First Monday features academic paper on Internet and Democracy

Perhaps it’s Obama’s Presidential campaign and interest in e-government that’s fuelling a number of academic studies and articles on the impact of the Internet on democracy.

I wrote about Evgeny Morozov’s Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy? yesterday. Morozov’s article ended thus,

The problem with building public spheres from above, online or offline, is much like that of building Frankenstein’s monsters: we may not like the end product. This does not mean we should give up on the Internet as a force for democratization, only that we should ditch the blinding ideology of technological determinism and focus on practical tasks. Figuring out how the Internet could benefit existing democratic forces and organizations—very few of which have exhibited much creativity on the Web—would not be a bad place to start.

Emphasis mine.

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Tactical Technology Collective Citizen Journalism Toolkit – How not to do a toolkit

Tactical Technology Collective has come out with a new Citizen Journalism toolkit, to complement earlier toolkits for NGOs and activists on security, audio and video publishing on the internet and FOSS publishing.

Covering audio, blogs, images and print (strangely no video) the toolkit is somewhat of a useful resource, but as its stands is irascibly incomplete, confusing and badly executed.

The lack of an emphasis on online video production and dissemination is bizarre, because this is a vital aspect of citizen journalism on the web (e.g. Vikalpa YouTube Channel). Far as I could gather, it only gets passing mention in the sections dealing with podcasts on WordPress!

There’s also no real media / advocacy strategy talked about in any of the sections. This suggests the authors are more versed in the technical aspects of new media and desk research than with any lived experience of citizen journalism in violent contexts, where I usually find the most innovation and the greatest need for this kind of manual.

Further, there is no emphasis on the strategic complementarity of using a range of services and products (e.g. blog + twitter or podcast + transcript on blog), redundancy or planning for failure. No mention of mobile phones. No mention of RSS and how it can be used to get information across even when websites are blocked by ISPs.

The website is also quite a mess. Content could have been vastly better edited and proofed. Navigation is difficult and not at all intuitive. There’s no PDF to download to read and print content off when offline and bizarrely no search function at all. Some of the pages are also just formatted all wrong (e.g. ironically, the page on best practices for effective blogging). The presentation and grouping of content can at time get very confusing. For example, the page of Distributing & publicising your blog’s content lists Flickr and as sites that allow you to store, share and view a range of media such as digital photographs, audio files like podcasts, videos. I fail to see the connection here. While these sites certainly help in online content storage and have dissemination mechanisms of their own (without the need for any blog at all) how they feed into blogs and how blogs can be connected to them isn’t made at all clear. 

There are also pages where the graphics don’t show up at all (didn’t anyone actually go through this website before it went public?!)

There’s an emphasis on products like VLC, Songbird Firefox and WordPress in the manuals, but no real explanation given as to why they were chosen above other competing products and services. I blog for example using Safari 3.1 – others may blog just as well using Internet Explorer, Opera or other browsers. While I know the advantages of Firefox, just saying that it’s a better programme isn’t terribly helpful. Ditto with WordPress. Why not Blogger for example? (An exception here is the discussion on the pros and cons of Flickr)

There’s some really useful content here, but I was really struck more by what’s missing. Tactical Technology must live up to its name and reputation and urgently work on this set of resources to make it much better than what it is. As it stands, the section on print media is the strongest, with some really useful insights and tips on how best to communicate one’s message.

As noted earlier, the exclusion of video from a CJ toolkit is wholly unpardonable. This, and an emphasis on mobile phones will make this toolkit far more useful than what it presently is.


Updated – 22 May 2008, 7.42pm

Perhaps as a result of the feedback they got and on account of my suggestion below, the website now clearly notes that it is a work in progress and will be officially launched in June 2008. A tactical mistake by Tactical Technology, now rectified.