Web options on the left

I've been reviewing the web tools currently employed by the Socialist Alliance in order to make some recommendations as to how we can best utilize the web for our various political intentions.herea rea few notes FYI.

EGROUPS:

I think egroups like the GreenLeft one -- are a great way to have a discussion but I think Yahoo Groups have a few drawbacks in that regard:
  1. It's hard to order a thread as it is not always evident who is discussing whom or what as Yahoo or group threads can be iggerly piggerly.
  2. Individual posts on an egroup list last only for a day or so in full web view and prominent access before they are shunted into the archive where they are so easily lost. This is unfortunate, not only for the buoyancy of discussional threads but also for the relevant and handy reference material that is lost to ready view.
  3. To participate in an egroup you need to subscribe and go through the process of submitting your email address,personal preferences and the like.
  4. However, if a person ALREADY has an Yahoo account -- signing up to a group can be easy to do and is a much simpler and quicker process.
BULLETIN BOARDS

Generally you can run more focused discussions, I think, on Bulletin Boards as you either post new content --and start a new thread -- or comment on already posted material and reference that.

Bulletin Boards aren't used much on the web at all by those of a left persuasion. This may be because:
  • You have to log on to the web to participate on Bulletin Boards or read their content as the material usually is not automatically downloadable.
  • Bulletin Boards are basically a collection of threads formatted around initiator posts so surfing the discussion is in fact more difficult to do than on an eGroup when read on the web where all headers/subjects are listed.
But since Bulletin Boards and like forums lend themselves so much to helping out people who ask questions they can be more easily searched by subject.

BLOGS:

I think most people don't comprehend the potential of blogs to do a lot of the things generated by these other web platforms. Blogs are different from the above as they separate posters from those who make comments. It's like the web with a chairperson -- as the subject introduced by the poster to the blog -- the blog owner and/or members of the blog team -- will determine content.

Not all blogs, but many, can be subscribed to by email. However, where blogs really take off as a discussional and political tool is in the fact that they offer feeds. A feed is a way to subscribe to blog posts or comments to the blog by using a feed reader.

Blogs aren't the only source of "feeds" on the web. You can read GLW that way --or even public Yahoo lists, which offer feeds -- it's on the top page of each public group where it reads RSS. Even some Bulletin Boards offer feeds but usually only of the initiating /subject post

But blogs are probably very much more "popular" today than egroups as you don't have to go through a registration process either to read the blog, subscribe to it or, in many cases, post comments to it. MySpace is built around a blog platform, for instance and blogs do generate a lot of traffic. I only realized last month that the blog I sometimes post to in the US -- Politics in the Zeroes -- generates on average 4,000 visitors/hits per day.

Figures like that are nothing to snort at.

In reality, whether you like or accept it or not -- blogs and blogging will replace a lot of this other stuff, even ezines and the like because it is such a improvisational and immediate form of web communication.

And blogs can offer images, video and audio when with egroups you are stuck with, usually, a very sterile form of text alone.

TAG DIRECTORIES

Blogs are however a great way to share reference material and opinion. Material that is lost here on this list after a day or two is archived and even indexed using currently available blogging tools.(This is an important new attribute of most blogging platforms- - Blogger "labels" are especaily powerful in this regard). But if you wanted to simply offer a list of sites relevant to a range of subjects tagging directories like Digg, Technorati and del.icio.us will do that probably better than most other options available.

If I wanted to collect a swag of information on a subject I can simply surf the web and instead of adding it to my browser's bookmarks I could tag each site that was relevant with a key word and store that list for sharing on one of these free tag directory sites.

It's a bit sterile -- as in effect you create a sort of bibliography -- a webiography -- which can be accessed and added to any time you want to. And such information can be shared easily by referring people to a specific tag.

Of course there's no discusional option, just the sharing of links. But it can be useful.

WIKIS

Wikis combine some of the options available from these above platforms. In effect wikis are the new form of web pages because they are so useful as a means to store and index data. They're very mechanistic looking -- they aren't prettified -- but for aggregating a lot of information that you or your group creates it's like building a filing cabinet on the web.

Wikis can take a subject and be very encyclopaedia in regard to it -- just as Wikipedia is the new form of encyclopeadia which is basically putting Britannica out of business.

Wikis are, as yet, the great untouched frontier for the left. But their use is very evident in the way they have been embraced at various level of schooling -- primary, secondary, TAFE and university. Wikis are like blogs to the extent that they can be group activities, but ones where there is no final content because content can be always edited and 'improved' or reformatted.

If you have had the experience of writing by committee -- well wikis are like that big time.In the case of Wikipedia, thousands of people are involved in the project generating and editing content.

MY VIEWS

My views, that is, for the moment: I don't think there's a web tool on offer that can beat an eGroup as a means to generate discussion. Bulletin Boards work extremely well for Question and Answer exercises but they aren't as fluid and as improvisational as eGroups can be.

Blogs can foster discussion --and in some instances, a lot of discussion -- but such commentary is really always just an addendum to the main post and it is often confusing as to who is debating whom. Blogs however are a great way to showcase opinion and to editorialise. They are also very useful as a means to aggregate information and index it -- such that as a singular exercise in creating a niche topic or activity,

Mike Karagis, for instance,runs a blog called Vietnam from the Left and Fred Fuentes pilots one on Bolivia...so they can be very focused and very useful.

I don't think you can beat them in that regard ---they're even better in that regard than webzines or web newspapers in offering immediate responses around core focused topics.

Tag Directories are cumbersome to use unless you want to share your links. Tagging can be like a scatter gun,and unless you have a very good reason to tag and a later reason to make use of that tag and its list of links, there's not much point to the exercise despite the fact that over 1 million people have accounts on del.icio.us. They're great for librarians, though. and can be a useful way to share links if you are using more than one computer to access the web. (Although other browser services now will do that too.)

That leaves Wikis: The main issue with wikis is that it is often hard to comprehend what they can do for you. But wikis aren't about individual web activities at all but about group projects. If I want to share a lot of related information about a topic and I and the group involved created that information, references, links and the like -- a wiki can be something like a workshop where you can get to work to pull all this material together and arrange and package it. Its' a way to work together on the web regardless of how far geographically you are apart.

I think wikis can serve a major role as adjuncts say to blogs or egroups, where you can share information in greater depth and become involved in a collective activity such as editing an important document. They can be very democratic such that it is hard for a lot of people to warm to them for that very reason.

But on the left, I think they will become increasingly important as an adjunct activitiy to campaigns and related projects.

Channels