Spring 2008 Conference Preparation

It’s been a number of weeks since the last substantive post, so I wanted to provide an update on some of the planning I’ve been doing for a couple of conferences this spring.

First a quick review the elements of my grand unified theory of media:

  1. Any self-contained community (society, a business, community) needs a “news engine” to help it find facts, prioritize information, and make decisions.
  2. The traditional engines of news communities have been monasteries, coffeehouses, newspapers, collaborative software (Alex Wright covers this nicely in his recent book GLUT)
  3. Obviously, what’s exciting today is that the leading experimentation in news engines on the public Internet.
  4. One problem with the public sphere is that it doesn’t always value problem solving. (Just as well, within an enterprise, freedom isn’t always valued.)

My interest is in helping such news communities understand the what types of values they can strive for, and then design for them. My particular thesis at Civilities has been that social media and personal autonomy have been the popular focus of much of the current Internet era; this  has come at the expense of attention into constructive media and civilities in general.

And here’s where I’ll be conferencing around these points:

One, I’m invited to be on a panel at the ACM Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference in New Haven, May 20-23rd. As of now, there are three law professors on the panel, one computer science professor, and me, a software programmer at a proprietary software vendor (and a general theorist as well.) One starting point may be Danielle Citron’s paper on Open Code Governance; James Grimmelman’s 2005 Regulation By Software, which I only got around to reviewing last month in my Oppressiveness by Software. (Samir Chopra responded in the comments, and I still need to respond to him and Danielle). I’m probably going to argue that business rules software implement the sorts of values that public agencies should be seeking in their software (such as open governance.)

Two, I’m going to to the NewsTools 2008 (Journalism that Matters) conference at the Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale from April 30th – May 3rd. I rarely trouble myself to leave the state for a media conference, but organizer Bill Densmore invited me (as he had for the MediaGiraffe 2006 conference). The agenda is still a bit nebulous, which leaves it open to some planning. I expect that the conference will be taken as a given that tools exist; the real work is in figuring out how to manage them.

(One irony with both of the pre-conference efforts is the spate of different, and sometimes competing, online communications tools: blogs, wiki, Ning, Facebook, group emails…)

Here’s an idea that I would be prepared to introduce at either conference (CFP is still accepting proposals for Birds-of-a-feather talks). Suppose that an online community would like to have a civil environment for the discussion forums / blog comments; they’d like to also ensure that people can participate without being defamed. How do they draw up the policies to manage this? How do the implement the proceses through software to implement those policies?

Last year I started building answers to these questions with CommResp (Comment Management Responsibility) and PONAR (Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting). I’d like to now push for serious consideration of them.