Welcome to the Participatory Age1!

A paper focusing on the emergent technological realities in civil society and it's consequences in relation to e-participation.

Madarász Csaba

Central and Eastern European Citizens Network E-participation programme director

2008. March

Contact information:
Madarász Csaba Budakalász Hársfa utca 8/b Hungary e-mail:madaraszcs@ceen.net skype:bpanther360

1 The Participation Age is the successor to the Information Age, where economic value was generated by controlling the creation,
distribution and use of proprietary information. In the Information Age, the proprietary nature of the intellectual property required users to purchase restrictive use rights or “reinvent the wheel” for unrestricted use. The Internet has enabled the Participation Age and has seriously challenged this proprietary control. The Participation Age is about access and sharing, where networks of human beings interact to solve problems, creating meaningful content, connections and relationships never possible before. Jerry NeeceCurriki Global Education & Learning Community Bringing Curricula into the Participation Age By Dr. Barbara (Bobbi) Kurshan

A bunch of flower to the civil society
More effective communication is in centre of technological developments in our age in various fields. Communicational improvements in many levels of the society and applied technology are forming the possibilities for better interactions between groups, scripts and interests, creating better governance and more fine-tuned systems. The keyword is adaptation in this system movement, rooted in the symbiotic quality of our nature, where society tries to adopt to the technological world, created by the challenges of the society. As the members of the civil society, we are likely to join interest groups, NGO's, associations, self-help groups, charities, learning circles, or ad hoc formings, which are giving an organizational background and a different scope to our activities. Some of our presence are obligatory in these formings, such as the school council, or lower ends of representation by our work, family state or religious attitude. What is common, that the events and activities are ruled somehow, probably by detailed orders layed down in documents, and time to time we face with the lack of information on time, the need for advanced communication facilities with group members, the wish to have a helping virtual hand to remember and at least store and keep in order our things. It would be very nice to have a kind of civil society based e-participation ecosystem developed, or applied by our government. But until we reach this kind of consciousness shift sketched above related to e-participation, we have to gain a renewed view related to technology. Nothing revolutionary, but a certain level of knowledge about the trends. That would unambiguously help the civil society to keep on takeing the advantage of the conscious engagement of the e-world.

Techno-sociological-e participation strands
By the result of the recent technology developments and the interaction of the net-community such as the hardware capacity extension and broadband boom, the rise of the programming environments and the new portals and services developed by them, and the hacker's, developer's codes, and the on-and off-line discussions about these codes and the midwifery of helping new ideas to give birth by technological tools has led to a new environment. (Something similar to the home birth “revolution”, which is letting the pregnant women give birth at home to their children with the help of midwife) This environment's character is the extended noble behaviour of putting the idea of freedom, development and expression of information, sharing and public good into the centre of many communities. And according to their high level of community investments, today, a huge benefit is ready to be engaged by the civil society. We have to mention, that open source is important, but not the only dirve force in this process. New forms of business culture behaviour are also key block in this building, whether they are built on Open source softwares or not. I have to state, that the term, I use - e-participation - is significantly wider, than it is meant in wikipedia. My notion is focusing more on the governance meaning of the word, rather than on the government. And the result by this shift, it extends the “e-kind” participation notion to those areas, which are interrelated with the activities of any governance (or nearly) It is coming from the explanation of civil society, where e-participation is taking place in various forms, not restricted to higher governance institutions.

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According to Wikipedia and the London School of Economics says, that : “Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.”

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Paradigm shifts by the community
Open source is the ideal development and business model for today's massively connected Participation Age economy. Why? Because it offers freedom to every user and developer by encouraging genuinely collaborative innovation. Sun Microsystems, Open source pages intro

