Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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18 March 2015

I am used as a journalism professor to suggesting to my students that for any specialist topic – a disease, a hobby, a location – they should seek out the online discussion forums chat rooms or mailing lists that relate to it. These can act as sources of expertise or places where they can seek out opinions or story ideas. Only when I have suggested they do this recently and have gone to look for them myself… I found surprisingly very little. It used to be that searching for “[topic] messageboard” or “[topic] forum” or “[topic] mailing list” would nearly always find something. I didn’t even find a discussion board by and for Canadian post-secondary students akin to the UK’s Student Room.

Back in 2011, Pew Internet found “65% of the internet users who are active in groups say they use their groups’ websites… 24% of these internet users say they contribute material to their groups’ online bulletin boards and discussions.”

Have the problems of troll management killed most of these off as it seems to be doing to media comments sections?  Has Facebook eaten up most of that discussion time? (I am not finding a lot of very active special interest Facebook groups either – at least not proportional in size to what seems to have been lost).

My students seem to see Reddit subreddits as their “go to” source of topic-centred conversation but Reddit is again not big enough to replace all of the little conversation spaces that used to be around (is it?), and ISTR it trends pretty young. Twitter is a) not usually the same as a message board in terms of length, depth and continuity of dialogue and b) my sense is that it is more a discussion tool for elites than for a broader range of participants.

Do you have the sense this is a real trend? Is anyone still tracking discussion board use? (If it isn’t still being tracked that might itself be a sign of something!)

Where else should I be sending my students online to find and solicit citizen views these days?

And with my communication studies hat on, if the internet-using public loses the “habit” of using online discussion forums, would this not undermine one of the important means the internet could function as a potential space of public “sphericules”?

10 September 2007

Perhaps it is the novelty value, perhaps it is the sense that on Facebook I am addressing friends while on this blog I am mostly addressing people I don’t know but the impulse that would once have sent me off here to post little observations on everyday life and news items seems to be being increasingly fulfilled by status updates and the occasional wall posting over there.

When I started blogging I didn’t really think about who my readers might be. When I did start thinking it might be useful to be able to mix private matters with public ones there wasn’t much available except LiveJournal that would give me that kind of control and I quickly discovered that most of my friends are casual enough Internet users not to bother setting up an LJ identity in order to be able to keep up with me and my doings. But Facebook seems to be drawing in a wide enough net that what I write feels like it is going to a substantial number of the people I want to be reaching. Even my brother is on it (though naturally enough my father isn’t there… yet…) and my father, not wishing to be left out, has just joined!

28 October 2005

I have been involved with many discussions about rules for participation in virtual communities – Speaking to Me: Terms and Conditions does a great job of making fun of the kinds of “community rules” documents that result.

On a slightly serious note it does suggest some of the actual issues that may arise when increasing numbers of people blog their daily lives – eg:

6. By speaking to Tom Peyer, you grant the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, unrestricted worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display the material (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, including in any parallel universes.

8 December 2004

In the tradition of departmental group weblog sites like “INCITE”:http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/incite/index.html and “ReadMe”:http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/ReadMe/, I have set up a new unofficial weblog for the “Media department”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/Default.htm at the “London School of Economics”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/ and have managed to persuade several of my fellow PhD students to start posting there. I, too, will start posting my more academia-related musings there rather than here pour encourager les autres, though for the first little while at least I will probably post here to remind you to look there when I add something. Go along and check it out – I hope you find it useful.

