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The Interactivity of Political Engagement

GRAHAM LALLY

Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Public Policies for Science, Technology and Innovation

SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research University of Sussex August 2006

Acknowledgements
Thanks are due to a number of people without whom this dissertation would not have been even half as complete or enjoyable. Thanks must go to Erik Millstone for his guidance and advice, and to Carmen Long for remembering all the things I had forgotten. Extensive gratitude must go to Professor Ed Steinmueller for his unquenchable source of knowledge, ideas, criticality and patience. I would like to thank my family for their support, and for the provision of wallet-threatening distractions which no doubt kept me sane. Finally, I could not have done this without the patience, understanding, wisdom and numerical superiority of Julie Morgan who has been there throughout, even while life has had far too much caffeine.

Summary
This dissertation examines the links between the interactivity of network ICTs, political engagement, and the structure of democracy. It investigates the role of the public sphere, examines the different forms democracy can take, and analyses how the notion of interactivity can be formalised, before applying these principles to some original empirical research. This research seeks to understand differences and similarities between a number of organisations and groups involved in the political process.

Contents
Acknowledgements.....................................................................................................................2 Summary.....................................................................................................................................3 Contents......................................................................................................................................4 List of Tables, Figures and Graphs.............................................................................................5 1. Introduction.............................................................................................................................5 1.1. The Technology of Equality............................................................................................8 1.1.1. Diffusion of access....................................................................................................9 1.1.2. Diffusion of capabilities..........................................................................................10 1.3. Aims of the Research.....................................................................................................11 1.4. Why is this an important topic?.....................................................................................11 2. Theoretical Framework.........................................................................................................15 2.1. Public Spheres and Network Politics.............................................................................15 2.1.1. The Evolution of the Public Sphere........................................................................15 2.1.2. Models of Democracy.............................................................................................17 2.2. Issues of Adoption.........................................................................................................21 2.2.1. Individual Factors...................................................................................................22 2.2.2. Social Factors..........................................................................................................24 2.2.3. Political Factors.......................................................................................................26 2.2.3.i. Institutional Politics..........................................................................................26 2.2.3.ii. Socialization of Politics...................................................................................29 2.3. Defining Interactivity.....................................................................................................29 2.3.1. Measures of Interactivity........................................................................................30 2.3.1.i. McQuail............................................................................................................30 2.3.1.ii. Rafaeli..............................................................................................................33 2.3.1.iii. Manca.............................................................................................................33 2.3.1.iv. McMillan.........................................................................................................34 2.3.1.v. van Dijk............................................................................................................35 2.3.2. Collecting and integrating axes...............................................................................37 2.4. Technology and Concepts..............................................................................................41 2.5. Modern Communication Tools and Systems.................................................................43 3. Research................................................................................................................................45 3.1. Hypotheses.....................................................................................................................46 3.2. Implementing the Framework........................................................................................46 3.2.1. Notes on the coding of technologies.......................................................................46 3.2.2. Selection Criteria (or Units of Analysis).................................................................49 3.2.3. Notes on the coding of websites.............................................................................52 4. Findings.................................................................................................................................53 4.1. Discussion......................................................................................................................62 4.2. Limitations of the Study and Further Research.............................................................66 5. Implications and Conclusions...............................................................................................68 5.1. The Implications for Organisations................................................................................70 5.2. The Implications for Policy-Makers..............................................................................70 5.3. The Implications for Citizens.........................................................................................71 Bibliography..............................................................................................................................72

List of Tables, Figures and Graphs


Table 1. van Dijk's dimensions of democracy Table 2. Description of models of democracy Table 3. McQuail's dimensions of interactivity Table 4. McQuail's measures of interactivity Table 5. Rafaeli's measures of interactivity Table 6. Manca's measures of interactivity Table 7. McMillan's measures of interactivity Table 8. van Dijk's measures of interactivity Table 9. Summary of measures of interactivity Table 10. Summary of distilled measures of interactivity Table 11. Interactivity scores for list of technologies Table 12. Technology use per site Table 13. Total interactivity scores per site Table 14. Normalised scores per site Table 15. Descriptive Statistics based on table 12 Table 16. Spearman's Coefficients Table 17. Summary statistics for Principal Component Analysis Table 18. Initial component matrix for Principal Components Analysis Table 19. Rotated (via Varimax) component matrix for Principal Components Analysis Table 20. Factor values per site Figure 1. McMillan's four-part model of cyber-interactivity Figure 2. Integrated hierarchy of Rafaeli's interactivity levels with Manca's feedback Figure 3. Histogram of V1, amount of decentralisation over information storage Figure 4. Histogram of V2, amount of decentralisation over message transmission control Figure 5. Histogram for V3, level of interactivity Figure 6. Scatter plot for sites post Principal Components Analysis 19 19 31 32 33 34 35 37 37 41 48 55 54 56 56 59 60 60 61 62 35 40 57 58 58 62

1. Introduction
The Internet offers a vast potential to bridge previously unconnected spaces. Its point-to-point nature, along with the established globe-spanning telephonic networks and the mass production and availability of network terminals mean that individuals have an immense new opportunity to engage with other individuals, from one living room to another on the other side of the world. The move these networks have made, from only carrying voices to conveying electronic signals representing anything that can be converted text, sound, video,

6 money - has resulted in an entirely new, entirely different, and very exciting social experiment that nobody planned. (Rheingold, 2000: xx) This unbridled expansion in connectivity brings with it many emotions uncertainty and opportunity, risk and optimism. The paradigmatic shift offered by the rise of such a networked society places us in a state in which progress is difficult to predict, measure, or even define. Set against an already inconstant political backdrop, analysing the threads that draw together political opinion, technological progress and decisive policy-making becomes more of a challenge than ever before. This newly ubiquitous and personalised nature of network technology sheds fresh light on the role of the individual within democratic society. As new avenues of social possibility are opened up, so too are many questions concerning the identity of our selves as both users and opinion-holders. How should we involve ourselves in political processes? What forums should we participate in? How should we filter information or indeed why should we filter it? As Boeder, writing of Poster, puts it, What kind of community can there be in this space? (Boeder, 2005: no page, emphasis added) In this dissertation, I raise the questions of how technology interacts with a view of the public sphere that continues to evolve over time, whether an inequality exists in the provision of political services based upon new technology, and where this technological trend is likely to go in the future. I argue that, while a more diverse range of options for political interaction is becoming available for the individual, the availability and variety of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) available are not necessarily available to all organisations. Rather, there are new opportunities for two sets of groups: those with sufficient resources to implement a diverse set of technologies, and those with the technological capabilities to implement appropriate technologies. Moreover, I argue that the availability of new technologies to groups with limited resources goes hand in hand with a move towards specialisation in political activities. Before making these arguments, though, it will be necessary to first draw a frame within which the topic can be understood properly. In order to accomplish this, I will discuss a number of issues that relate in different ways to the research.

7 The dissertation begins with a short introduction to the area of equality in technology. This is intended to establish the current political thinking in terms of what role technology plays in society today, and to explain the variety of levels at which inequalities can be identified. This is followed by a summary of the aims of this dissertation, and a discussion on what importance it has. The theoretical framework is laid out in three parts. First, I examine some high level models of political networks, including a historical perspective based on Habermas' concept of the public sphere and a system to map different models of democracy based on work by van Dijk and Held. By presenting these abstracted ideas first, the more detailed notions and patterns introduced later will be more easily understandable as parts of a whole. Furthermore, it is hoped that by starting with the political side of the discussion rather than the purely technical side, a human context rather than a technical one will be established. This distinction, while possibly being subjective, is, in my view, an important one to make. The second part of the theoretical framework investigates the relationships of technology on three scales: with the individual user (e.g. usability), with society as a whole (e.g. network externalities), and with politics as a specific set or activities and organisations within society. This division of levels should aid the reader in connecting the abstract, macro-scale ideas presented in the first section with the user- or connection-centric specifics looked at in the section that follows. This section, the third of the framework, describes a variety of ways in which the concept of interactivity in technology and user interfaces can be analysed. Concepts of interactivity from a number of fields are examined and compared, and their relevance to the topic at hand is considered. This section is important, in that it provides the basis for, and leads on to, the empirical research conducted later. Following this theoretical framework, the research will be presented. As explained in more detail below, this attempts to rate a number of politically-based websites along the measures of interactivity as defined toward the end of the theoretical framework. The results of this research will then be presented, examined and discussed using this framework as a background. Finally, the limitations faced by the research, ideas for further study, and some discussion of the implications of the findings will be explored.

1.1. The Technology of Equality


For as long as networked ICTs have been available, people have noted the possibility that these technologies can create new opportunities for inequality as well as equality and collaboration. The apparent and sheer amount of fundamental change that this new breed of technology can bring is often referred to as revolutionary, or considered as a new shift in paradigm on the same scale as the introduction of railroads or electricity. (Freeman & Soete, 1997: 18-22) Despite the ubiquity of ICT as part of both the global economy and a global society, concerns over social equality are still very much in the minds of governments1 and researchers2. But questions abound: Who is being left out, and of what exactly? Why are they being left out so? Do they need to be connected? At what point, or at what level, should inequalities be taken as acceptable? And does further technological advancement simply amplify these issues, or offer a way to alleviate them? This section hopes to deal with some of these questions by looking at the different scales at which inequalities can occur. As networks have replaced or augmented traditional means of organisation, communication and bureaucracy, the extent to which we become reliant on them has grown dramatically. Gradually, the various domains that we all bear some relationship to every day have incorporated and adapted these technologies of connectivity to suit their own purposes; from military exercise to academic community, from passionate hobbyists to multinational corporate firms and to small businesses. With this expansion has come greater interconnectivity, and greater interdependency - more flexible production systems, more possibility for global communication. Yet it would be foolhardy to assume that this expansion has occurred in equal parts or without effect. The distribution of technology must be understood on two levels, but this may only be done (and hence the research given validity) by acknowledging the wider context within which it is positioned. Firstly, there is the encapsulation of networks within a (for sake of argument) capitalist system, a point which can hold influence over whether networks are intended for
1 See, for example, the report on Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy (Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, 2005) 2 See, for example, The UK Geography of the E-Society (Spatial Literacy, 2006)

9 communication or control (Barney, 2000. See also Dean, 2003; Sussman, 1997). Furthermore, this market setting means that any imbalances in resources prior to the introduction of technology are maintained (or even amplified) through the introduction of this extra, and often expensive, product. Secondly, the progressive rate of technology introduces inequalities according to the capabilities of individuals and organisations to continuously adopt. Both of these will be looked at in more detail below.