Technocultural Paradigmshift- the Web 2.0
Not only web theorist, but many of the users are using a notion, called web 2.0, which is describing a paradigmshift of information behaviour on the internet, and like all paradigm shifts, it affects the people who use it socially, culturally, and even politically. The core of web2.0 is deeply connected to opens source technologies, data and data exchange formats and standards, reflecting modern physics by putting a challenge to the questions of where and how, and also opening up dimensions of eco-friendly qualities, by creating the huge possibilities of advanced sharing, remixing, the reusing of information objects and processes. These technological tricks are also affecting the investment culture, just like the business models of these services and companies. In softwares and their services, years ago it could have been unimagined to provide a large amount of services (they might be reduced in various ways) for free, or for such an affordable monthly, or yearly price, that is definitely providing a usable, equivalent or semi-equivalent alternative for other “locked” products. The network effect is working, and directly benefiting those, who can use it. Sun systems, one of the biggest IT companies of the world's example greatly signify s the gratefulness of the business are for enjoying the participatory processes, feed by the communities. This is coded into the community centered open system philosophy of open source. It is widely know now, that in growing businesses (mostly internet related) the participative factor is consciously built on a hybrid strategy, where the companies in various operations from design through programming till marketing are earning the success led by the importance of participating communities. The interaction has changed the software and it's development, such as the distribution processes, just as it has changed the business, and now, we see it is changing our culture. The article at readWriteWeb and on Sun's page is a good example. As the infrastructure has become more and more accessible, affordable and usable, the culture of developers of these instruments are evolving, and offering bright and very usable tools for governments, businesses, and the civil society as well. These services are centered to reduce the time, open up new possibilities for cooperation inside an organisation or tasks(any kind), helping collaboration on certain projects in amazingly huge variety of stages, and as well, helping to design and realize processes with better adaptation potential to the socio-technical environment – at the indefinding better solutions to our problems.

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Core summary of technocultural improvements in a simple way

One place, many functions (Zoho, Google) one-stop shop access for many services (just like adding multiple e-mail accounts to a mail-programme, and reading from one folder all our work, fun and personal related e-mails. But it is more like a Swiss knife in one of our pocket, where we can use those services, that we want from one place – and they are integrated! One registration, valid in many spaces (OPEN ID) it creates the possibility to use services in various places (domains) with one account. Just like having an EU passport, and the freedom to travel without border check, and to be every place as we are, without questioning our identity. Easy sharing on the functional level (same language ,direct content instead of links) advanced “copypasting” with direct measurement options for owners of their contents spread – they can be any types from softwares to videos - helping the users to forward, embed and share in a more simple way (these functions are might built on the top of browsers, or integrated to browsers, built in to on-line word processors and other tools) Easy manipulation of content (cultural diversity of services - memory and freedom, right and need consciousness) means two things. First, online and software services are now offering the legal and the technical background for remixing culture. Supporting those, whose work, product value is personalized, conceptualized, more diverse culturally. The focus is not on preserving the the ownership, but in more transcendent way to consciously support the spread of good things, good music, good images, good culture, and the creating possibilities for reuse of these stuff. Secondly, softwares are become more usable, with less pain- there is more space to focus on the task, rather than on the learning of the usage of the application. Community supporters – it can be direct technical support through a forum, or either can mean the growing supporters of citizen journalists, who are offering articles for publication there is a huge benefit from the community level. The unknown, never met people are sharing their resources for development, collaboration and co-production. The foundation of any media organisation (internet radio, web-tv, or an online magazine), or the integration of these has become really fast, affordable and well documented. Those, who's interest is to provide content are now facing with significantly increased possibilities to gain readers, to help communities grow around topics. These communities are also behaving differently, sometimes founding new basics for businesses. Localization – you get local content on the way – Here is at least also two types of local progress. One is the localization of services, which means, that more and more services and applications are communicating in our languages by their interfaces. On the other hand, we get local news, local advertisements in non-local portals as well. And of course, we have a difference outlook, by having the view of google maps and earth around the globe! Individualized (content by preferences) – WYWWYG (What you want is what you get) instead of buying a newspaper, with topics, that I would never read, the possibility – and the
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dangers – are here, to have media, which is reflecting our interest, our need, our wishes. On a more practical level, I can get more easily, with less search and click what I desire, need. And browsing the same domain might not mean, that we look the same content and vica versa – browsing the same content does not mean, that they are coming from the same source.

On-line money transfer – since Paypal has become the most popular transfer space for money over the net, giving support to any case, or buying through electronic money transfer has become really simple, and opened projects to be engaged for the masses.

