Thursday, June 09, 2011

The political rise of the bloggertariat

I have just added quite a long postscript to GetUp's mistletoe role. I don't have time for a full post today, but I did want to foreshadow a post.

Recent posts have been very Australian and have focused on political and policy processes in this country. As part of this, I was concerned about the role that GetUp played.

GetUp's role centres on the application of the internet as an organising device. However, there is another issue here that adds to the complications faced by Governments at all levels in developing effective policy.

At the top or headline level, Governments respond to the media and to special interest groups. This is public and clear. But just a little way down is another stream whose effects are less obvious.

Take the debate over the export of live cattle to Indonesia as an example. At the top level, we have Government, the media and the campaigners such as GetUp. Then, just below, we have the bloggers and commenters who use blog posts, but combine this with Twitter.

Here following the various threads, I was surprised at just how fast the issues were analysed. The Government's position effectively dissolved in real time before my eyes. The lower stream drew from the public stream, but followed a different course. Now, as with my writing, it feeds back.

The people who write and comment reflect different positions. To illustrate what I mean, look at this post and comments on the left of centre blog Larvatus Prodeo. You don't have to agree with the comments, but you quickly get a feel for some of the issues.

Now the thing that I find interesting and want to explore in more detail is the nature of the interactions.

To illustrate what I mean, consider Jim Belshaw and Paul Barratt.

Paul and I have known each other since childhood. Both of us have had senior public service experience at Commonwealth level, although Paul's career was far more stellar than mine. We share some common views, but also have major differences; Paul is far more left than I. He also uses different media, with a much greater focus now on Twitter. Despite these differences, we have a common concern with the effectiveness of public policy and administration. Further, we can both lay claim to a degree of expertise.

Now within hours of the Government's decision on live cattle exports to you had tweets and posts. I posted, Paul tweeted. Those tweets were picked up. A view emerged.

Now my point in all this, and the one I want to explore in a later post, is not that people agree or disagree in an overall sense, but that commonalities on particular issues can emerge quite quickly among people who are reasonably well informed.

This is a new world. On Club Troppo, Nick Gruen has often written of web 2.0. This is web 2.0 at work.

In the past, Government announced a view that was then addressed by the main stream media. Governments respond to the top view. They tailor and attempt to manage, using a variety of techniques including focus groups to develop their approach.

But what does Government do when people with expertise outside the system apply that expertise to the analysis of Government responses? What does Government do when the combination of blog posts and tweets can quickly reach a largish audience?

A Jim Belshaw or a Paul Barratt or a Nick Gruen doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things. Our individual audiences, our particular expertise, is neither here nor there. It's the combination that counts.

A final personal point. I may reject the personal biases of a Paul Barratt or a Neil Whitfield  or a Maximos 62, but I never doubt their sincerity or professional expertise. And that's the real point.

I am probably going to be off-line for the next few days. I will return to this issue once I am back.     


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Back to GetUp – because it interests me. I’ve spent a few hours (and $50) looking at this organisation, and it is a puzzle – is all I can say. There are three possibilities:

1) It is more like an evangelical church than anything else – except replace Jesus with an ever-changing ‘thing’ which “needs your money, right now” and you’ve got the basic business model. Jerry Falwell would be envious.
2) Or it is a test bed for internet innovation, the end product being a very saleable, very highly developed internet marketing schema. Look at the mainpage – elements which could be easily adapted and onsold to any “do it now, give me money” web-based business. The site suggests that it could be easily be pre-packaged for “local campaigns”.
3) Or it is a cleverly funded grooming school for budding politicians. (Current “MD” is 25 years old. My bet he’s in the Senate in 10 years time – after “years of selfless work, etc. etc.)
4) Or it’s a genuine grassroots political movement…. (You will note I suggested three possibilities)

Other issues I have:

- on the about/disclosure page, very few links actually work – important stuff if you were investigating bona fides
- there’s a 24 item list of large donors (which does not add up) noted as representing 22% of GetUp’s donations. But if you consolidate that list by name, you find about 16 entities, being 3 unions, 3 or 4 venture capitalists, and including the founders, variously, of LookSmart, RSVP, Wotif, and Lonely Planet.
- This is a public company limited by guarantee. The “members” variously quoted up to 500,000 seem to be people who’ve clicked a button agreeing to receive emails. It also reports that 50,000 of them are actually giving money (donations) to this business. Wish I had their names…

I’ll email you the 2010 annual return – cost me $50, told me absolutely nothing – and I’m an accountant by trade, well versed in this sort of stuff. – but only if you are interested.

Concluding, if you think this is an interesting development in democracy, then I think I’d like to offer you shares in the Harbour Bridge.


Jim Belshaw said...

KVD, sorry for the delay in responding and for the late appearance of your comment. Spam blocker again!

Do please email me the accounts.