1.1.1. Diffusion of access


The more traditional identification of the Digital Divide, while still depending somewhat on who employs this term and to whom the argument is addressed (see Joseph, 2001 for example), reflects upon and arises from the ability and/or motivation to purchase required hardware, software and connectivity (such as ADSL, et al). As Peslak puts it: The digital divide is simply the concept that some individuals or groups have access and use of information technology whereas others do not. (Peslak, 2006: no page)

This, in turn, is dependent on how necessary this hardware and software is perceived and who holds these perceptions. This subjectivity is demonstrated through the numerous models that tackle the provision by the state of various resources, such as basic levels of food, clothing and health care. Such provisions, and ideas of what citizens are 'entitled' to, are based on several factors. On one hand, the gap between the availability of resources and the extent to which society as a whole relies on those resources may, if large enough, indicate or lead to a two-tiered structure as identified above. On the other hand, intervention may have other, undesirable effects, such as the disruption of possible market efficiencies. Solutions being proposed and implemented for this divide include reduced cost hardware such as more affordable laptops3 (a market-based approach), the UK's Home Computing Initiatives4 and free public access at locations such as libraries (both more state-based approaches). However, in the UK at least (and in much of Europe), such interventionist schemes are implemented relatively little, and even less for connectivity. The prevalent mode
3 http://laptop.media.mit.edu/ 4 http://www.ukhomecomputing.co.uk/, although no longer available since April 2006.

10 of thought dictates that market forces should be allowed to develop as much as possible, such that connectivity as a resource eventually reach accessible costs as a result of competition (DTI, 2004). The intricacies of this argument are outside the scope of this research, but it is certainly worth noting the current state philosophy here.

1.1.2. Diffusion of capabilities


Many people recognise that access alone is not sufficient to become an equal in networked participation. Mossberger, Tolbert and Stansbury (2003) make a good effort to expand the understanding of the term Digital Divide to include a variety of further divides that should be considered additionally, although here we will concentrate on the second of these (after issues of access). As they put it, having access to a computer is insufficient if individuals lack the skills they need to take advantage of technology. (Mossberger, Tolbert and Stansbury, 2003: 1) The UK government highlighted this in its 2005 digital strategy report, noting that: ...cost is not the only or even the main barrier to take-up. First, some individuals may not have the confidence or skills to use computers, even though they may actually want to get online. (Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, 2005: 5-6) There are a variety of ways in which this problem may be addressed for instance, by subsidising training schemes, encouraging more local and interpersonal support, and providing spaces on-line that people are comfortable using. From a design perspective, usability is an important issue with regard to both confidence and skill, and is an issue we shall return to later. Capabilities are subject to the same issues of intervention as access, although in a fashion that is even more difficult to untangle. While an equal level of comfort and ability may be obviously desirable in theory, in reality factors such as lifestyle and the amount of free time an individual has may be restrictive to learning. Therefore, skills that are deemed to be necessary to societal inclusion may need to be balanced against these alternative or 'wider' social factors. (Mansell and Steinmueller, 2000)

11 We will return to the ramifications of these layers of inequality later. For now, the important concept to note is that inequalities are almost naturally created by the diffusion of ICTs, but that with them come also the possibilities for renewed, and different equalities.

1.3. Aims of the Research


This research aims to look at the third kind of inequality outlined above that of imbalances in the political system caused or exaggerated through the selected application of ICTs, each of which has different possibilities for networked interaction. It is not the aim of this dissertation to make normative judgements over whether these imbalances are desirable, or even avoidable. Instead, it is hoped that this dissertation will merely draw attention to the development and implementation process of a number of ICTs, and provide some further insight into the grey area that exists between the technology that each of uses or is expected to use and the decisions that affect society as a whole.

1.4. Why is this an important topic?


The impact of new forms of communication on the way society is shaped is an everincreasingly complex question. It is a relatively simple matter to discern the immediate effects of a single piece of technology on an individual at a particular moment in time (such as in the study of Human-Computer Interaction, for example), but the complex patterns that emerge at a larger, societal level mean that effects can often be unpredictable even when desirable. Many concerns are raised only with hindsight, as an existing technology is adopted in increasing amounts and the ramifications gradually become clear to those paying attention. Perhaps it is the novelty and possibility of new concepts that obscures a rational foresight, but the difference between what can be achieved and what will be is a large one, and in this manner the author of this research agrees with Clift: the existence of new technology does not necessitate its use nor does it change the innate behaviour of citizens, politicians or civil servants. (Clift, 2004: 4) This balance between technological determinism and social constructivism will be investigated further later, but the notion is one to be remembered throughout.

12 We have already examined the most basic ideas that make up the Digital Divide - access, confidence and skills. However, it can be said that there is a certain lack of enthusiasm to investigate issues of inequality beyond these to examine topics of more subjective moral value, for example, or to analyse the tools which we still place much faith in as a society. We hope for the best, notes Barney, when we are unable or unwilling to think about what is best. (Barney, 2000: 5, emphasis in original) On a psychological level, this hope is often preferable to dealing with reality in many instances, for example, faith in a theoretical market optimum is a (rational) alternative to more detailed investigation. But just as issues of access and capability do not always resolve themselves, so also can we not simply leave further development solely in the hands of hope. The normative nature of technology is an idea long-discussed in academic circles (for example Winner, 1985), yet the matter is hardly discussed in the realm between policy-maker and citizen. The idea of a Digital Divide, with its shifting definition as seen above, is wielded more as a political argument than as the introduction to a wider-ranging discussion on how our society inter-relates to technology. Yet, as we shall see in this dissertation, the nature of how we govern ourselves is fundamentally entwined with how we apply our technical knowledge. The link between communication, debate and action is clear to all, even if the nature of that link is complex and often confusing. By investigating the relationship between new forms of communication and the evolution of political structures in the UK, this research hopes to extend the perception of digital equality outwards, from simple attention to the individual as seen in the divides so far, to what it means to be a connected individual. Does democratic equality necessarily ensue following a satisfactory regime of access and skill? This research argues that there remain many obstacles to obtaining such a position, and hopes to highlight these through an examination of new political means from a mainly user-centric point of view. This perspective entails identifying the bridge through which individuals (or users) derive their connectivity, and in doing so identify with a more digitally-connected society. This research takes the idea of interactivity as the focal point of this bridge, a term that is at first somewhat nebulous, but that will hopefully become more concrete as the discussion

13 progresses. A prime example of the importance of interactivity for the individual is found in Downes and McMillan's excellent overview of the concept of interactivity: Schaffer and Hannafin (1986) found that recall was significantly enhanced by increased interactivity. (Downes and McMillan, 1986: 160) This is representative (by no means exclusively) of the psychological, user-centric impact that technology can have that has a direct bearing on their ability to participate meaningfully in debate. More generally, as Boeder notes, [p]ublic opinion can only be formed if a public that engages in rational discussion exists. (Boeder, 2005: no page) This ability to engage with both a group and with appropriate information emphasises the need to understand interactivity as a political artifact. Furthermore, group engagement is a consistent theme in the literature on participation. Before the rise of electronic networks, Habermas remarked: In the course of our century, the bourgeois forms of sociability have found substitutes that have one tendency in common despite their regional and national diversity: abstinence from literary and political debate ... no public was formed around group activities. (Habermas, 1989: 163) This highlights the distinction to be made between mass communication and participation, the latter of which is considered essential by most if a respectable version of democracy is to be achieved. As Mossberger, Tolbert and Stansbury put it: From radical models of a pure direct democracy to more transparent representative systems, citizen participation is deemed as critical in governing accountability and public dialogue. (Mossberger, Tolbert and Stansbury, 2003: 88) In summary, the link between how we interact with technology and how our society is structured is a topic that bears more influence than it is otherwise given credit for in common discourse. Amongst the novelty of new technologies and the rush to implement them, it is

14 easy to forget that new trends are being established as a result. If we are to learn from the past, then we must first observe what is happening in the present in order to apply the lessons gained from existing research.

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2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. Public Spheres and Network Politics 2.1.1. The Evolution of the Public Sphere
In order to gain some historical perspective, this section will present a brief summary of the evolution of the public sphere - in particular, the rise of a politics that could be considered public in relation to the concept of a private domain. Here we will show that communication technology has been an inherent part of politics for a relatively long time, and that a pluralistic approach to politics is not necessarily the modern result of a new paradigm of technology either.

It is worth noting that the accuracy of describing the Internet as a new form of public sphere is open to debate (Poster, 1995; Dean, 2003). Despite this, however, the public sphere paradigm is a useful one. Not only does it provide an established framework within which the topic can be systematically examined, it also suggests a central idea that allows for a historical perspective to be drawn through the naturally-turbulent evolution of political debate.

In his widely influential book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas traces the beginnings of the idea back to an altogether new stage of capitalism that developed in Great Britain in the 16th Century. (Habermas, 1989: 17) With the expansion of foreign trade, a new infrastructure beyond the monarchy was needed to support the wider markets, incorporating both political efforts and military force. (Ibid.) In order to support these in turn, says Habermas, an efficient system of taxation was needed (Ibid.). This transition from feudal representation to state rule created room for another sphere known as the public sphere in the modern sense of the term: the sphere of public authority. (Habermas, 1989: 18)

At this point though, the definition of the term public is very much relative to the state of affairs that preceded it, and is somewhat removed from the notion of a general public that is

16 exercised today. Indeed, the private people who, because they held no office, were excluded from any share in public authority. (Ibid.) But this changed, as a result of the increasingly connected and dependent nature of this private sphere arising from mercantilism: The economic activity that had become private had to be oriented toward a commodity market that had expanded under public direction and supervision; ... Hannah Arendt refers to this private sphere of society that has become publicly relevant (Habermas, 1989: 19, emphasis in original)

This was the beginning of the idea of a public sphere, as an integration of what was previously isolated. The establishment of an overarching public authority, the countering establishment of an idea of privacy, and the resultant push for feedback from one to the other are all threads that are still very much relevant in examining the political landscape in a current context.

By the end of the 17th Century, we can see the effect that the press were having on the political process. Even if the idea of public accountability had yet to be formalised, the concept had grown into an important political tool to be wielded when the time was right. The public spirit was from this time onward an entity to which the opposition could appeal... (Habermas, 1989: 64)

The 18th Century saw further increases in the decentralisation of power and a more scattered, pluralistic (or even network) view of how debate should be carried out:

Political associations too were formed in great numbers. The twenty-six county associations, founded in 1779 after the model of the Yorkshire Association, dealt with questions of war expenditures, parliamentary reform, etc. (Habermas, 1989: 65)

Furthermore,

Only toward the end of the eighteenth century did the parties attain an organizational basis outside of Parliament ... With the founding of local committees they assumed their

17 first solid organizational form. (Ibid.)

