You WILL join a community because I said so!

You WILL join a community because I said so!
: Martyn Perks at Spiked [via Smart Mobs] tears into the BBC’s community venture iCan in a rich and telling analysis.

iCan is supposed to let people start movements.

Perks complains that there are too many rules: “Surely iCan should be renamed iCan’t. No wonder the current featured campaign is about banning chewing gum.”

He also complains about the anonymity of it, which he says will actually lead to much flouting of those rules and nasty chatter rather than real and constructive movements.

He complains about people meeting online rather than in person. I disagree with that one. I’m now more likely to meet and join up with fellow citizens online than I am at some tedious town meeting or political event.

But here are his most interesting complaints. First:

Here the BBC is addressing its future role, taking its cue from a political elite that is unable to connect with an uninterested population. From voter apathy to the police struggling to prove their accountability, we must suffer more attempts to coerce us into playing ball.

Right. Communities can be coercive. Back in the early days of online, executives of this new medium fretted about how to get everyone involved and if everyone didn’t start chatting with everyone else, they thought it all a failure. That’s clearly wrong-headed. But it’s a problem online and politicians and news people often share: They want to define what “involved” means. But they cannot and should not. We’ll get involved when we bloody well want to. And don’t insult us by assuming we’re dolts if we don’t do what you think we should do.

Perks’ last complaint is his most intriguing:

Also, reducing the effort needed to start a campaign will greatly reduce its impact. As if there aren’t enough charities and single-issue campaigns to deal with, iCan would continue to personalise and individualise our experience of the world…. Imagine it – a new campaign for every day of the year. In reality, iCan can’t deliver what it promises. The faith some have in iCan avoids tackling real issues head-on and belittles us with a safe, comfortable idyll. By playing village politics we will lose sight of how to better society through considered debate and, when necessary, confrontation.

Well, it’s not all about storming the barricades. Perks should not, in turn, belittle those who fight for an issue that matters to them in their town. But what interests me is the idea that you need some barrier, some speedbump to make a movement worthwhile and I think that’s true: Even with every new tool of this networked world, if you don’t convince people to join you and create a critical mass, you don’t have a movement; you have only blather.

  • Sounds like the BBC is doing what they do with broadcast- take their state-enforced monopoly for granted. If only they read a few pages of Clay Shirky first they would’ve saved themselves a couple of million.
    I wrote about this very topic here:
    What the BBC should be doing in enpowering their users to go out and do their own thing- not stay “here” and do the BBC thing.
    “iCan”… sounds so utterly patronizing.
    Thanks for telling me what “iCAn” do, Ma Beeb. Why don’t you give me permission to breathe while you’re at it?

  • button

    I don’t know about ICan. But have you checked out their ‘Voices’ project? It looks good. And it looks like it’s got very good potential. And they also have a part of that project devoted to videos called ‘video nation’.
    You should check out their Voices project.

  • All bulldookey. Blogs do this as a matter of emergent behavior. The blogosphere has – and will continue to — create more real community than any possible formal effort by last-century media combines ever could.
    These folks make a centerpiece of banning chewing gum. Chief Wiggles is making the kids of Iraq happy. Which effort is more truly a community effect? Which effort did not arise as a planned program, but emerged almost seamlessly from the act of blogging itself?

  • Brian H

    The “barriers” thing is quite interesting, in a way. There is a classic social psych experiment in which separate groups of undergrads were invited into two clubs. One had onerous initiation and much emphasis on secrecy and special status. The other could be joined just by asking.
    Neither club actually did anything much, just sat around and talked once or twice a month. On follow-up some time later, it was found that the ones who had to work hard to join remembered the club fondly, and felt it was the best they’d ever been part of. The other group barely recalled their meetings, and dismissed the club as a boring waste of time.
    So maybe there’s method in iCan’s madness!