This is a bit of a week for online democracy. The Beeb have launched ican, a pitch to get people to contribute more to the issues of the day and help shape coverage in the media. More than a week after it launched it’s still pretty empty, but it’s slowly filling up. Will it get used? Well, it’s not really live yet (not for another week or so I think) and there’s been little coverage so far. There’s also little track record of much use being made of such sites, but maybe this is the first one that will work. Such a usage trend would be dramatically accelerated if there was a clear example of weight of opinion shifting coverage markedly. I don’t know what that would be, but will be watching out.
I was debating the other day the issue of TV licences and why we pay an annual fee for something over which we have so little control. I say “we”, I don’t include me – I haven’t had a TV for years. But in these days of increased focus on corporate governance and a focus from such shareholders as Fidelity on who is in charge of what and why, I think there’s an interesting chance here to make a similar change to media coverage. Corporate governance though is limited to a small number of people with “access”. This could be a lot of people with no such access.
On TV licences more generally, I wondered if we should maybe have a model closer to the software licence model. Today there is little or no incentive to upgrade your TV. You buy it, it works and it stays working for 20 years maybe. Little hope of course of a PC doing the same thing. But PCs add features every few months – wireless, bluetooth, more memory, faster processors etc and software arrives to take advantage of that. What if TVs were the same – if they added features regularly and broadcasters took advantage of that to offer better programmes – ones with digital sound, high definition pictures etc. Would that drive a change in the upgrade cycle? Could it also give a different model for TV licences where the fee is based on buying a TV? Programme makers would have to introduce new innovative features to get revenue for the next set of programmes. They’d have to put things out that people wanted. Who knows, such a change might even encourage more TVs to be made in the UK because there was a more regular upgrade market. Or it might encourage add ons. Or, it could just be another daft idea because TVs are fine right now and we shouldn’t mess with them.
Another bit of democracy is Tom Steinberg’s MySociety. Tom’s been busy with this for a couple of months or so, aided and abetted by James (no intro needed) Crabtree. I’ve read two or three iterations of the business case during that time, adding little value I imagine. Tom and James are onto something with this. What they need is to narrow down the vast number of ideas that they’re bound to receive into a couple that will really fly, raise the funding to get them done and then show the world that such a “civic approach” can, indeed, work. I think it’s touch and go, but it deserves to work – services like FaxyourMP and upmystreet don’t happen by themselves, they take serious passion and commitment and can only be done by people operating outside the usual processes. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out and hopefully putting my support and energy in too. You can also check out Tom’s own weblog. And, bizarrely, having done just that to make sure I had the link right, I see Tom has been writing about the licence fee too although I suspect his thinking is clearer and more relevant than mine.
The ican thing made me think back to the “888” number idea I floated back in March or so of this year. Finding the issues that on people’s minds – given enough minds in one place – is difficult and there is an absence of tools to help. ican might be it, the 888 idea might be it too. ican is there though and 888 is not. I thought I’d have a go at lifting that idea again to see if it could gain traction – perhaps in the context of mysociety, or maybe as part of the evolution of ukonline.
On the flip of online democracy has been all the noise about Diebold and how secure (or not) their e-voting tools are. In a slightly related way, Louise Ferguson pointed me at one of her recent posts, putting out the idea of “verified voting“.