We can see, then, that the fragmented nature of a public sphere that many seek to find in the recent rise of networked technology is not necessarily a new concept. The distinctions between public and private spheres, where public refers to the state and private refers to the market and the family, (Dean, 2003: 95) are conceptual inventions that merely serve to simplify reality (and hence, to some extent, distort it). Recognising this, Dean re-establishes the capitalist nature of the public sphere as communicative capitalism (Dean, 2003). By classifying capitalism in this way, Dean also highlights the ongoing relationship between numerous forms of capitalism with the public sphere; a relationship that is further traced by Habermas' association of mercantile capitalism with the initial emergence of the concept, and Barney's (2000) association of corporate capitalism with network control.

It would be highly unfair to extrapolate this, and conclude that all aspects of democracy are an extension of capitalist methods and goals, though. In bringing this observation to light, the aim is, firstly, to refute any claims that a fundamentally new mode of politics is represented through emerging communication technologies (either by their promises, or their actualities), and secondly, to understand the influences that hold sway over the diffusion of communication technologies. With that in mind, a more general overview of the structure of democracy will now be examined.

2.1.2. Models of Democracy


Having looked back at the way in which political participation has grown and been influenced, it is now useful to identify a method of categorising different participatory mechanisms. In this section, a relatively short summary of the range of structures a democratic society and participatory politics can take will be presented. Here we will draw primarily on the categories and descriptions given by van Dijk (2000), who in turns draws upon and adapts held Held's widely-accepted Models of Democracy (Held, 1996). The primary goal of this section is to provide the reader not with an extensive list of the democratic models identified by various scholars, but to describe a practical set of dimensions

18 that can be used to locate the discussion later on. Some examples, however, will be provided by way of examples for these dimensions. Van Dijk introduces two dimensions in order to differentiate between the various modes of democracy discussed (van Dijk, 2000: 38-39). The first of these deals with the primary goal of a democratic model, which is polarised into opinion formation at one extreme, and decision making at the other. The former refers to the airing of views how views are manifested, accounted and processed. It is concerned with whether or not everyone (defined according to the unit of application e.g. organisations or individuals) is represented, and how that representation comes about. The latter is more concerned with arriving at a decision on how to proceed, at some level, and as such deals with issues of deliberation, voting, and the dissemination of information. As we shall see, democracy models may sit towards one or the other, or locate themselves between the two if equal emphasis is placed on each extreme. The second dimension looks at the primary means by which these goals are achieved, and contrasts representative democracy at one end with direct democracy at the other. This dimension is more self-explanatory than the first, and measures the level of intermediation present between citizens and decision makers, or the lowest and the highest levels of authority. Within these two dimensions, van Dijk places a total of six democratic models, five of which are taken from Held's initial list, with one further model libertarian democracy - being introduced to fit in with what van Dijk describes as the dominant model among the pioneers of the Internet community. (van Dijk, 2000: 44) As the influence of the Internet on politics and vice versa - has shifted significantly within the years since van Dijk's introduction of this model, it is questionable as to how relevant this last model is to research today. However, its inclusion here is merely to show how different perspectives on democracy fit into the axes chosen by van Dijk.

19 Table 1. van Dijk's dimensions of democracy (Source: van Dijk, 2000: 39)

Primary Goal Primary Means Representative Democracy

Opinion Formation

Decision Making Legalist Competitive

Pluralist Participatory Libertarian Direct Democracy Plebiscitary

The table below presents summaries of the six models located within the two dimensions in table 1. Table 2. Description of models of democracy (Source: van Dijk, 2000: 39-45)

Model Legalist

Description Takes constitution and law as [the] foundation of democracy (van Dijk, 2000: 39) and advocates market mechanisms over state intervention. Accountability is more important than consultation with citizens, as the role of the state is to uphold the legal framework within which individuals make their own decisions (Held, 1996). Hence, information dissemination and transparency is considered important while decision-making mechanisms are considered unnecessary.

Competitive

Representative with a clear division of labour between representatives and voters (Held, 1996: 189) and an emphasis on voting to elect individuals responsible for making decisions. Two-party systems are the prime example of this model, although even if more parties are involved, there remains a strong principle of majority rule whereby popularity is essential.

Plebiscitary

Direct democracy, such that there is a direct link between decision makers and citizens, with an emphasis on decisions being made by citizens through referenda mechanisms. Hence, the role of voting systems becomes pronounced. Like the competitive model of

20 democracy, majority rule may be prominent, although the rule is aimed at decisions, rather than representatives. Pluralist Consisting of many centres of power and administration (van Dijk, 2000: 42). A large number of organisations represent a multitude of minority viewpoints (and hence less need for collective will to achieve action), but there is less deliberation amongst citizens or organisations than the plebiscitary model. Held (1996: 217) differentiates between classical pluralism and neo-pluralism, with the latter taking on a more competitive, more corporate and less equitable foundation. Participatory Maintains a decentralised mix of representation and direct democracy as per pluralism, but places much more emphasis on active citizenship (van Dijk, 2000: 44), with the aim of fostering knowledgeable individuals that are able to comprehend and participate in a collective political process.

In some ways, this reflects an attitude for the promotion of the individual, rather than a workable model. For [i]f people know opportunities exist for effective participation ... they are ... likely to participate actively (Held, 1996: 268). (Of course, this establishes something of a vicious circle in which the problem of initiating a participatory process must be addressed.) Libertarian Not originally proposed by Held, but introduced by van Dijk to take into account the emergence of Internet pioneers with an interest in organisational methods. Has an emphasis of autonomous politics by citizens in their own associations using the horizontal communication capabilities of ICT (van Dijk, 2000: 45) but also subscribes to free market economics at the same time. In this sense, then, it is more anti-institutional-politics than pluralism, and shares some ground in common with legalism. The primary argument behind this model is that the new networks make traditional political structures somewhat obsolete. It should be noted that van Dijk's notion of libertarian democracy mentions little of the right to ownership or the lack of

21 collective action often associated with the definition of libertarianism. As such, it is the autonomous, almost detached nature of the model that is of most relevance here.

By examining the diversity of possible forms democracy can take, we achieve a number of things. Firstly, we dispel the idea that democracy is a single concept with only one correct definition. Stemming from this, it becomes clear that there is similarly no single best goal in terms of what ICTs can achieve with regard to political structure. Secondly, some context is provided for the environment in which technology assists the swing of power; as no single politically-involved group can be readily placed in any one of the six categories above, it is worth bearing this map of democratic models in mind as the aims and methods of different organisations is studied.

2.2. Issues of Adoption


This section looks at some of the main influencing factors for the adoption, and the rate of adoption, of ICT. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but should cover sufficient reasons to give a broad understanding of the diversity of these reasons, and to provide evidence that adoption is not a simple case of technological determinism. Three types of issue will be looked at here, reflecting a range of levels that all influence the take-up of technology, and are likewise influenced by it. By deconstructing the topic into three levels - individual factors, social factors, and political factors a distinction can be drawn and a path traced between large- and small-level effects. By covering all three, some useful context is given to each. This is not, however, intended to be a complete picture of the architecture of the political domain as a whole, as such an undertaking would present much lengthy irrelevance. Instead, this section intends to set out a basic framework for understanding the role of the individual in conjunction with both technology (i.e. as a user) and politics (i.e. as a citizen). There is much that could be said in the way of structural analysis (see, for example, Knoke, 1990), economic and global infrastructures, and what it means to be part of a state or even a culture (for example, Castells, 2004), but it is not the intent of this research to investigate higher-level or more abstract relationships.

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2.2.1. Individual Factors


The first set of issues are those which deal with the direct interaction between technology and the individual, or a user. In this sense, then, this is a set of 'micro' issues that can often be studied on a relatively local scale (e.g. within a single laboratory, in the case of usability) or at least on a case-by-case basis. The first and second issues here relate to the initial concerns over technology inequality covered at the start of this dissertation. The first usage factor is simple access, i.e. whether an individual can reach an interface by whichever means. (Thus, economic inequality is not the only form of lack of access. Sheer lack of hardware or software availability in a region will, for example, also prevent a user from accessing a technology or a service.) The second factor, as outlined by the UK government above, is whether a user has the confidence and skill to use the technology at their disposal. The third factor in this section is that of usability of technology. In terms of ICT, this is a multi-faceted topic that has been studied for as long as the technologies have had practical purpose. The usability of any system needs to take into account both how users operate and how the system they are interacting with operates, but as the tools used become more complex, more widely used and more central to every day life, an ever greater emphasis is placed on the idea that they should be easy to use. In their role as automators and assistants, good usability is key to greater efficiency: Software with good usability enables users to perform their tasks intuitively and easily. It supports rapid learning and high skill retention. ... Interfaces that are consistent also give users a sense of control (Preece, 2000: 110, emphasis added) Of course, the question here is not how technologies contribute to efficiency, per se, but how they relate to group participation and political decision-making. In relation to this context, we should note the similarity between information required to do a task, and information required to make a decision or to engage in debate.

23 Finally in this section, it is worth noting that while face-to-face meetings are often considered the closest or richest form of communication, and the benchmark against which the success of ICT is compared, restricted forms of interaction may not necessarily inhibit deliberation and the informative process either. That is to say, one should not consider a form of communication as lesser simply because fewer social cues are permitted. Lack of instant feedback (or the expectation thereof), along with other restrictive aspects, may serve to augment the conversation process: text-only CMC is extremely popular, despite obstacles such as disrupted turn adjacency and lack of simultaneous feedback. ... That leads Herring to claim that unique attributes of CMC are actually leveraged by users to intensify interactivity and extend the limits of traditional, spoken, conversation. (Kalman, Ravid, Raban and Rafaeli, 2006: 4) Dean goes a step further and questions the assumption of such a hierarchy with face-to-face communication intrinsically placed at the top: the idea of a face-to-face interaction needs to be understood as imaginary, as a fantasy that relies on its opposition to mediated interactions for it [sic] claim to be inherently richer. All interactions are mediated; there is no pure, immediate, fully-present, fullytransparent encounter. (Dean, 2003: 98) Nonetheless, it remains true that the diversity of communicative clues (such as gesturing, facial expressions, etc.) is rarely implemented to any great extent in a single technology (or, indeed, amongst a variety either). Furthermore, such comparisons with real world mechanisms are relatively extraneous to this research. By examining the role of technology at this 'micro' level, we have seen how information and interpersonal messages are filtered by technology as it is sent to and received by users, and how the ability of an individual to contribute to a discussion is governed partially (i.e. aside from personal discussion abilities) by the nature of said technology. Following from this combination of messaging and interfacing, we now look at the more social or group issues of technology adoption.

