Only as recently as 1996, British Columbia became the first federal or provincial jurisdiction in Canada to enact recall and initiative processes (Elections BC, n.d.). Thus, the only forms of direct democracy available to Canadians, other than in BC, are referendum and plebiscite. Canada has had no plebiscites and few referenda; none of which were online. Lacking a binding e-petition process along the lines of the UK (although successful petitions there only require government response not action), Canadians can only make use of non-binding petitions. There are limitations to e-petitions, however. The former Reform Party of Canada pledged to require any petition that received over three percent of voters to be put to a referendum, but they were forced to reconsider when a national e-petition in 2000 greatly surpassed the threshold that would have required then party leader, Stockwell Day, to change his first name to Doris (CBC, 2000). The technical capabilities of the Internet can support direct democratic methods, although the political will to use such methods must be in place first before considerations of their online ramifications can be considered.

E-participating Indirectly
Citizens are also able to make their opinions known to government through direct action or protest. Direct action online can take the form of hactivism or do-it-yourself projects. For a DIY example, consider how the citizens in Birmingham, UK launched their own city website using the same data in reaction to the perceived ineptitude of the official government site (Birmingham City, n.d.). Hactivism may include malicious hacking, such as spreading viruses or denial of service attacks on government sites, but can also include less combative methods such as launching parody sites, hijacking online votes, or defacing websites with cyber graffiti. Burwell and Boler (2008) found people may organize to hijack en masse a government-sponsored online effort (for example, an online vote to name a public item) to voice discontent with contemporary politics, highlight the flaws of such methods, or for their own enjoyment. Protesting can make use of the Internet to recruit supporters, mobilize for action, and launch online (or offline) campaigns, such as virtual sit-ins, publicity stunts, email campaigns, e-petitions, et cetera. Citizens have made their own innovative use of Internet technologies to achieve their political aims outside of the system. Unsanctioned efforts such as hactivism or citizen journalism may allow citizens to have their own voice, but do not ensure a formal hearing and may thus be ignored by government.

Online Discussions
The most common form of e-participation is the practice of citizens discussing political issues through such online media as forums, newsgroups, blog postings, article comments, and social network sites. Some believe these discussions have the potential to manifest as Habermas’ public sphere (Papacharissi, 2002) and are necessary for citizens to become politically informed and motivated. Others dismiss them as having “no resemblance to civic much less civil discourse” (Ferber, Foltz & Pugliese, 2006, p. 389). Ferber et al. identify a common criticism leveled against online discussions based on their study of privately-hosted online political discussions. They found that
although political commentary was common, it was not the type of public debate that our founding fathers could have desired. We did not try to rank the quality of the content, as it would have been too subjective. We were nonetheless not impressed with the civic quality of much of the dialogue. A large portion degenerated very quickly into name calling. In addition, there was the typical poor grammar, bad spelling, off-the-cuff responses, and lack of reasoning. Many messages were single sentences. Others had no relationship to the preceding messages in the string. In one case, in a string discussing the cost of execution versus life imprisonment, a person “double dog dared” someone to take a gun into a courtroom. The response from a third party was a rant on a new ordinance that banned his dog from the local park. Obviously, this person did not read the entire string or maybe just did not care (p. 395).
Such lack of respect, reflexivity, and co-operation leads Dahlberg (2001) to doubt that existing online spaces are suitable for public sphere discussion. He is further skeptical that Internet spaces are sufficiently authentic and autonomous from the state and corporation. The presence of flaming, libelous comments, and accusations was found to dissuade government officials from participating in online discussions (Rheingold, 2000). Politicians’ recent forays into social media in the UK were found to have not resulted in dialogue with citizens (Jackson & Lilliker, 2009). They were using new media in old, broadcast ways.

