"Users", "readers", "participants" ... what's in a word?

Anchor for this item  posted Monday, June 19, 2006 at 10:00 PM MST

I just posted a long item in ''Beyond Greed''. Here's part of it:

In the first post to the blog for the new "Democratic Strategist", Scott Winship (the Managing Editor) included this invitation:

"you (dear reader) can help make this a better blog by passing along links to articles or studies that I can deconstruct. I know that sounds like I'm pushing my work off on you, but hey"
My reply was this:
Passing along links and articles you can deconstruct? Ok!

FWIW the phrase I have been using to describe my project is "participatory deliberation". Can we deliberate interactively? It seems, from a decades-long survey of web activity, that we can either interact or deliberate in a manner that is more or less traditional, i.e. on our own, publishing the products of that deliberation.

Perhaps the best we can do is to feed a few with grist for their mills. I think not. And if so? Then I wish you and your group the most wholesome success."

Coincidentally, Jon Udell's latest was on a related subject:
"For an internal IDG newsletter I was asked to pick the industry buzzword that most annoys me and write a brief essay explaining why. I chose user-generated content and wrote the following:
"Everything about this buzzphrase annoys me.
[...]
IT has customers and clients, not users. IT-oriented publishers have readers, not users.

Second, "content" is a word that reminds me more of sausage than of storytelling. As writers and editors we don't "generate" "content," we tell stories that inform, educate, and entertain -- or should.

Now that the original vision of a two-way web is finally made real, we can distinguish between amateur storytellers (in the best and highest sense of amateur) and professional storytellers. Thanks to the contributions of the amateurs -- who are of course professional practitioners of the disciplines that we "cover" -- we can tell deeper, richer, more well-informed stories about the products and services they create, and the work they do. Those stories are valuable, and the business I want to be in is based on that value, not on the ''monetization'' of ''user-generated content''.

So I will instead propose reader-created context. [...] Much of own work -- in tagging, in intelligent search, in screencasting -- aims to empower readers, listeners, and viewers to create context and learn on demand. Enlightened 21st-century publishers will create value from that kind of empowerment too."

My point is simple: until we have /more/ we shouldn't be overly concerned about the terminology and nomenclature.

Really ... who doesn't say "I use Firefox" (or Opera or whatever) or "I use a Mac" (likewise). But bottom-line: how much real participation is there? How much story-sharing is there, really? Ohhhhh for sure, lots of story-telling ... but truly: how much interaction?

So my reply to Jon was this:

"If there's an antidote to the "false consensus effect" it has to be interaction. My thinking about "participatory deliberation" is as informed by tribal memories of camp-fire chats as by liberal notions of group discernment; either way, meaning is a social construct.

Having said that ... what else but "users"? "Participants" is unwieldy, "contributers" likewise, and sounds to one-directional. "Reader-created" ... nice, but it won't displace "user". :-)

BTW: in the late 60s a public education process arose from the actual needs of kidz going to do public service in developing countries; they needed to learn, so it came to be that those returning "taught" as a form of de-compression ... debriefing, in effect. The resources they used in their presentations comprised the centers' libraries. The network of those centers lasted through into the early 90s. (I was on the scene and tried to use the web as a source of energy to give that network a new lease on life ... but failed.) My point is this: the entities that arose were referred to as being "learner-centered", ergo: The Edmonton Cross-cultural Learner Center.

Old things new again? My "ParDelib" aims at the urge to consume / contribute / participate ... like Mozilla, except concentrating on public discourse. heh ... try packaging /that/! ;-)"


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