24

2.2.2. Social Factors


This set of issues represent a 'macro' level, in contrast to the 'micro' level of technology and the individual. It is intended to be somewhat broad, and a more directed approach to the topic at hand will follow below. Issues at this level arise from group dynamics and the effects on/from the adoption of technology, either by individuals or (by extension) by organisations. The primary factor here looked at here is the idea of positive network externalities. In terms of adoption, this refers to the advantage or value received by others in a network that arises when an individual decides to adopt a certain technology. Economides (1996) interprets the idea in two ways, according to the kind of participation that the network at hand encourages. Firstly, he defines a 'direct' externality, whereby customers are identified with components in a two-way network (Economides, 1996: 679), such that an individual adopting a particular technology is then able to communicate or interact directly with other individuals with access to the same technology. The telephone network is the prime example of this as more people acquire a telephone each, the potential value (i.e. who a single person can communicate with via their own) goes up. Secondly, Economides defines an indirect form of externality in which communication is more limited (Ibid). Under this definition, individuals who have access to a certain technology are nonetheless restricted to interacting only with that technology, and not directly with other users. The positive externality in this case, then, arises when the technology being adopted is compatible with a second one, and vice versa. This compatibility means that as demand for the first technology increases, so to does the demand for the second. Thus, an individual adopter should, in theory, be offered a greater choice as a result of greater demand for both technologies. A prime example of this 'indirect' externality is that of media devices. As more people buy DVD players, for example, the potential market for a film released in the DVD format increases, and so the likelihood of it being released in this way also increases. This results in two things a greater choice of films in that format for each individual user, and a correspondingly greater interest in the original technology. The applicability of these two ideas needs to be examined in the context of political participation, though. In political terms, the abundance of externalities very much depends on the goal of the political system, as described above, along with the implementation costs and

25 the benefit derived from implementation. In the case of competitive politics that rely upon publicity, for example, a compromise must be struck between the number of (extra) citizens reached through adopting a technology, and the resources required to implement it. If there is little to differentiate parties, and the goal is simply to reach as many people as possible, then it becomes most efficient to concentrate first on technologies with the largest user base. This applies to all parties following the same approach, resulting in a rush to the middle of the political sphere (Hotelling, 1929). Meanwhile, minorities can be effectively ignored unless a) smaller, more focused (i.e. more ideologically differentiated, and more demographically specific) parties emerge, b) representative organisations outside, but connected to, the political system (with more specific political aims) emerge in a pluralistic form, or c) the cost of reaching those minorities is low enough for the established competitive parties to implement it. In reality, it is reasonable to suggest that all three of these may occur, the extent of each influencing the extent of the others. Further, the symbolic nature of technology usage should not be ignored. The associations made between the adoption of technology and status and/or perceived understanding of that technology (Skuse, 2005) can lead to externalities arising from a more psychological basis. Again, this will affect certain models of democracy more than others, but is certainly something to be aware of. Finally in this section, we should also consider the negative effects that externalities can have. Traditionally, negative network externalities take the form of undesirable spillovers, whereby the actions or communications between 2 parties negatively affect a third party as a result. However, the generic nature of hardware, combined with the 'virtual', and hence and flexible, nature of software means that such spillovers are rare, and that if they do occur, it can often be relatively inexpensive to implement counter measures. The most significant negative externality we are concerned with here is that of information overload. This arises from the same positive network externalities looked at above, which generate increased usage and, as a result, an increased amount of content or number of messages. This effect is made more complex through the contextual nature of information, the multiplicity of contexts, and the relative simplicity of computing. (Cohendet and

26 Steinmueller, 2000) The cost to the user of processing these messages is non-negligible, and so this increase in content represents a barrier to greater productivity from using technology. As Jones, Ravid and Rafaeli note, the degree to which information technologies can effectively control or aid computer mediated communication (CMC) is limited by the finite capacity of human cognition. (Jones, Ravid and Rafaeli, 2001: 1) They also find support for the hypothesis that users are more likely to end active participation as the overloading of mass-interaction increases. (Jones, Ravid and Rafaeli, 2002: 10) Greater amounts of information, then, leads to a compromise between being able to interact with a large number of other people, and being able to interact in meaningful discussion. This effect is amplified according to the nature of the communication in less moderated, more public forums such as Usenet (Jones, Ravid and Rafaeli, 2002), the chance of information overload overwhelming users is greater. This should be remembered when taking moderation into account this shows that the practice may be used both for political agendasetting, and for community control.

2.2.3. Political Factors


Having highlighted the contrast between the two extremes of the individual and society, a more in-depth and relevant line should now be drawn to connect the two extremes with a political environment. In this section, the introduction to the public sphere, above, will be drawn upon to investigate the possible interactions between technology and the political domain. Of the three of these sections, this one will be the most applicable when the results of the research are considered later.

2.2.3.i. Institutional Politics Van Dijk (1999) offers two categories of political structuration that have divergent aims when it comes to implementing technology. The first of these regards the use of IT as being for the reinforcement of institutional politics (van Dijk, 1999: 85, emphasis in original). Alluding to the hollowing out of state politics (Rhodes, 1994), van Dijk describes this set as resisting the erosion of the national state by using ICT to fortify the positions of the state (van Dijk, 1999: 85). This coincides

27 with Chandler's observation of additional powers being acquired by central government in the struggle to enforce greater local accountability (Chandler, 2000: 10). van Dijk places Legalist and Competitive democracy models within this category. The institutional reinforcement view, according to van Dijk (1996, 2000), supposedly prefers ICT that resists meaningful debate between citizens. Instead, technologies that support the flow of information in one direction, from government to citizen, are favoured. If citizens are to have a say, it is only to make enquiries in order to receive information, rather than to provide any political input or feedback. Under a competitive democracy, this choice also extends to include technologies which communicate popularity (i.e. foster support for one option amongst many, without necessarily any accompanying debate), while any resemblance to direct democracy is deceptive. (van Dijk, 2000: 41) This category therefore represents two important threads relating to ICT the use of technology to control information, and the use of technology as a delivery/production tool. Under the former, citizens are informed of decisions made and the current state of affairs. Under the latter, options are kept separate from each other as a result of the disjointed nature of technology. This is analogous to the dichotomy drawn out by the manifestation of technology considered as usability above or, in other words, the difference between the tool and the message. Similarly, as we shall see later, it relates to the distinction made between to whom information refers, and how it is delivered. The idea of competitive democracy should at this point be compared to the competitive nature of free markets, for while the influences between one and the other are unfortunately not within the scope of this research, the effects and similarities are relevant enough here to merit a mention. As Habermas remarks: The influencing of consumers borrows its connotations from the classic idea of a public of private people putting their reason to use and exploits its legitimations for its own ends. The accepted functions of the public sphere are integrated into the competition of organized private interests. (Habermas, 1989: 193)

28 The merging role of the individual as both a citizen responsible for (or to) the state, and as a relatively passive consumer of private enterprise goods, goes hand-in-hand with the notion of how the political realm should operate. The rise of large-scale production and accordingly large-scale demand has led to a public sphere that the mass media have transmogrified into a sphere of culture consumption (Habermas, 1989: 162). This, in combination with the sense of information overload examined before, leads to attention itself becoming a currency for which political parties must compete (in place of political or ethical stances). Thus, the overlap in channels used to deliver product information (or, indeed, products) with the delivery of political information has seen a fusion of the two: Because private enterprises evoke in their customers the idea that in their consumption decisions they act in their capacity as citizens, the state has to address its citizens like consumers. As a result, public authority too competes for publicity. (Habermas, 1989: 195) This is mirrored in Boeder's description of Rheingold's reasoning: The consumer society has become the accepted model both for individual behaviour and political decision making, Rheingold (1994) argues (Boeder, 2005: no page) This mode of provision of information to the citizen has two effects. Firstly, it leads to information overload as discussed above, which reinforces the necessity for mediating gatekeepers situated within the channels. Secondly, it makes competitive political organisations increasingly dependent on these channels too. This dependency leads to a feedback loop whereby control over the channel becomes more and more important: ICT may be used as a means to reinforce or reinvigorate the position of institutional politics in the system as a whole ... or as a means to weaken this position and to spread the politics into society or outside the traditional national boundaries of the political system. (van Dijk, 2000: 38-39) According to Boeder, [w]hat dies in this process is the rational discourse at the base of civil society (2005, no page).

29 2.2.3.ii. Socialization of Politics The second category is a fight for a socialization of politics (van Dijk, 1999: 86, emphasis in original), pertaining to a more prominent role for social organizations and individual citizens in particular (Ibid). Of the six democratic models outlined above, this category includes plebiscitary democracy, pluralist democracy, participatory democracy and the libertarian view. These models differ in terms of the level of representation afforded to individual citizens and the level at which decisions should be made at, but all of them represent a relative a wider dissemination of the political process than is otherwise present in the institutionalised approach. The political socialization view is united in an aim to get the views of citizens heard more, e.g. through telepolls, discussion lists, et al and to integrate political decisions more closely with the opinions and ideas put forward by these citizens. The varying democratic models gathered under this heading differ in terms of where this voice is directed (along a 'representative versus direct democracy' dimension), leading to significant differences in the overall structure of the political sphere. In contrast to the first category, in which institutional politics is reinforced, a move away from the top-down, broadcast style techniques of competitive democracy is advocated. It could be speculated that this shift represents a force to counter a prevailing perception of the first category in modern politics, although it must be stressed that this pure conjecture. Nonetheless, the split between this category and the previous is symbolic of the dual nature of the flexible networks around us, and of the possible opportunities offered by technology versus the shaping of technology to meet existing paradigms. Whether or not this split is readily observable, and whether claims of a general increase in individual freedom to gain information (McQuail, 1987: 42) will be investigated in the research section.