The volume and diversity of online discussion further confounds its political efficacy. The medium, it is argued, engenders the creation of ever-increasing amounts of content and makes meaningful distillation improbable. Scott criticizes the claimed potential of Internet media to provide a platform for important messages as they enter the miasma of online content where one must compete “in the viral sweepstakes online with drunken celebutantes, passionate sing-a-longs, and virtuoso light-saber demonstrations” (2008, p. 274). This volume of online content not only lessens the likelihood messages will find a receiver but leads some online authors to heighten a message’s shock or novelty value in an attempt to stand out from the crowd. This environment, Dean believes, makes it difficult for citizens to formulate coherent, powerful discourse:
Instead of engaged debates, instead of contestations employing common terms, points of reference, or demarcated frontiers, we confront a multiplication of resistances and assertions so extensive that it hinders the formation of strong counterhegomonies. The proliferation, distribution, acceleration, and intensification of communicative access and opportunity, far from enhancing democratic governance or resistance, results in precisely the opposite… the intense circulation of content in communicative capitalism forecloses the antagonism necessary for politics (2008, p. 102-3).
In analyzing online discussions regarding the Iraq war, Dean laments that “despite the terabytes of commentary… the antiwar messages morphed into so much circulating content, just like all the other cultural effluvia wafting through cyberia” (p. 102). Indeed, Dean argued that the meaning of any online message is subsumed by the central importance of the act of creating online content. The danger is that this act becomes an end in itself and citizens are unmotivated to engage in activity that brings about real political change. One of the earliest theorists on Internet culture, Rheingold, came to the same conclusion years earlier, noting that some believe that online media are “inherently democratic in some magical way, without specifying the hard work that must be done in real life to harvest the fruits of that democratizing power” (2000, p. 37).

Interestingly, these same challenges that make it difficult for citizens to make powerful use of online political discussions also limit its use for government. I would argue that even on government-sponsored online discussions the diversity, quantity, and often great length of contributions makes it difficult for the government officials to read, consider, and weigh all content, let alone prioritize pressing issues or discern common sentiment. Online discussions have been found to aid citizens in learning about issues and refining their opinions (Kushin & Kitchener, 2009). Its use for effective political participation, however, is limited.

Section 4: Deliberative Democracy

Defining Deliberation
Various political theorists believe deliberative democracy can lead to more civically engaged citizens and can improve government (Coleman & Gøtze, 2001; Fishkin, 2009; Muhlberger, 2005). Although deliberative democracy is not commonplace in Canada or other developed nations, there are successful cases of its uses and studies have found that citizens will in fact participate in deliberation and find such participation valuable (Fishkin, 2009).
Deliberating political matters is not a new phenomenon as it likely was a precursor to democracy. Within the political realm, deliberation entails connotations beyond “to think about or discuss issues and decisions carefully” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). The term deliberative democracy is justifiably broad as advocates tend to favour not one specific format but rather consider any approach that shares basic goals. This broad usage can be seen in a definition by Pingree: “Deliberation is an ideal form of discussion in which participants share their considerations in order to make decisions of higher quality and democratic legitimacy” (2009, p. 309). Pingree offers few specifics on the nature of deliberative discussions, whereas Davies’ definition focuses on this aspect believing discussions should be “reasoned, purposeful, and interactive” (2009, p.2). On the other hand, Fishkin’s definition does not mention discussion, instead it is “the thoughtful weighing of policy or political alternatives on their merits, in a context that facilitates access to good information” (2009. p. 23). Fishkin’s definition leaves room for the term to include group or solitary activity. I believe group conversation is central to deliberative democracy and will therefore use Cavalier, Miso, and Zaiss’ definition that it is “an inclusive conversation that is informed and well structured” (2009, p. 71).

Online Deliberation
Online deliberation does not necessarily entail any specific steps beyond a structured and informed discussion. Through technical means and the inherent properties of the medium a greater degree of flexibility can be structured with online deliberation than with in-person sessions. Pingree believes this divergence from traditional forms is where “the true promise of the Internet lies not merely in its ability to bring large numbers of people into ‘one room’ but in its ability to structure that room in ways that no physical room could be structured” (2009, p. 314). Although there are various means to foster deliberation, there are some common elements as itemized by Coleman and Gøtze (2001). Online deliberation is not a hurried method. Depending on the topic and goals, sessions can take an entire day or comprise hours over the course of weeks or months. The general structure would walk participations through considering each component of an issue through background literature or expert presentations. Participants then discuss this facet amongst themselves and bring in additional information or experts as needed before moving on to the next component. They then debate and weigh the issue in totality. The final product of deliberation can be in the form of participant-drafted recommendations or a report or a poll. The process would normally be conducted in private, but the findings would be shared publicly and directly with government officials.
Online deliberation addresses some of the shortcomings of other e-participation methods. It can afford a high degree of citizen voice and influence. Unlike non-deliberative online discussions, it can be goal-oriented, civil, insightful, inclusive, and productive.