To summarize the web 2.0 main themes, I can refer one of the most well known blogger on usability and design at Bokardo, Joshua Porter, who has summarized with his journal colleague at the Digital-web magazine, Richard MacManus the author of ReadWriteWeb, what are the six main themes covering design in the Web 2.0 world in their article, Web 2.0 for designers: 1. Writing semantic markup (transition to XML) 2. Providing Web services (moving away from place) 3. Remixing content (about when and what, not who or why) 4. Emergent navigation and relevance (users are in control) 5. Adding metadata over time (communities building social information) 6. Shift to programming (separation of structure and style)

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A more detailed outlook of the existing trends in technology/service trends
The e-community involvement is straightforwardly helping the development processes, and starting to play a center role in some of the key projects, that are using new technologies to bridge gaps in the social world. The supporting networks of NGO's for advanced technology use are stepping to it's brightest years. We are not only talking about community software development, and applications, but the hybrid networks of companies and the civil society, who are now focusing cooperatively on organized knowledge sharing events, based on win-win strategy targeting real life social challenges all over the globe. The Knight News Challenge or Netsquared is doing something like this, where anybody, who has a good idea can have the kickstart help from professionals, such as funding and business development services. Like the TacticalTechCollective or the SocialInnovationcamp there are different levels of support for those, who think seriously about the emerging future of e-tools over the net. These projects are representing a new level of support and a possible dimension in cooperation over various spaces. But what are the existing technological trends, that are paving these opportunities? What is behind the scenes and what has come up to the surface? The next bunch of flowers are trying to put give a frame from the main trends. The most important technical basics are these:

The spread of SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions P2P and Open APIs
Nearly every one can use a PC, and a basic media literacy to work with it. SaaS solutions are demanding no hosting and operation need from the organisations, individuals, who are using it. This is a huge breakthrough in IT support, which is now ready to be engaged with NGOs. In this case, no need for web masters, no need for extra hosting, no need for owning the software, you pay (or not) and you can use it. Peer to Peer technologies are creating a different valuechain. Instead of having a central system, it is likely to say, that the P2P is the cheap and key traffic reducing element of moving large files over the net. By it's natuer of architect, it has always been a bit of peripherical development, because of the uncontrollable nature of letting people (Computers) get in touch one-to-one, ad-hoc based. That is one of the key advantages of skype as well! Open APIs are providing the language bridge between softwares, making one website behave like a software, or reaching another software without going directly to the service where we think it is (url). This is something in the shady communication of softwares, but the basic for creating integrated environments.

The key applications
Social networking
Social networking is a real spice for participatory projects for citizens, or ngos. The social networking software models are definitely has changed in the last year. Creating a social network now with a huge amount of built in functions are not the privilege to rich organizations. On the other hand, some of them are moving to a real inspirable directions, by opening participatory spaces for development, submitting wished, needed or unwanted applications to an extremely inclusive environment (for Example Facebook). Social networking now offers a large variety of useful time to spend on, mostly, if we are dealing
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with e-campaigning. On the other hand, these developments make ready the environment for individuals to research, maintain, transfer and grow communities, by the open source, or free with compromise software versions of social networking environments. Good news, that on a modular level, these networks could possibly grow out of existing open source portals (durpal, plone, joomla) with the help of components, modules, plugins, which will be a breakthrough for many existing portals – but also would shift to a higher level the challenges: to the role of community design and the role of community workers in online environments. It can mean a lot in those areas, where the culture of social networking is supported with collaboration, enthusiasm and the willingness to give back (push content, opinion, view etc) to the community. Core players in this field: ....Ning, Kickapps, Drupal, Jooomla, Plone

Ready to use CMS solutions
When you need a simple, but aim oriented webportal and additional services, you have now something like Nescafé. You got the kickstart - maybe the taste is not like a Bosnian coffee -, but it is here, fast, and usable. For a cheap price, on demand instantly ! Some key players: Civicspace, Groupserver

Mapping applications
The good investments are good for the community as well. This is one of the key factors of the successful mapping applications – the other one is the simplicity. Running them separately, or integrating them to websites can give advanced features to any project of a kind. That is why these developed applications called Mashups. Map based project might give accessibility to the knowledge of glocality. What has been an expensive solution 2 years ago, now it is a tool for everyone (or nearly), but absolutely a needed help, for those, who are primarily interested in representing things over a map. The significant breakthrough has come from GoogleMaps API, and the developers from all over the globe writing great applications. It can be Citizen Science of discoveries on Planet Earth with Google Earth, or helping a housing project (or social mapping) with Google maps, or some kind of a cultural history project cultural history project based on the possibilities of creating your own maps with some compromise the power of true representation of space from a higher view is in the hands of every citizen ( with some exaggeration), just like the initiative to build something useful around it. Some interesting sites: Mapbb.com from Drupal community, Frappr based on GoogleMaps.

