In a fascinating review of a book by David Post entitled In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace, Ethan Zuckerman ’93 makes several points that connect, at least for me, with a few recent posts on EphBlog, including the discussion of editing/deleting of comments and the Hedrick Smith documentary on the precarious state of our water. Go read the whole thing.

One of the points that Zuckerman makes is that non-profit sites are able, within limits, to prioritize the needs of the community. EphBlog is fortunate in that it is a small non-profit, and I hope it remains that way. It may not be a pure democracy, but it has a more genuinely representative form of ‘governance’ than any other for-profit or non-profit internet community I’ve participated in. It is extremely rare to have, as we do, a disinterested board and ombudsman who try to act in the interest of the broader community rather than just as a self-interested cabal. Corporate-owned sites obviously have to put the interests of shareholders ahead of everything else. Sites that operate under the aegis of academic and other large non-profit institutions tend to have their own institutional agendas just as much as any corporate site has its marketing and revenue-extraction agenda. Even at highly democratic sites like Wikipedia, I suspect that, if it comes down to it, the interests of the Wikimedia Foundation ultimately trumps the interests of the Wikipedia community.

I am not suggesting that we are perfect. I am suggesting that although the model we have here may not be scalable, it is quite uniquely deliberative and open.

  • Zuckerman brings up the issue of how sites fund themselves – and it’s an interesting one. Most use ad revenue – which adds another constituency, advertisers, whose interest may come ahead of users [David Post would prefer to use the word ‘citizens’]. Wikipedia had a community-drive pledge drive. Currently, this might seem like a moot point because the hosting cost for EphBlog is quite minimal, and is paid directly by the founder(s) of the site. The major investment needed to maintain and improve the site is the freely-volunteered time of moderators and admins. Would it help our efforts to turn EphBlog into a self-governing community if the site was funded by more than just the founder(s)?
  • Would it help to add a minimalist and relatively open user forum or bulletin board? The forum would be like the Speak Up page in a way – a community bulletin board – but with permanent archiving, topics, tags, etc. Active discussions, whether on Eph-related topics or not, would stay on top instead of disappearing into the archives. In my personal opinion, the subjective threshold for posting a discussion topic, or asking a quick question, or sharing a link, might be lower on the forum than it would be for adding a new post to the front page, and so this might increase participation from some readers. I have been experimenting with this idea and would appreciate feedback.
  • Consider this a general thread to reflect on how governance and communities work on the web – and how could EphBlog in particular improve?
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