Temporal and spatial freedom
As mentioned, the Internet’s opens up participation to people who might otherwise be confined by temporal or spatial restrictions. Canada, as with other states, has a large geographic area and a populace scattered throughout. In-person methods of participation, such as submissions to Parliament or town halls, require citizens to travel to the capital or regional centers. Even regional centers can still entail hours of travel that is often too costly or time-consuming for many citizens. In addition, e-participation allows for people to contribute on their own time, allowing for participation from those with non-mainstream schedules. The freedom from these constraints can lead to greater diversity and increased representation than otherwise possible (Pirce, 2009).

Asynchronous online deliberation can facilitate more contemplative behaviour than traditional, synchronous methods as it does not suffer from “the crude and suffocating constraints of time that often render synchronous discussions futile, facile or over-heated” (Coleman & Gøtze, 2001, p.17). Freedom from the barriers of real-time interaction, participants are more readily able to take time to absorb their peers’ contribution at their own pace, to research and reflect, and to carefully formulate their ideas and contributions.

Open and informed participation
Online deliberation enables more open and expansive consideration of issues than some traditional methods. Traditional methods of participation such as town halls and public opinion polls do not encourage citizens to weigh all evidence, which can result in ill-informed or reactionary contributions. Online deliberation moves citizens beyond “top of the head” opinion to informed decision (Fishkin, 2009, p. 26). To afford open and holistic consideration of an issue, deliberation sessions should be structured for a progressive consideration of the various facets of an issue. The process itself has been found to motivate participants to seek out additional and diverse sources of information (Muhlberger, 2005). The process also leads to a balanced discussion. In Price’s study (2009), he grouped participants into homogenous groups by their political ideology. Rather than producing an echo chamber of similar views or provoking extremity, the outcome was a balance of arguments for and against most issues. Price also found that minority viewpoints were not suppressed or ostracized as some critics suggest.
This is not to suggest that there should not be limits to topics discussed or options considered. Deliberative democracy is not an exercise in planning utopia. Governments organizing deliberations should clearly specify topic and goals and set grounding parameters on options and funding levels. Establishing an agenda also helps proceedings continue smoothly and productively to ensure project goals and timelines are met. Moderators may assist in providing guidance or feasibility checks to keep discussion to attainable outcomes. A balance of flexibility and structure allows online deliberation to consider a diversity of applicable viewpoints, while also avoiding the traps of online discussion that can be circuitous, meandering, or unfruitful. Establishing discursive limits can lead participants to a more realistic consideration and holistic understanding. Peters and Abud (2008) have found it helpful in their sessions to present participants with the same scenarios and difficult choices politicians face results as this leads to a reasonable allocation of available resources and a clear prioritization on desired outcomes. Discursive limits should also be used to limit uncivil discourse that often plagues privately-hosted online discussions (Ferber et al, 2006). An environment free of flaming, slander, racism, or ad hominem attacks is more productive and lessens participant alienation. Rules can also be established to ensure equitable participation, for example by limiting the time or space for individual contributions or ensuring turn-taking.

A structured process or use of rules and moderators, however, should not force rigidity. The first step of a deliberation process can be working with facilitators to collaboratively set the agenda or allow agenda items to be added freely and voted on by participants (Pingree, 2009). This allows citizens to raise relevant issues and draw upon their experience and knowledge.
Rigidity can limit innovative solutions and lead to false conclusions. The importance of being able to frame an issue and pose one’s own options was shown in Anstein’s study of public opinion polls:
Survey after survey (paid for out of anti-poverty funds) has “documented” that poor housewives most want tot-lots in their neighborhood where young children can play safely. But most of the women answered these questionnaires without knowing what their options were. They assumed that if they asked for something small, they might just get something useful in the neighborhood. Had the mothers known that a free prepaid health insurance plan was a possible option, they might not have put tot-lots so high on their wish lists (1969, p. 31).
As such surveys often only allow participants to consider the options presented to them, deliberation is thus believed to be more egalitarian and open. This Pingree believes is a “key argument for its superior legitimacy over mere voting. Through discussion a group can discover the appropriate ballot. With mere voting, those who determine the ballot have enormous power” (2009, p. 311). Online deliberation allows for citizen to initiate and prioritize the terms and realm of discussions, but maintains sufficient focus to achieve tangible results.

