by Frank Schnittger
Mon May 12th, 2008 at 07:26:29 AM EST
In Wales' front page story - Meta ET - has attracted an almost record number of comments and, for all I know, is perhaps also almost unique in having achieved this with hardly a snark or pie fight in sight. One previous pie fight was even amicably resolved!
However Xavier in Paris felt that ET had become more strident, challenging, and perhaps intimidating of late, and that this made it difficult to encourage newcomers to engage positively with the site. Helen has agreed to try and summarise some of the existing conventional wisdoms on ET that have departed from tradmed norms and which might confuse newcomers to the site.
I wouldn't dream of trying to summarise such a comprehensive, multi-threaded conversation, much less the strengths and weaknesses of ET as a whole, but I would like to draw out a line of conversation which I was particularly involved in. This concerned how best we, as a community, might proceed to develop ET into something bigger and more influential in European public debate.
The first issue to address is obviously whether this is something we all want. Some contributors (e.g. Melo, Lupin, PerCLupi) seemed to have a preference for keeping ET small and beautiful as it is. pereulok suggested that "It's in some way the beauty of chaos what gives ET its swing" and that pereulok:
There's a lot of social networks (Facebook, etc.), Photo-sharing ones (Flickrt, Picasa), business networks (linkedin), e-learning ones... Is there any "thinking network" on the web? ET could be one... So I would suggest an organized ET to focus not only in the content, but on the creation process of the content, because that's what, I think, could give you all a window of opportunity, as it's the special feature of ET
Others argued that ET needs to develop to survive in an increasingly crowded cyberpace and that the fact that the EU polity lacks a very actively engaged Demos or populace provides us with an opportunity to help fill that vacuum. I suggested that ET might aspire to become as influential in EU affairs as DKos or the Huffington Post have become in the US. This seemed to some, including Jerome, to be a reasonable aspiration.
The next issue to be addressed, if that overall aspiration were to be accepted, would be to decide how best this should be done. A number of lines of argument developed:
- The need to develop a more sophisticated organisation to support a larger and more diverse site. I call this the evolutionary process from single cell amoeba to a more complex differentiated multi-cell organisational change model This would require having more frontpagers (or people with editorial responsibilities) performing a variety of more limited and specialised tasks to avoid burnt-out by our existing small cadre of FPers. (This might also address Fran's concern that some European country topics are under-represented on ET, by trying to appoint country editors with specific responsibility for sourcing content of more general interest on their country).
- The need to develop an almost wiki like knowledge base of key position papers which would inform our debates, hopefully "put to bed" some recurring arguments, act as a useful reference for newcomers, and enable us to market our wares more effectively with traditional media, policymakers, parliamentarians, and a wider range of general users. This might also require that we send regular press releases to a large spectrum of mass media and research players.
- The vexed issue of funding then came up, as Jerome feels that one cannot ask an entirely voluntary group of people to do all the work that would be required. Some readers may be able to advise on how other sites like DKos, Huffington Post, and Wikipedia have resolved these issues. However the aspect of this debate which became particularly developed was the idea that we would appoint a Literary Agent or apply to the EU for funding for specific projects which addressed issues which were also of public concern to the EU. Melanchthon has particular expertise in applying for EU funding for specific projects and agreed to write, when time permits, a diary setting out some of the rules and processes for doing so.
However before we go too far down this track, and put too much work into it, it is important that we pause for breath and ensure that most, if not all, ETers are comfortable with exploring these options.
Do we really want to grow ET into something bigger and more influential? Are DKos/Huffington Post/WikiPedia the sort of models, in terms of organisation, functionality, technology, community and influence we should be pursuing? Are we in danger of losing the small, informal, relatively close knit, and very voluntary model that is almost unique to ET at the moment? Should we just let things evolve in their own way without trying to plan or manage the process?
Is there a deeper philosophical difference here between those who would prefer a more anarchistic, spontaneous and fluid process of evolution and those who take a more managerialist, strategic and planned approach to organisational development? Should we avoid all role models and planned approaches to change and just let ET spontaneously evolve, or not, in response to external events and occasional internal initiatives? Do we have to choose one approach or the other, or is there room for both?