Online Communities as a Policy Tool

The IPPR have an excellent discussion paper on online communities as a policy tool They [William Davies] posits that existing models like eBay’s trading system could provide the basis for a civic commons that is actually useful to people. It would the hub for trading skiils and services rather than the abstract discussion space often talked about in relation to civic commons

However, the concept sounds ominously similar to LETS the local economic trading scheme. This idea faltered in Bristol [when I was there in around 1998] because the abundence of New Age travellers thought this a great idea. However, very few had skills and services that had *value* to the wider community. Exchanging a Raiki massage for mending your washing machine just wasn’t a good trade. I’m not suggesting that this IPPR proposal is the same, merely that the same pitfalls could befall them.

As Davies notes in the paper eBay has a good, stable model for developing reputation systems based on money as a trusted currency. However, most sites use currency [in the form of credit] when trading things. What is also important is that ebay set rules where you know what you should and should not ‘do’. Your ‘rating’ by peer review reflects your adherence to these rules. But fundamentally eBay works because you have ‘power’. You can make a difference. You can make money. You have control in the game.

As soon as a collective decision has to be reached, say in the case of a civic commons, the benefits are less clear, the ability to manage and control are dissipated.  Add to that the difficulty of harnessing different opinions and managing debate constructively and you have an unenviable task. I know from producing community sites that most don’t cope well with conflict of opinion.  They tend toward like-minded people, so-called ‘’cybalkanisation’’. As in reality like-minded people gravitate toward each other.

IPPR’s suggestion that government could intervene to provide an ID system, perhaps related to ID cards, does not as far as i’m concened fundamentally affect the relationship of trust. I know the name of the guy who lives oppsite me. I, obviously, know where he lives. Would I trust him? To wash my windows, yes. To look after my kids, no. However, after i’ve shared a beer with him I might find he’s a good bloke. That model doesn’t scale too well though does it?

See BBC NOL Story.