2.3. Defining Interactivity


Interactivity is a term with many meanings and many connotations, often depending on the context in which the term is used. At its most basic level, interaction refers to the ability for parties involved in communication to act upon each other that is, to mutually influence each other's behaviour. It can refer to the interdependency and influence between two people

30 who mutually adapt their behaviour and actions to each other (Jensen, 1998: 188, cited in Downes and McMillan, 2000: 158). Alternatively it can refer to the input to and output from an electronic device that link the device with its user. In whichever sense it is looked at, it is clear that it is key to a wide range of issues, including such diverse issues as performance quality, motivation, sense of fun, cognition, learning, openness, frankness and sociability (Rafaeli and Sudweeks, 1997: no page). In the context of this research, however, we can think of the device - the tool of communication as less of an endpoint, and more as a mediator or a medium. ICT provides a mechanism by which an individual may communicate with further otherwise-separated individuals. In this sense, then, interactivity refers to both the way in which a user interacts with the technology at hand, and to the level and quality of communication that can take place between these individuals. As one of Downes and McMillan's interviewees notes, the computer-mediated environment allows for 'three-party interactivity' involving two people and a computer. (Downs and McMillan, 2000: 163) The following section describes, in turn, ideas from a number of researchers on how interactivity can be conceptualised and assessed. The aim here is to assemble a sufficiently diverse range of measures in order to allow firstly some comparison between them, and secondly some distillation into a core set of measures that are relevant to the research.

2.3.1. Measures of Interactivity


2.3.1.i. McQuail McQuail (1987: 40-42) draws on the scheme proposed by Bordewijk and van Kaam (1986), which attempts to provide a mechanism to locate patterns of information traffic, and plot how they change as networks develop. These patterns are concerned with who has information, and how it is controlled, producing a two-dimensional framework with the following pair of axes: 1. Information Store, or where the relevant information is initially sourced from. At one extreme, this may be centralised and be stored at (or originate from) a single source. Alternatively, this may be highly decentralised, with the information of interest being held

31 by (or originating from) a large multitude of individuals within the network. In other words, this dimension measures the spatial location of information. (It should be noted that a specific instance of a network system is rarely concerned with all information available to the actors within it. Hence the use of the term relevant information in this case.) 2. Control over choice and time of subject, or who has power to choose which information is made available from the store detailed above, and when. Generally speaking, the constant-access, always-on nature of service technology, particularly when based on top of static content or that stored in a database, means that such control over timing is becoming less of an issue as more information is digitalised. However, it is still relevant when considering access to information during, say, working hours or at press conferences. McQuail then plots these two dimensions against each other to produce a quartered table of possible information patterns, as illustrated below. The definition of each of the four crossover points is given following this. Table 3. McQuail's dimensions of interactivity (Source: McQuail, 1987: 41)

Information Store Central Control of time & choice of subject: Central Control of time & choice of subject: Individual ALLOCUTION CONSULTATION Individual REGISTRATION CONVERSATION

Allocution This encapsulates address and broadcasting - information comes from a single source, and is disseminated outwards under terms and conditions that satisfy the sender, not the receiver. A non-technological example would be the Prime Minister's Question Time in the UK, to which all newspapers must send someone at the appointed time. Consultation

32 The meaning of consultation here should not be confused with the inverse definition often given to it. Here, the term refers to the ability of an individual to consult some place or service for information (such as one might consult a watch to find out the time), as opposed to an authority consulting citizens for views. Here, McQuail cites newspapers as an example as, in their primary role (i.e. the main news stories carried), content differs little from one newspaper to the next, and is often simply re-interpreted from a single news source. Newspaper readers, however, can choose when and where they read the content. In this sense, webpages carrying static content (i.e. content that does not change rapidly) can be considered a consultative technology. Registration Here, information is derived from record-keeping, control and surveillance (McQuail, 1987: 41), although the supervised gathering of opinion such as with voting systems, on-line polls, etc. - have extended the definition into a networked era. Under this category, information originates from a decentralised set of sources (users, in this context), but its transmission is controlled by a single actor (such as a website). Tracking techniques such as the use of cookies in web browsers also fall under this category. (McMillan, 2002: 273) Conversation This entails a high level of decentralised information storage (that is, originating from many sources), with similarly decentralised control over access in that those who hold the information can choose when and where they wish to make it available. Thus, in this context, it is the users that are responsible for selecting and filtering the information they wish to publish - whether it be information about themselves (in, say, a social network), personal opinion, or more factual knowledge. Table 4. McQuail's measures of interactivity

Centralisation/Decentralisation of information sources Centralisation/Decentralisation of control over information access

33 2.3.1.ii. Rafaeli Rafaeli (1988) defined interactivity in terms of the level and depth of response that is permitted or exploited between two parties. He proposed three forms of two-way communication, distinguished according to how historically referential a single message could be. The first level is that of basic 2-way (non-interactive) communication. At this stage, messages may be passed between the two parties, but messages themselves do not refer to previous messages, and are effectively stateless or contextless. In the second level, quasi-interactivity is achieved through reactive 2-way communication. Under this level, a message passed between the two parties may be a response to the previous message that is, have a limited context of the immediately previous message. The third and highest level is of full interactivity. In this, messages may not only refer to their predecessor, but also messages referred to by that predecessor such that a recursive relationship is set up through the chain of messages. By expanding the referential timeline available at each transmission, a deeper sense of interactivity is permitted. It should be noted that the three of these levels each supersede the previous, whereby the second level may include the first (but not vice versa), and the third may include both the first and second. Table 5. Rafaeli's measures of interactivity

Non-interactive/Quasi-interactive/Fully interactive

2.3.1.iii. Manca Manca (1989) offers a similar model, but one that is more concerned with a mass media communication perspective (i.e. that of broadcast/broadsheet dissemination, with limited opportunity for "upstream" communication). This incorporates the concept of "media gatekeepers" (e.g. newspaper editors) that act as moderators and/or barriers to the "masses" gaining access to these platforms. This inserts an additional link into the otherwise dual-party

34 chain (i.e. 'sender-receiver' becomes 'sender-moderator-receiver') which may act as both facilitators (by providing the receiver with access to data and messages that would not otherwise be available ... and the sender with access to the means to reach the receiver (Manca, 1989: 166)) and moderators (who decide which items are placed on the public agenda and the degree of importance and urgency for each of these items (Manca, 1989: 169)). As Manca was referring originally to the realm of journalism in a state preceding the rise of the network society, his description of gatekeepers is perhaps more formal and structured than necessary when applied to this research, with editors being primarily associated with the role. However, he does note that such definitions represent roles rather than individual persons (Manca, 1989: 166), and as such, we should consider these roles when determining interactivity in modern technologies. Manca also offers a distinction between "information" and "feedback", with the latter differing in the sense that it "should not be confused with the switching of roles on the part of sender and receiver." (Manca, 1989:167) Recognising that feedback is an important step, and (technologically) one that involves meaningful data (which, under other definitions, is eligible to be counted as "information", we should attempt to integrate it with Rafaeli's model of interactivity in order to be aware of it, and so be able to assess it to some extent. This will be examined in further detail below. Table 6. Manca's measures of interactivity

Presence of gatekeepers Levels of feedback

2.3.1.iv. McMillan Indeed, the idea of feedback is incorporated into McMillan's four-part model of cyberinteractivity (McMillan, 2002). In this model, McMillan constructs a table of four categories by cross-tabulating two dimensions (Level of receiver control and Direction of communication) of two conceptual extremes each. Figure 1 shows this model, how feedback fits in, and the three remaining categories:

35 Figure 1. McMillan's four-part model of cyber-interactivity (Source: McMillan, 2002: 276)

We can see from this that there are some similarities with a number of axes suggested above. For example, the existence of a monologue and mutual discourse coincides with the ideas of allocation and conversation outlined by McQuail. Accordingly, we can note that the first axis Level of receiver control clearly bears a resemblance to McQuail's Centralisation of control over communication axis, while the Direction of communication axis may be seen to be the same dimension as Centralisation of information storage. Finally, we can compare the existence of a feedback category in McMillan's model to Manca's use of the concept too. How these similarities are resolved will be expanded upon below. Table 7. McMillan's measures of interactivity

Level of receiver control Direction of Communication

2.3.1.v. van Dijk van Dijk (2000) proposes a further 4 "levels" of interactivity, based on Williams et al (1988). These levels attempt to integrate and bridge the gap between "(objective) medium

36 characteristics" - or technological attributes, in this context and "(intersubjective) contextual applications" - or less technological and more "interpersonal" attributes. He lists these levels as: 1. Whether 2-way communication actually exists, first and foremost. This matches McMillan's second dimension above, although McMillan continues to classify communication even in the presence of one-way transfer only. 2. The synchronicity of the communication. This is a technological property, a measure of how soon after one message the next can be sent - "the time dimension of interactivity". On this attribute, though, van Dijk assumes that the more instantaneous the response, the more interactive the technology is. However as we have seen, this may not necessarily reflect the usability of the technology, or may even enhance it in certain cases. 3. How much control over communication there is present - that is, how much can a receiver swap roles and become a sender? To integrate this with the model presented by Manca in which a third party - a gatekeeper - is also present, one can extend this idea such that this includes a measurement of how much any party can swap roles with either of the other 2 parties. Naturally, there may be less incentive, for purposes of stability, etc and due to the pre-determined "regulatory" power of the gatekeeper/moderator, to permit either sender or receiver to swap into the gatekeeper role. However, certain technologies or applications thereof may make this more explicit than others wikis, for example, that allow any reader to make changes to the text, and thus in which users may act equally in all 3 roles as they wish. 4. The intelligence of contexts and shared understanding, which van Dijk describes merely as the contextual and mental dimension (van Dijk, 2000: 47). As technology actively decouples the information being transmitted from the semantic context (reducing the amount of tacit information made available to either party see Cowan, David and Foray, 2000), van Dijk claims that this level has yet to be reached outside face-to-face communication. Note, though, that this is at odds with Dean's claim that all communication is interpreted in some way, and therefore such a distinction is harder to make.