Online organisations
No need for MS office any more! That could have been the calling word for OpenOffice, or other online office solutions. But now, we get extra functions, that are really supporting the networking environments from at least two place (Google and Zoho). Web based collaboration, mobility, sharing and access level setting can make us effective net-workers for a better world. The integrated functions are taking SMEs, NGOs, freelancers and many of us towards a new way of integration of working methods, based on better collaboration and diverse sharing. These services make transparent a lot of things happening behind the scenes, (have a test run of Zoho for example) and we can bet, they won't stop. Google's Doc's is rising from US money, and it's challenger, Zoho is helping us from India, with onestop access to online office solution (like excel, word and powerpoint), a project management tool, a CRM (customer relationship management) solution, an online note
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taker, a cool wiki, an online organizer, a chat, a collaborative groupware, a database application, webconferencing tool spiced with invoice and HR possibilities. What else can we add? Maybe some packaging and tailoring to projects, organisations needs. Good news is that google has recently announce it's team edition -Google Apps Team.

CMS developments
Content managements systems are the second level of glory after mailing free. The integrated communication is now more widespread, helping and facilitating various levels of communication inside the civil society. It is nearly unimaginable, how big is the profit and the freedom of speech organizations of the community by the usage of OOS softwares. Great toast here for the developers! The directions, now CMS systems are moving are putting us, users into the centre – having more complex jobs for the developers, letting us to do more by ourselves. The inner outlook of these systems have become more clean, usable and again user centered. Buffing the existing modules has remind at the centre, just like giving more advanced features away for free. The trend is simplification.

CRM (customer relationship management)
Crm's driving force for the civil society is twofold. The spread of the paypal based money transfers make a friendly space for fund-raising and support available for a growing amount of organisations and projects. The mentioned CMS developments are putting direct attention to these challenges, offering now serious answers for web-contact relation management. The most noticeable players are SugarCRM and the attachable competitor, Civicrm

The undoubted process of e-learning has created it's official open source environments with it's remarkably good standards. Of course, from the application side, it was the year of significant changes regarding to quality and stability. It has become also clear, that independent developers are putting back more and more to e-learning development. From the users side there is a great possibility in e-learning, which is waiting for more conscious organisations, realizing the potential of e-learning in various levels (it is true not only for NGO's). But keep in mind, here, the contend makes the story a hit. Networking is still the most important issue to become more familiar, although, systems seem to be more ready for this than humans. It is dangerous in a positive manner if we imagine learning spaces, offering standardised learning from various places!

Collaborative applications
Audio/video conferencing
The possibilities of having a voice, or video conversation in good quality now is really a nutshell, since we know Skype, and similar solutions. Creating cost effective environment for multimedia communication is shaping the presence of audio-video conferencing and collaboration. It has become simply to share live events as well.

Project management applications and groupwares Since web-workers were not satisfied with the price model of Microsoft Project, they
have started creating applications, that suits to different personal and organisational needs. They can be either SME sized or with bigger organizational focused, free, or
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low cost applications are having the professional set of management and groupware tools in the hand of civil society. It is here to help us organize better our resources, tasks, shared projects contacts and time. Main actors on this field: remember the milk, basecamp, zirrus and some of like Groupserver, or PHPProjekt, Citadel, Egroupware, Opengroupware PHPgroupware,

Calendaring applications
Since the standards of calendar applications has become clarified, the web-brothers could start their success. Offering the possibility now to download, export, re-use and share a bunch of events with colleagues or other parties are helping to spread the community extension of wise Chronos, by saving a lot of time, copying event's place, date, programme to our on-line calendar or above mentioned project management application, or to our similar application run phone, maybe into our mail-programme. Think sync. Think Ical is the key format.

wikis now have a new generation, working on a SaaS model, having the easy way for knowledge marketing and community engagement around any topic the author wishes. The significant step was to enable the WYSIWYG editors to work with less [[special]] signs!!.This has opened the possibilities for the masses, who did not wanted to learn one of the code language of the open source tribes. We also have now the fancy 2.0 type wikis, offering simple project management capabilities in a reshaped interface, with a big variety of access level settings and the outlook myth, such as running a wiki under your domain (without installation) with your own logo and design. Testing Pbwiki is a joy, playing around Socialtext makes us addicted, and putting something to Confluence is really making us worry about change.