Collaborative and engaging
As the online deliberative process is structured to focus on specified topics and results in a distillation of sentiment, government officials can receive results that reveal popular opinion and that are immediately relevant to their policy considerations. Online deliberation has been found to lead to consensus (Muhlberger, 2005). Presenting government with a coordinated message on behalf of citizens is likely to be more influential than the comparative anarchy of online discussion. A consensus also enables the formation of counter-hegemonies and mobilization communications. Deliberation fosters greater potential to build consensus than other traditional methods that position citizens groups as advisories striving to capture the limited attention of government and consequently heighten their demands and resist concessions (Lenihan, 2009). With online deliberation, its goal-oriented approach and structured reflexivity of others’ opinions should result in more productive and collaborative outcomes.

Research on online deliberation has found it does affect participants’ political awareness and improve citizen engagement (Price, 2009). In a study, Cavalier et al. tested three sets of participants based on participation in in-person deliberation, online deliberation, and those receiving only information. Participants that deliberated reported higher rates empowerment, confidence, and critical thinking than the control group (2009). In a similar study, Muhlberger found deliberators found the experience more favourable and engaging than non-deliberators
(2005). In contrast to citizen apathy, participants of online deliberation find such participation meaningful and inspiring.

Section 5: Design and System Considerations

To build and deliver an effective, engaging online deliberation system requires consideration of various disciplines from design (interface, modality), technology (software, programming, backend support), sociology (norms and use context), behaviour and culture (use patterns, gender and race issues, cognitive skills) and political economy (class, hegemony, accessibility). Although some research has already been conducted along these lines, little research has been conducted for the optimal way to construct an online experience. To contribute to this undertaking, I have composed the following table (see Table 1) to highlight what I believe are the main system considerations of a design or technological consideration. The design of online deliberation is crucial as the “the success of a deliberative endeavor depends on choices made by its designers” (Lupia, 2009, p. 60).

Table 1: System or design implementation considerations

System or design elements Mitigating factors System decisions and interface implications
Accessibility All citizens should be able to participate regardless of ability. Follow W3C standards. Provide multi-modal formats.
Asynchrony or real-time Asynchrony removes temporal barriers to participation and gives more individual control on timing of their contributions and research. Real-time participation allows for use of voice or video conferencing. May determine possible modalities.
Anonymity & privacy Some topics may limit participation if citizens must identify themselves or feel their input can be traced back to them. Also, some believe anonymity allows improved participation by minorities and women. Allow participants to register without requiring identifying details. Generic usernames can be used instead.
Authentication Prevent access to non-citizens. Require only sincere participation. Require citizens to enter a postal code or assign random participants codes to enter
Forms of expression Privileging rationality over other discursive forms (e.g. storytelling, testimonials) may alienate or inadequately facilitate participation. Encourage storytelling, emotional and responses and statements of values along with traditional forms of debate through moderator, preliminary info, or build into structure through phased approach.
Hedonic, affective, and social factors Participation is found to provoke greater interest and increased levels of participation if these elements present. Consider graphic design carefully. Allow for qualitative responses and give participants latitude or specific space to bring these elements in.
Host Government hosting may lead participants to feel process is biased or is under surveillance. But government hosting can also lend legitimacy that unknown third parties may lack. Preliminary information can be provided outlining government’s role. An arms-length agency can host website.
Moderator Ensure process runs smoothly (encouraging participation, summarizing, enforcing rules, arranging experts, etc.). But may be seen as invasive or form of control. Preliminary information can be provided outlining role of moderator. As much as possible, moderation should be invisible. Moderator can be government official, disinterested third party, or rotating roster of participants.
Open source Avoid dependency to costly third-party vendors. But reliability and ease of deployment also important Weigh available resources with project goals.
Presence Helps participants perceive of humanness fellow participants and builds rapport. Enable citizens to upload a photograph, which can be appended to their contributions. Offer participants space to share their biography or discuss off-topic items. Consider audio or video sessions.
Reliability System must scale sufficiently and be stable. Invest in robust system. Establish checks to monitor system performance.
Rules Enforces fairness and civility (e.g. no libel or flaming) and ensures proceedings run smoothly and on time. Can create a more positive, focused environment. But may be perceived as limiting or coercive. Once rules determined can be programmed into internal logic of system (e.g. limiting characters of contribution, enforcing turn-taking, forbidding certain words, etc.). Rules also guide moderator. Any rules should be stated clearly upfront.
Security Must be resistant to hackers and ensure privacy of participants. Invest in security components and establish checks. Provide preliminary information on this to participants to build trust.
Scale Number of participants may increases the difficulty in absorbing all contributions and render discussions unwieldy. Limit participation to feasible number (e.g. 15 to 20) establish separate sessions or instances to accommodate additional participants. Alternatively, greater numbers can be accommodated through more active summarization work by moderator and additional rules.
Usability All citizens must be able to participate regardless of their familiarity with technology. Usage should be easy to prevent participants from not participating or quitting prematurely. Follow established web design guidelines and conventions. Make use of commonly used technologies. Conduct usability testing prior to launch. Provide readily available technical support.