37 We can note now that van Dijk describes these layers as "cumulative" rather than hierarchical. It is clear that there is some dependency - for example, there must be a presence of 2-way communication of roles are reversible. However, on the other hand synchronicity - the time delay between messages - does not necessarily depend on a 2-way connection. Table 8. van Dijk's measures of interactivity

Presence of 2-way communication Synchronicity, i.e. delay between responses Control over roles (sender, receiver, gatekeeper) within communication Extent to which a shared context is possible

2.3.2. Collecting and integrating axes


In total then, this gives us the following list of axes which measure technology - or rather, social elements of the implementation of technology (as opposed to purely technical properties such as efficiency): Table 9. Summary of measures of interactivity

Measure of Interactivity Centralisation/Decentralisation of information sources Centralisation/Decentralisation of control over information access Non-interactive/Quasi-interactive/Fully interactive Rafaeli Presence of gatekeepers Levels of feedback Level of receiver control Direction of Communication Presence of 2-way communication Synchronicity, i.e. delay between responses Manca Manca McMillan McMillan Van Dijk Van Dijk

References McQuail/Bordewijk & van Kaam McQuail/Bordewijk & van Kaam

38 Control over roles (sender, receiver, gatekeeper) within communication Extent to which a shared context is possible

Van Dijk Van Dijk

As these dimensions have been adapted and assembled from slightly different fields (political interactivity, mass communication, etc.), there is naturally some overlap and some irrelevance when applied to our current context. For instance, it is clear that in a system that prescribes a centralised control over information access, control over who is a sender and who is a receiver is also affected as a result. We can therefore narrow this list down by considering it from a number of perspectives. Firstly, which properties can we assume as being either present or non-present, as a result of the scope of the research? Firstly, we can omit the binary measurement of whether 2-way communication exists or not, as this is incorporated in other more extensive dimensions such as interactivity level, control over roles, and centralisation/decentralisation measures. The presence of gatekeepers is difficult to determine when the scope of the investigation is at a purely technological level often, moderation or facilitation decisions are made independently of the technology being used, even at the level of the sender determining which messages to communicate before interfacing with an ICT. As it is difficult to therefore determine this presence in a generic sense, this aspect will be encapsulated in the choice of technologies, below. By considering the possibility for moderation on a per-technology basis, a finer granularity of analysis should be able to be reached. That is, moderated technologies will be gauged separately to their unmoderated counterparts, rather than attempting to measure actual implementations of moderation (as examined per-site) in the same breath as potential implementations (as would be examined per-technology). As noted above, there is clearly some overlap between Manca's description of feedback and the idea of feedback in McMillan's four-part model. As McMillan's model explains Manca's differentiation between feedback and information through a dual-axis context, there is

39 little need to investigate the matter under both of the conceptual measures. Furthermore, the resemblance of McMillan's chosen axes to those set out by McQuail (and hence the similarity of McMillan's monologue to McQuail's allocution) highlights further redundancy. As a result, we will restrict the research to using McQuail's two dimensions with the understanding that this reflects a very close line of reasoning to both McQuail's and Manca's approaches. However, in doing so, the idea of feedback is omitted. Following McMillan's contextual approach to feedback as one category of interactivity with particular attributes (one-way communication with a high level of receiver control), we can attempt to locate the concept along Rafaeli's progression of interactivity in order to integrate feedback into the model used here. As Manca defines it, feedback is information regarding the receiver's use of the technology, rather than information pertaining to the discussion being carried out via the technology (Manca, 1989: 167). Thus, it is to be differentiated from Rafaeli's idea of "full interactivity" in that it relates to the efficiency of the system itself, rather than the debate. In McMillan's model, this split occurs at the border between feedback and responsive dialogue. In this sense, feedback is a form of interactivity, but it allows for less conversation (and hence less participation) than even a mildly responsive, yet nonetheless two-way dialogue as described by McMillan's responsive dialogue and Rafaeli's quasi-interactivity. Taking this into account, we can accordingly introduce the idea of feedback as a fourth category in Rafaeli's taxonomy, such that it occurs between the first level of basic 2-way communication and the second level of quasi-interactive 2-way communication. Note that, as McMillan defines it, feedback conceived of as a one-way mechanism seems to 'disrupt' the assumption of 2-way communication laid out by Rafaeli. It is here considered then that feedback must refer to some prior communication, thereby defining feedback as a responsive form of communication, in contrast to the centralised control over decentralised sources of McQuail's 'registration'. Figure 2. Integrated hierarchy of Rafaeli's interactivity levels with Manca's feedback

40

The concept of control over roles, and hence the ability to contribute to the information exchanged, is encapsulated several times in the variables above. Firstly, this is hinted at by van Dijk's third measure. Secondly, it is also implied by the existence of gatekeepers in Manca. However, neither of these recognise the split between who takes which role, and who actually instigates the information transfer. Thus we can drop these two in favour of van Dijk's breakdown into these two dimensions. van Dijk claims that "clearly interactivity is damaged by asynchronous communication with too much time between action, reaction and reaction to reaction." However, how does one define what "too much time" entails? However, as we have already seen above, slower communication may allow for richer composition and greater thoughtfulness. Thus, speed of response is clearly a factor that entails many other implications that are left unexplored in van Dijk's approach. As such, it is sensible to restrict analysis to a smaller, more measurable and more defined number of factors. van Dijk's fourth measure, regarding the intelligence of contexts, is largely dependent on the underlying nature of the medium used to communicate. In the case of the ICTs being studied here, a single set of protocols (namely TCP/IP a standard for transferring electronic data over the Internet) is the foundation for communication. In terms of richness of diversity between technologies in this dimension, then, there is little to be discerned. Furthermore, this assumes that the intelligence of contexts can be readily measured, which is also debatable. While Dean, above, takes issue with the superiority of face-to-face communication, it is still nonetheless clear that a large proportion of social cues otherwise available in such personal exchange are not available via the ICTs looked at here either by design, or as an unavoidable asset of the technology.

41 This leaves us with the three axes presented in table 10 and labelled V1, V2 and V3 accordingly. Table 10. Summary of distilled measures of interactivity

V1. Extent of centralisation/decentralisation of information sources V2. Extent of centralisation/decentralisation of control over information access/transmission V3. Level of interactivity (on a four-point scale)

The first two of these can be regarded as being centred around the group as a network, as indicated by their measurement of the amount of centralisation of decentralisation that exists. The last axis, on the other hand, is concerned with the messages being passed between users, and the flow of conversation that can build up as a result of this. Overall, the three axes are suitable for taking into account the control of communications within the system as a whole (i.e. at a macro scale), the kind of information the system is concerned with (in relation to where it originates from), and the extent to which users are able to participate in ongoing participation (including micro-level ideas about usability). These axes will provide the basis for the empirical implementation that follows, and outline the context within which the findings may be discussed. Having examined the topic of interactivity and determined a set of measures to encapsulate it, I will now turn to a consideration of how the technology to be examined should be chosen, and the theoretical issues that may support or confuse this matter.

2.4. Technology and Concepts


In examining and categorising the technologies used by organisations on the Internet, we should be aware that it is easy to fall into a linguistic trap that highlights the not-sostraightforward relationship between technology and culture. As seen above, adoption of technology is affected along two lines technological attributes (i.e. features of the ICT itself) and social attributes (i.e. trends and patterns that emerge from activity between people).

42 Usability (as defined above) can be considered an example of the former, while network externalities can be considered an example of the latter. Combining these two lines of thought, we can attempt to clarify a grey area between the two, in which a formal name is given to a relatively non-technical assembly of various existing or original technologies in order to make the concept more user-friendly. For example, Javascript, XML, and Javascript functionality to handle the request/storage of XML over HTTP have each, individually, been around for many years. These three technologies Javascript, XML and HTTP are strongly formalised, technical standards, the workings of which a user does not have to understand in order to use a service based on any or all of these. However, when used in combination, it can be said that a new paradigm of use emerges. As Jesse James Garrett notes in his explanation of the term 'AJAX': Ajax isnt a technology. Its really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. (Garrett, 2005: no page)

In the production of this name, two features of this social usability aspect are opened up: 1. In assigning a new name to a new paradigm (rather than a new technology), a set of features, technological mechanisms, usability expectations and attitudes are encapsulated under one banner. 2. The ease with which this concept, under the guise of this new banner, can be referred to (without necessarily explaining precisely what it entails in great detail) is greatly enhanced. This provides an essence of social usability that may encourage greater network externalities, especially amongst users and commentators that do not have the motivation or means to investigate or understand the underlying technologies in any depth. It is the second of these that leads to both over-use of a particular name (becoming what one may refer to as buzzwords), and to the eventual continuous questioning of what exactly a single named concept encapsulates, and what its boundaries are (if, indeed, it has boundaries).

43 A second example of this is the relatively recent term Podcasting, deriving from Apple's iPod music player, and the word broadcasting. In this case, the technologies underpinning the concept are digital audio encoding standards (primarily the MP3 standard), RSS5 feeds (which allow automatic notification of content updates) and the ubiquity of the aforementioned music player (a more de facto standard governed by social trends). However, the term does not strictly define itself and restrict itself to these foundations. There is no reason why the audio encoding standard could not change, why an iPod player must be used, or why RSS need be the update-delivery format. These examples serve to highlight the social and hence political considerations that need to be taken into account when determining what technologies are being used. The question is should we be measuring these more socially-defined concepts, or should we restrict ourselves solely to looking at technologies that have some formal definition or standard? To avoid the confusion caused by these somewhat nebulous and ever-redefined conceptual terms, the technologies being examined will be restricted to either well-defined technical protocols, and/or specific pieces of functionality. It is hoped that by combining these two, debates over the precise meaning of rather nebulous terms will be avoided.

