Empty Halls of Participatory Politics?

For all the promises web 2.0 may hold for participatory politics, caution is needed.

In the mission statement for campaigns wikia, Jimmy Wales writes “Broadcast media brought us broadcast politics. … participatory media will bring us participatory politics.”

Very little suggests that this is necessarily so. The dirty little secret is that plenty of participatory media sites are severely lacking in participation. Like, for instance, the very same campaigns wikia site, even seven months on and with all the ressources and brand value that comes from being part of Wales’ sprawling domain.

145 changes in the last 30 days, numerous stubs and very short entries, little activity, and substantial information about only Dennis Kucinich and Mitt Romney of the current potential presidential contestants. Only for Kucinich is the site linked up with an actual campaign network and not just to the candidate’s own site.

Like numerous other empty halls of participatory politics (across the pond, you can consider danmarksdebatten.dk), campaigns wikia lack both horizontal and vertical communication – you get in touch with neither kindred spirits nor actual candidates by spending your time there. No political community is engendered, no-one has anything at stake. Furthermore, the open-ended form that has served Wikipedia so well means that, like in many bulletin board debates, no issues are highlighted. These absent traits seem to me to be precisely the keywords that characterize successful properly political participatory sites – horizontal community, mutual vertical communication, and, for campaigns, issue focus to avoid conversations about everything and nothing. Dean and Bush-Cheney achieved some of this in ’04. Without a community, a movement or candidate to communicate with, and/or issue(s) to focus on, the question lingers on – what exactly is it one is supposedly participating in by contributing to campaign wikia?

Next week at’Beyond Broadcast 2007‘, Chad Lupkes is giving a presentation of campaigns wikia, and I am really looking forward to hear what kind of prospects he thinks it has – I hope we’ll get more than a sales talk. Campaign wikia could become a useful site for gathering information about politics, but in its present form, it is not anywhere near being the “start of the era of net-driven participatory politics” that the mission statement talks about.


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