Here I have collected some of the trends in a few sentences, that are referring to some specific areas, that can be useful for and by the the engaging civil society.

Polls and surveys.
The complexity of services offered as Saas has increased, prices are going down, on-demand you can have what you like in a fair business model. Plus, at polling you have fancy Ajax-based applications, to attach for any page like a Post-it. On the other hand, some players are hanging around blog services, so it is likely to happen, that you face with a bunch of questions to vote, just on the top of a blog, or site. Surverymonkey Pollpubs Surverymonkey, Pollpubs ZoomerangPollpubs

Surverymonkey Discussion forums
Having said that CMS functions are reaching the sky, discussion forums has developed to a fairly user centered applications, with a lot of community extra on the sidelines. Still no question, that the flagship of community functions are dressed now to it's trendy suit, tailored to every need. But what can be done above the kings of discussion forums, Phpbb, Vanilla and SimpleMachines? Maybe Tangler, the attachable cool forum service.
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NGO tailored offers
There is a growing list of companies, who are making a difference on business models regarding to NGOs. Companies (google earth, google ... are offering specialized packages, and NGOs are offering well equipped software troops for specific missions NGO-in-a-box. The usage of these services will significantly grow, and grow. We can be happy, that a lot of us taking care of the environment of civil society development! Google is offering Earth for Non-profits, and some of the mentioned players of SaaS providers are also have their supporting programme.

Campaign is in the centre
E-campaigning has become a serious reason, why the civil society, including NGOs are turning more towards the e-sphere. In various situations, e-campaigning not only offering the most cost effective bunch of solutions, but it is existing as the only way, to reach out for audience and volunteers, and not to mention at the last – to gain presence in the media. Social networks, such as Facebook has become extremely importance from the campaign perspective, as reaching audiences is not a difficult task there. Mobile campaigning is also rising, but the fact, that target groups of campaigns has now significant presence online is bright as the sun.

On-line video
has been producing the biggest breakthrough since it is exist. The rapid expansion of video-networks and connected tools and services for storing, remixing, cutting and even broadcasting the moving images are far beyond what we could imagine. By selecting the best mix, the comparison of costs for creating, storing and spreading videos in a few years back in time is one of the most significant reason, why we hope, this area will bring a lot back to the society. Once bigger and bigger parts of the NGO-civil network Is becoming aware of the production possibilities, and will see the benefits coming from well organised networking, it can really be the school example of creating change in the society. Storing a video was never easier, just like editing it without a programme on your computer. Embedding it to websites is a snap, and analyzing the statistics of your video is also free, making no difference whether it is on Youtube or Dailymotion. Creating an online video channel in HD is not difficult any more, just like getting the content without pushing the net with heavy bandwidth usage with P2P technologies. Having a live broadcast from various places, with titles, programmed films are not only the tool of studios. For those, who enjoy watching tv in small, can have a more similar experience like tv. Check out Miro, some of the sites like Splashcast or Ustream. And for the final, Mogulus

The trend is really blogging, just like citizen journalism in other sentences. The blogosphere is now 70 million weblogs wide (was in 2007) and about 120,000 new weblogs are created each day, or 1.5 million posts per day, 1.4 new blogs are created every second,17 new posts are made every second. It is no surprise, that the services and tools helping bloggers are widened, sitting on our Operation System, built into our browsers, and there is a vast set of tools ready for us to work
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for our aims. And the blogs has gain extremely importance in various aspects of the civil society, and the tools now has become more advanced. Over the Queen, Wordpress we need to mention a stranger, with the help we can create the instant hype blog over any event – Coveritlive.

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