2.5. Modern Communication Tools and Systems


Having examined the nature of technology, the various roles that it plays, and the flexibility of its scope, we now need to determine which technologies are appropriate to the context of this research. There are several important factors that we need to take into account when concocting this list. Firstly, usage patterns need to be considered. In order to discern between different sites as effectively as possible, the technologies being examined should be neither completely ubiquitous, nor completely unheard of, as either of these would tell us little in terms of how different sites employ different technologies. For this reason, it was decided that it was unnecessary to determine whether use of the World Wide Web (WWW) as a form of publishing and of e-mail as a form of contact method were present. It is accepted at the time
5 Really Simple Syndication - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/help/3223484.stm for more information

44 of writing that most, if not all organisations with an interest in a national audience offer these two services. Furthermore, all of the sites examined had some form of newsreel present - a single page offering a list of news articles in reverse order with the most recent news displayed first. The important differences, then, with regard to news are in whether or not a site allows visitors to a) comment on news articles, and b) subscribe to a feed of news articles (via RSS) so that they do not have to visit the site in order to be alerted of new articles. Additionally, technologies that are still under development, in a state of relative obscurity and in a process of initial fostering were omitted, under the assumption that these technologies had not yet reached a level of usage to be considered practical on a broad basis. As these technologies are, for obvious reasons, immensely numerous and ever-changing, an exhaustive or even partial list here would serve little purpose. However, if a more longitudinal study were to be undertaken, tracking implementation of technologies across several plots of time, then it may be interesting to integrate such a list into the research. As a result of these limitations, two kinds of technology are primarily addressed. On the one hand, this will include those technologies that have become established for a reasonable amount of time. These may have become relatively stable, in terms of both the development of the technology as a standard, and the user base (the number and/or type of users) that it supports. On the other hand, we will also be including some technologies that are in the process of diffusion still. The applications and implications (cost, effort, etc.) of these technologies will still be under investigation by different parties, and in some cases the technicalities (protocols and other formal definitions) may be subject to ongoing deliberation and change as well. This distinction will need to be born in mind during analysis of the results later. Secondly, a reasonable cross-section of technologies should be chosen that reflects the variety of methods by which involvement is achieved. That is, the list should be large enough to discern some differentiation along the axes of interactivity chosen above. This means that the options are not restricted to purely decentralised or purely bi-directional mediums of communication, but also include unidirectional and more centralised schemes, such as more broadcast-only, audio/visual channels. Thirdly, and as mentioned above, there should be subdivision or categorisation of particular

45 technologies according to what kind of moderation of communication is permitted by a particular configuration. In this sense, the term configuration reflects the existence of a set of possible ways in which a single technology can be used, and the choice that is made, at some stage of the implementation process, to tailor that technology to behave in a certain way, for whatever reason. Thus, it is not enough to simply measure whether a certain technology has been implemented in some case, but also how it has been implemented. For this reason, certain technologies have been subdivided for example, chatrooms may be either moderated or unmoderated, and the grouping below is devised to take this into account where applicable. The list of technologies being examined in this research then is presented below. Comments allowed on news posts Poll or vote via web page E-Mail for alerts and/or announcements E-Mail for discussion groups/interactive mailing lists RSS feed(s) Audio files Video files Wiki Instant messaging to an individual Web forums Chatrooms: Single use, moderated Chatrooms: Single use, unmoderated Chatrooms: Continuous, moderated Chatrooms: Continuous, unmoderated

3. Research
Now that the framework for the area has been set out, this section will focus on the research undertaken. Notes on hypotheses and how the framework was adapted will be presented, followed by the results of the research and discussion of those results.

46

3.1. Hypotheses
With the continual dynamics involved in the shifting of power towards and away from central government (see the section on the Public Sphere, above) and the alleged rise of a more pluralistic, libertarian democratic model (see models of democracy, above) spurred on by increasing access to the equipment and skills needed for ICT-mediated debate, one may expect to see a certain amount of clustering in terms of interactivity offered by the two sets of sites. This would reflect the push in different political structural - directions that each organisation inherently adheres to. Secondly, as the set of four political parties are assumed to be more homogeneous in terms of (political) goals and behaviour than the four organisations of differing agenda, one would expect them to be relatively closely gathered in terms of interactivity. If political parties are indeed engaged in a competition for members, and for the consumption of their own material, then it may make sense for similar uses of technology to emerge amongst this group. That is, one party does not want to appear to be less technologically-savvy than the others through the omission of whatever ICTs are currently in vogue.

3.2. Implementing the Framework 3.2.1. Notes on the coding of technologies


Each of the chosen technologies was assigned a score for each of the three technological attributes mentioned above. The attributed scores can be seen in table 11, but some explanation of how these scores were arrived at should be presented here. A scale of 1-5 for the first two technological axes ensures that we are able to rate each technology with sufficient differentiation between each to draw contrasts, but that there is not such a great difference that the calibration becomes meaningless. A scale of 1-4 is used for the final axis (the level of interactivity) to reflect the four ranked categories explained above. As we are not comparing each axis directly to the other two but rather across technologies, the difference in scale used (i.e. 1-4 and 1-5) is not an issue. Nonetheless, the results will be normalised, and this difference will become less apparent in

47 any case. Unfortunately, there are few practical experiences of applying these axes on an experimental basis. However, we can draw similarities to McMillan's application of her four-part cyberinteractivity model (McMillan (2002), discussed above). McMillan used a survey technique in which three coders assessed a number of websites along the two dimensions, but found that such ratings were often subjective: The differences in ratings ... [tend] to suggest that perceptions of direction and control of communication may be highly personalized (McMillan, 2002: 280) There may be some confusion arising over attempting to assess the interactivity of websites by this method due to the various inequalities examined above. That is to say, if there is a difference in users' experience, abilities and aims of using technology, then it is logical to conjecture a difference in how those users perceive technology as well. This is related to a second possible effect whereby judging interactivity may be influenced by the context of the website being looked at. This would mean that the aim when using a particular implementation of a technology is dependent on both the person using it, and the nature of the task they have set out to accomplish. McMillan goes on to arbitrarily select just one of the coders, such that more useful comparisons may be made between the various websites against an unchanging perceptual context. Here the same approach is adopted, in order to restrict the number of interpretations given to each technology. However, it should also be noted that in addition to this, a number of other factors may help to alleviate the possibility of unreliable results. Firstly, by identifying interactivity as an attribute of a technology rather than a particular website, or implementation of that technology, the confusion arising over the possible contextdependence of rating interactivity is avoided. Secondly, by providing a list of technologies, including subcategories determined by the presence/lack of moderation, a comparative approach to coding can be adopted. This means that technologies can be rated in comparison to the others, allowing for a more relative scale to be established. With these aspects in mind, the scores were established as per table 11.

48 Table 11. Interactivity scores for list of technologies

Technology Comments on news stories Web poll/vote E-mail alerts E-mail discussion mailing list Web forums RSS Audio Video Wiki Instant Messaging Chatrooms: Specific Moderated Chatrooms: Specific Unmoderated Chatrooms: Continuous Moderated Chatrooms: Continuous Unmoderated

C/D of info source 3 5 1 5 5 1 1 1 5 3 4 4 5 5

C/D of transmission control Interactivity Level 3 2 1 5 5 1 1 1 5 5 3 5 3 5

4 3 2 4 4 1 1 1 4 4 3 3 3 4

Note: C/D = centralisation versus decentralisation axis, where 1 is extreme centralisation. Comments on news stories were rated halfway between both endpoints for both information source and transmission control as, while they may be submitted by any site user, they are also dependent upon the news article submitted, which is determined by the news editor. Hence, both subject and timing are in negotiation. Four of the technologies listed are effectively consultative technologies in McQuail's map, in that information is sent outwards by a single source, but can be viewed at a time chosen by the user. These are: E-mail alerts, RSS feeds (which serve much the same purpose as e-mail alerts), audio recordings and video recordings. The last two of these can be considered as extensions to radio and TV broadcasting respectively only, as mentioned above, capable of supporting user-driven time-shifting functionality. However, it should be noted that all four of these technologies have an implicit assumption that the content publisher has replaced the traditional gate-keeping role of an otherwise dedicated news channel. (See Manca, 1989; McQuail, 1987) Furthermore, it should be noted that e-mail has a slightly higher score for Interactivity level than the other three, as it provides a more user-friendly mechanism (by default) by which the user can respond with feedback. RSS feeds, audio recordings and video recordings do not, by themselves, offer a reply route. Where it is implied that a technology is unmoderated (discussion lists, for example), a score

49 of 5 has been given for the level of control over transmission. Moderated technologies have been given a score of 3 to reflect the dual nature of distributed senders, but a centralised gatekeeper. Also interesting to observe if that on the whole, most technologies were rated towards one or the other end of each scale. This could indicate that in a highly networked society (or, alternatively, in highly networked politics), a ubiquitous yet diverse set of tools may lead to an increasing specialisation of each tool used. That is, as ICTs become more integrated with a greater extent of information, they often intend to cater for either information dissemination (i.e. centralised control) or participatory deliberation (i.e. decentralised control). This is, however, outside the scope of this research and must remain simply an observation, for now.

3.2.2. Selection Criteria (or Units of Analysis)


Having determined the technological attributes of the tools being examined, the implementation of these tools must now be considered in greater depth. Selecting the appropriate list of political implementers is essential - firstly, for ensuring a well-defined coverage of forces is present within the political decision-making framework, and secondly, to allows us to draw meaningful comparisons between the chosen actors. This section describes the reasoning and broad guidelines used to select and omit a number of organisations, and their websites, to be examined.

The following criteria will be used to select a reasonably diverse, yet comparable set of organisations:

1. Organisations should be UK based, and ideally concerned primarily (or solely) with matters on a national scale (rather than either a more international perspective, or a more localised one). In political terms, this means that the organisation should be part of, or intend to interact with, national government. 2. The organisation should be membership-based. That is, it should consist of, and be supported financially (at least in part) by a number of members of the public that have contributed or signed up to the organisation.

50 Following this, two sets of organisations will be chosen, each intended to be representative of one particular aspect of the policy-making process.

The first set consists of four UK political parties of different size and agenda. The three largest parties were selected in order to be able to make some comparisons of rank. In addition, the Green Party was selected as representative of a smaller, yet active and growing set of minority parties. Thus, the four political parties chosen, and the domain names used to determine their usage of technology, are as follows. Labour Conservatives http://www.labour.org.uk/ http://www.conservatives.com/

Liberal Democrats http://www.libdems.org.uk/ Green Party http://www.greenparty.org.uk/

These fit into a competitive model of democracy, in that a) they are each competing for positions of power within the political system, and b) by way of extension, they are also competing for members. Membership of these parties is assumed to be, if not formally expressed6, mutually exclusive to membership of the alternatives.

The other four websites to be examined belong to organisations that have the intent of feeding into the political process through a variety of means. These are listed below along with the domain names used and further details about each.

Greenpeace UK http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/
6 See, for example, the Labour Party's terms and conditions for joining: https://www.labour.org.uk/joinbydirectdebit

51 Greenpeace is arguably the most well known of the four campaign organisations here. Greenpeace has been campaigning since 1971, with the aim of promoting environmentally responsible and socially just solutions (Greenpeace UK, 2006), and has 221,000 supporters in the UK.7

NO2ID http://www.no2id.net/ NO2ID are a non-partisan organisation opposed to the UK governments plans to introduce an ID card and a National Identity Register. Their membership figures are not made public.8 However, it is reasonable to assume that the organisation is a relatively small fraction of the much more widely-established Greenpeace UK.

The Open Rights Group http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ The Open Rights Group (ORG) was set up to discuss and bring attention to the notion of rights in digital environments. ORG was created initially with 1,038 members at the end of 2005.9

Liberty http://www.libery-human-rights.org.uk/ Liberty was formed (as the National Council for Civil Liberties) in 1934, and campaigns against abuses of civil liberties and human rights. Membership figures for Liberty are unknown, but again it is reasonable to assume a fairly small size in comparison with Greenpeace or either of the two largest political parties.