Differing approaches to sampling Prior to building an online deliberation platform, one must decide on the desired sampling strategy. This can be contentious as decisions of degrees of openness can affect issues of scale and bias. Random sampling gives everyone an equal likelihood of participation. It can encourage participation from those who might otherwise not self-select (Peters & Abud, 2008). Random sampling allows government to hear from those beyond habitual participants, who Coleman & Gøtze believe are unrepresentative of average citizen in their degree of political motivation and ability to articulate (2001). Random samples can also prevent the process from being hijacked by a highly-organized group who register en masse, dominate proceedings and create a slanted, one-sided outcome (Roger, 2009). A planned random sample also allows organizers to constrain participation to a feasible scale. There are those, however, that feel that any democratic initiative should allow participation from any citizen, not just the selected. Closed participation is undemocratic. Proponents for self-selection note that people who volunteer are more apt to be interested in the topic. Recruiting from this sample leads to more productive results compared to imposing participation through random sampling on those completely uninterested (Coleman & Gøtze). They also add that representativeness of an entire populace is not always needed or even desirable as some issues primarily affect some groups more so than others. A possible compromise might be to host a variety of participation methods or have one method inform another, as an open online discussion could inform and guide the agenda of a closed, random sample deliberation session.

Sincere and Responsive
The most important consideration is that the project sponsors possess sincere motivations and a commitment to responsiveness. Online deliberation in and of itself, however, may not improve the democracy deficit; it could worsen it. Government departments often request citizens’ comments; it is rare that governments demonstrate how this participation was used. Such government inattention can engender more cynicism to perceived token efforts. To demonstrate a sincere commitment to listening, governments should provide citizens with a response to how their participation informed policy or a justification for why it did not (Coleman & Gøtze, 2001). An example of this is Ontario’s Environment Registry. Citizens are able to comment, online or offline, on environmental concerns over any new provincial legislation. The Minister of the Environment is obliged to consider the comments and will respond online (Government of Ontario, n.d). Although this commitment to direct response to citizens concerns is laudable, it is limited in that the Minister must consider only “relevant” comments and is not obliged to reveal why some comments were dismissed. For online deliberation to succeed, it is essential that the entire process is sincere and transparent.