P.S. As you may have noticed, I have not been posting as often on this blog. “Mark Brady”:http://home.btconnect.com/glottalstop/blog/ recently interviewed me for his PhD thesis about blogging and I began to realise as I was talking to him just how much in doubt I was about the usefulness of what I have been doing. So don’t be surprised if this blog settles down to a post-or-two a week blog instead of a daily one. But don’t blame him 😉

24 November 2004

If you want to collaborate in real time with other people online on something visual rather than something textual here is a pair of options. Imagination Cubed provided by GE (I don’t know why – they certainly don’t seem to promote its existence) is for more business-like uses, “isketch”:http://www.isketch.net/ is for fun – each player gets a chance to draw a word which the other players will try to guess. Both in their different ways seem like interesting and useful Internet tools and both are free…

12 November 2004


Over in the Live Journal of “blog sociology”:http://www.livejournal.com/community/blog_sociology/ here’s a reference to a pair of matching sites – the sorry’s and the not-sorry’s. Both feature pictures sent in by Americans who are (or aren’t) sorry that Bush was re-elected.

This is interesting to me from an academic point of view as an example of how ‘ordinary people’ can use Internet technology to make political statements that have the power of authenticity precisely because of their ordinariness but which have a very low ‘barrier to entry’. You don’t need to be clever or articulate to express your views on the site – you just need a camera.

update Along similar lines “Geodog”:http://www.thebishop.net/geodog/archives/2004/10/08/late_night_thoughts_on_browsing_the_iraq_tag_on_flickr.html points out that services like Flickr make it easy to find photos about what’s going on in Iraq – many of them taken in Iraq. Also see “my earlier blog posting”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_current_affairs_world.html#001222 about this…

28 October 2004

Michael Feldstein “suggests”:http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage/sub_page.cfm?section=3&list_item=25&page=1 that the tendency of bloggers to link to other bloggers, usually done as a way of crediting them with the idea, tends to smother discussion or debate: “The very same hyper-linking impulse that makes it easy to pass along an idea with a minimum of effort also makes it easy to appear as if I’m agreeing with the post I’ve referenced when, in fact, I’m just deferring to it.”

From an academic perspective I think Cass Sunstein “got there first”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/sunstein.html (though he was talking about Internet mediated discussion more generally). I know this is one of the things that bothers Habermas about the Internet (I asked him). Shanto Iyengar “disagrees”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/iyengar.html.

Thanks to Jeremy Wagstaff for the link

18 October 2004

Tom Steinberg pointed out a while ago that the “Daily Mail”:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ – arguably the most dangerous newspaper in Britain – now has “message boards”:http://chat.dailymail.co.uk/dailymail/index.jsp. A chance to get a peek into the heads of their europhobic, often paranoid readership? Or perhaps an opportunity to change a few minds?

P.S. To get an idea of the Mail’s point of view on the world and get a good laugh at the same time try the (satirical) Daily Mail headline generator.

28 September 2004


We Are What We Do is a book with accompanying website that offers 50 suggestions for small things you could do to help others and/or the planet in your daily life.

Something a little odder but in the same vein is “Join Me”:http://www.join-me.co.uk/ – an international movement started by a British comedian, Danny Wallace, who simply asks its members to do RAoKs (random acts of kindness) on Fridays (hence Good Fridays). You can buy his book and listen to a radio interview made with Danny in Wisconsin (of all places!) “here”:http://wpr.org/book/040328a.html. What I find truly heartening is that thanks to something Danny started as a joke over 100,000 good deeds have been inspired. I must get around to posting him a photo and signing up…

7 September 2004

Wired News reports, ‘A small California newspaper has undertaken a first-of-its-kind experiment in participatory journalism in which nearly all the content published in a regularly updated online edition and a weekly print edition is submitted by community members. It’s all free.’

“The Northwest Voice”:http://www.northwestvoice.com/default.asp’s experiment seems like a good idea on the face of it (and the creators give a good account of their reasons at “Open Source Journalism”:http://www.opensourcejournalism.org/) but I fear newspaper groups could be tempted to fire all or almost all their journalists and rely on citizen contributors for a lot of small papers. The trouble with this approach is that ‘ordinary citizens’ may not have an interest in doing any investigation into complex issues or underlying causes of problems (or if they do they may only do so because they have a particular axe to grind). Let’s hope instead that this kind of citizen journalism frees up staff journalists to do a better job on that kind of reporting (and let’s face it there isn’t enough of that going on at the moment).

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