Section 6: Conclusion
When it comes to facilitating direct citizen participation, Canada has not distinguished itself. Despite its initial lead in e-government, Canada has not continued any innovative use of online media beyond e-administration. The lack of online methods for democratic participation is anathema to the believed democratizing potential of the Internet. It was hoped that the growing ubiquity of the Internet would address problems of citizen access to democratic processes. Yet this technological determinist belief that the Internet can alone provoke changes fails to account for the necessary concomitant societal change. Sassen believes the Internet offers the means for change, “This is not a critique of the technology per se. This is actually a critique that if the technology can deliver X, Y, and Z that we simply rest back, sit back and say ‘oh my god well there it comes’…. we have to invent new political formats if we are going to make the technologies deliver the goods that they in principle could deliver” (2005, time 21:00).
It appears likely that the Canadian government will not embrace such change unbidden. New political formats may be perceived as a challenge to the current power structures and allow for open contestation of the government line. It then behooves citizens to provoke change. Canadians can make effective use of the Internet to improve democracy with or without government co-operation. Not content to wait for the government to open the doors to new online means, citizens in Canada, as elsewhere, have already launched their own online democratic reforms. The Visible Government initiative has launched websites to track parliamentarians’ personal expenses and federal contracts (VisibleGovernment.ca, n.d.). Other citizen-led initiatives include How’d They Vote, a website itemizing all members of parliament’s voting and attendance records (How’d They, 2009). Online protest and mobilization has managed to provoke government response, such as the successful campaign to have Toronto’s Sam the Record Man store signs declared a historic landmark, a campaign instigated entirely online by citizens. Just recently, a Facebook group was set up to encourage parliamentarians to resist the prime minister’s plans to prorogue parliament and within less than four weeks had over 300,000 members (60,000 in just one week). In-person protests across the country were subsequently organized online. Despite early inattention by conventional media to the issue and political pundits dismissing the issues as unimportant, Canadians felt otherwise and had the means to express their concerns. The prime minister was influenced by this action and called off an intended parliamentary vacation that he planned to follow.

Online citizen protest may not directly lead to change, but these actions do indicate citizens’ desire for more participatory government and greater use of e-government. In calling for greater e-participation, however, the goal should not be for more impotent action or distracting pretenses of participation, as some governments offer. Instead, citizens should demand their government representatives make a sincere commitment to involving citizens. Online deliberation offers the most potential of most current participatory methods. If governments are unresponsive, direct citizen action can lead to the founding of independent online deliberative vehicles, the results of which can be presented to government. The consensus-driven insight, inclusivity, and methodological manner that generate such results may carry more cache with governments than existing forms of citizen comment. Online deliberation builds civic engagement not only for the participants who have a say in the political process, but also for society who have visible evidence of a government’s commitment to citizen-focused governance.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Another Thing to Blog Home About

On the day of the fourth anniversary of this blog, I was consulting with some continuing education providers and determined that a blog was an excellent way to share information and interaction. We decided to start a new (private) blog. So on the anniversary the beginning of my blogging, the usefulness of this medium and its central role in my life was reaffirmed.

I began my blog worrying that I'd have nothing to blog home about. At that time, I was in a dead-end but lucrative website management job. The job provided security but sapped my passion for the Internet. Blogging proved to be a vital outlet and motivator for me to make profound changes in my life and to reaffirm my love of the Internet. The blog encouraged me to seek out news and developments on and about the Web that I could add my thoughts and experiences to.

These changes are reflected in my first anniversary post where I discovered I did have something to blog home about. Finding this outlet and passion, it helped convince me to leave my job and get a master's and doctorate degree where I could study the Internet.

My blog was also picked up by Backbone Magazine, giving me additional reach. The blog also helped with my admission to both my graduate programs and has helped me cover several tech conferences.

All these changes had started to bear fruition and by my second anniversary I declared that I had no time to blog home. I haven't gained any extra time since then, in fact it's probably worse.

I am studying online topics (moving more to the mobile Web and networked mobile apps) at PhD program at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information. I have completed my coursework and now have to get ready for the various steps of actual dissertation work. The life of an academic does offer lots of opportunities to attend and discuss interesting (Internet and mobile) seminars, lectures, and conferences. I've also started work as a teaching assistant for a research methods class. In addition, I recently started a couple consulting jobs helping organizations with e-Learning and with mobile apps. I also manage to spend a lot of time with my family. We enjoy the cultural and recreational life of Toronto, as well as the value of a board game, DVD, or old-fashioned pretending.

I have to admit that the busyness of my current life has encouraged me to neglect this blog, such that for my last blog anniversary I didn't really feel it was important to acknowledge the milestone. I still loved my blog as it really had opened a lot of doors and helped change my life for the better. I just felt it wasn't as central in my life.

But when I was at the meeting last week and I started talking about the various topics I could share with the group via a blog and how it enabled group participation and communication, I got really excited again. Earlier today, I just finished setting up my second ever blog. Finding out that blogging was still relevant, timely, and pivotal in my life was a reaffirming for me of the medium's power.