These four organisations fit more appropriately into a pluralistic model of democracy, although they also exhibit signs of behaviour more akin to a participatory model. On one hand, each operates in a mediating role between the electorate (or, at least, organisation
7 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/contentlookup.cfm?SitekeyParam=J-F&MenuPoint=J#4 8 Private correspondence with NO2ID General Secretary, August 2006. 9 http://www.pledgebank.com/rights

52 members) and policy-makers, thus establishing themselves as a representative unit one in a position to aggregate both information and opinion, as well as being capable of communicating this further up the chain. In addition, each is (or was) also established around a minority viewpoint. In this sense, these organisations differ to the four political parties in that membership is not expected to be mutually exclusive to other organisations. This leads to a far more complex, networked structure whereby viewpoints are distinct from individuals. It can be said that the impact of this complexity is a part of the pluralistic model, but the practicalities of these effects is difficult to define, let alone summarise here.

On the other hand, all four organisations also act to some extent as organisers for participation of individuals or members. The Open Rights Group homepage lists one of the goals as being to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts, while the others all have sections devoted to encouraging site users to get involved or get active. This mirrors the similar call to arms as seen from political parties above, and continues to highlight the multi-faceted nature of networked politics.

3.2.3. Notes on the coding of websites


Each of the sites chosen will then be rated on a scale of 0 to 3 for each of the specified technologies, where: 0 = Not used 1 = Used once 2 = Used irregularly 3 = Used regularly/continuously This scale is not intended to imply a cardinal measurement of the effects of technology use, wherein the effort expended or the value received from implementation increases consistently from 1 rank to the next. Rather, the scale reflects an ordinal ranking that is only meant to reflect a series of stages of implementation, stemming from an organisation's approach, capabilities or requirements. While this may be considered a shortcoming of the measurements, it also avoids large amount of complexity, allowing the results to focus on more straightforward deductions.

53 The use of each technology by each chosen website is assessed manually. As noted above, this is possibly open to subjective interpretation on behalf of the coder. However, as long as a consistent set of rules are used to gauge these implementations, readily-comparable data should be obtained. To maintain this consistency, and to avoid as much subjective interpretation as possible, the following rules were used as a guide to coding. 1. The hyper-linked nature of the World Wide Web means that a user may not be entirely aware of which site a particular piece of content is coming from (unless hinted at by, say, graphical changes). However, in order to restrict the scope of investigation, only the use of technology under the given domain name for each site was used. Thus, some groups may have been aware of and even linked to certain technology implementations, but not hosted them under the given URL. 2. It may not be immediately obvious whether there have been any instances of a

technology being used, depending on how the site is laid out navigation-wise, and when such implementation took place. Search functionality on a site may be used to look for such instances, although the search terms used should not vary from site to site. 3. Where the difference between regularity and irregularity is unclear (for example,

where a technology is being used sporadically, but in an ongoing fashion), the former can be defined as being whether the upcoming usage can be determined with no prior knowledge, other than past instances of implementation. This reflects the aspect of expectation on behalf of site users. With these in mind, we shall now examine the results obtained.

4. Findings

The results of tracking technology use across the 8 sites listed above are presented in table 12. These scores were combined with the ratings given to each technology, to produce final measures of interactivity along each axis based on the following simple summation:

54

Vn = (Ut * Vn,t)

for each technology t listed

where Vn is the final rating for a website's measure of interactivity along one of the three axes n, Ut is the extent to which a technology is used by a website (as defined above, and as given in table 12), and Vn,t is the rating for the same technology t along the same axis n. The final scores computed for interactivity by website are presented in table 13.

Table 13. Total interactivity scores per site Note: See table 10 for descriptions of V1 (Variable 1), 2 and V3
SITE labour.org.uk conservatives.com libdems.org.uk greenparty.org.uk no2id.net greenpeace.org.uk openrightsgroup.org liberty-human-rights.org.uk V1 30 30 30 15 45 30 60 0 V2 30 15 5 0 0 10 15 0 V3 32 28 20 20 32 20 12 12

These scores were then normalised by calibrating each variable between 0 and the variable's highest value, to produce final scores between 0 and 1 as per table 14.

55

Table 12. Technology use per site


Site www.labour.org.uk www.conservatives.com www.libdems.org.uk www.greenparty.org.uk www.no2id.net www.greenpeace.org.uk ORG: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ Liberty http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/ Comments allowed on site news 0 0 0 0 3 0 3 0 Web poll/vote E-mail alerts Discussion mailing list Web forums RSS feed(s) Audio Video Wiki 3 3 0 2 3 3 2 0 0 3 0 0 3 3 3 0 0 3 0 0 3 1 2 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 3 0 3 3 0 2 0 0 3 0 0 3 2 2 0 0 3 3 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Site www.labour.org.uk www.conservatives.com www.libdems.org.uk www.greenparty.org.uk www.no2id.net www.greenpeace.org.uk ORG: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ Liberty http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

Instant Messaging 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Specific Moderated 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

Specific Unmoderated

Chatrooms Continuous Moderated 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Continuous Unmoderated 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

56 Table 14. Normalised scores per site


SITE labour.org.uk conservatives.com libdems.org.uk greenparty.org.uk no2id.net greenpeace.org.uk openrightsgroup.org liberty-human-rights.org.uk V1 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.25 0.75 0.5 1 0 V2 1 0.5 0.17 0 0 0.33 0.5 0 V3 1 0.88 0.63 0.63 1 0.63 0.38 0.38

Note: See table 10 for descriptions of V1 (Variable 1), 2 and V3

These scores represent the data that will be used for the Principal Components Analysis below. Before proceeding to this stage though, some descriptive statistics will be presented to give the reader an overview of the data. Table 15 presents a summary of these statistics, which is followed by a series of histograms (Figures 3 to 5) that show the distribution of the data with curves of normality plotted.

Table 15. Descriptive Statistics based on table 12

Statistics V1 N Mean Median Mode Std. Deviation Variance Skewness Std. Error of Skewness Valid Missing 8 0 30.000 30.000 30.0 V2 8 0 9.375 7.500 .0 V3 8 0 22.000 20.000 20.0 8.0000

17.9284 10.5009

321.4286 110.2679 64.0000 .000 .752 1.081 .752 .071 .752

57 Kurtosis Std. Error of Kurtosis Range Minimum Maximum .812 1.481 60.0 .0 60.0 .923 1.481 30.0 .0 30.0 -1.439 1.481 20.0 12.0 32.0

Note: See table 10 for descriptions of V1 (Variable 1), 2 and V3

Figure 3. Histogram of V1, amount of decentralisation over information storage

58 Figure 4. Histogram of V2, amount of decentralisation over message transmission control

Figure 5. Histogram for V3, level of interactivity

We can discern a reasonable variation in the distribution of the three variables. For starters, we can see that the first factor, amount of decentralisation in information storage, is heavily concentrated around the 30/40 mark. In contrast, the second factor, amount of decentralisation in transmission control, is positively skewed, with a heavier concentration towards the low end of the scale (that is, towards greater control over of transmissions on the chosen websites. Finally, we could conjecture that there are three primary categories of site, according to the third variable, level of interactivity, although this conjecture must remain

59 circumstantial in light of the relatively small number of sites investigated. Still, we may also note that this variable is somewhat inverted in comparison to the previous, indicating that the level of feedback is not necessarily directly correlated with how much control over communications a website maintains.

We can test this using Spearman's Rho across the three variables, as shown in table 16.

Table 16. Spearman's Coefficients Correlations V1 Correlation Coefficient 1.000 V1 Sig. (2-tailed) N Correlation Coefficient Spearman's rho V2 Sig. (2-tailed) N Correlation Coefficient V3 Sig. (2-tailed) N . 8 V2 .412 .310 8 V3 .230 .583 8 .223 .596 8

.412 1.000 .310 8 .230 .583 8 . 8

.223 1.000 .596 8 . 8

We can see here that there is a very small amount of correlation between all three of the variables. However, all of the coefficients are non-significant, and hence it is difficult to conclude whether these correlations have any meaning.

Having conducted a range of descriptive functions, we can proceed to examine the data in more depth. The technique adopted here is a Principal Components Analysis, in order to reduce the data into a pair of variables which can then be plotted and analysed further. The two components, labelled F1 and F2 below,

60 Table 17. Summary statistics for Principal Component Analysis


Initial Eigenvalues % of Variance Cumulative % 1.59 53.06 53.06 0.82 27.37 80.43 0.59 19.58 100 Extraction Sums of Squared Loadings Total % of Variance Cumulative % 1.59 53.06 53.06 0.82 27.37 80.43 Rotation Sums of Squared Loadings Total % of Variance Cumulative % 1.24 41.27 41.27 1.18 39.16 80.43 Total 1 2 3

Component

1 2

1 2

We can see from table 17 that the two components together count for a fairly large 80.43% of the total model. From table 18, we can see that of the three initial variables, V2 accounts for the least amount of this explanatory model, with an extraction value of 0.654, compared to 0.893 and 0.866 for V1 and V3 respectively. This is borne out in the rotated component matrix shown in table 19.

Table 18. Initial component matrix for Principal Components Analysis Component Matrix(a) Component 1 V1 V2 V3 .677 .809 .693 2 .660 -1.996E-02 -.621

Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis. a 2 components extracted.

Table 19. Rotated (via Varimax) component matrix for Principal Components Analysis Rotated Component Matrix(a)

61 Component 1 V1 V2 V3 5.065E-02 .608 .930 2 .944 .533 1.292E-02

Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis. Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization. a Rotation converged in 3 iterations.

Box 1. Component Constitutions We can see from this that Factor 1 consists largely of a V3 (level of interactivity) bias, while Factor 2 contains a heavy constitution of V1 (centralisation of information storage). V2 (centralisation of control over information transmission) is slightly more present in Factor 1, but is essentially split evenly between the two factors.

From these constitutions, it appears that there is greater distribution between the sites along the first and third factors. That is, the sites differ more greatly in terms of where (or, rather, who) information originates from i.e. the site itself, or the site's users and, perhaps not surprisingly, how interactive a site sets out to be. In contrast, there is less difference in terms of who controls the flow of information and of interaction.

Table 20. Factor values per site

62
SITE labour.org.uk conservatives.com libdems.org.uk greenparty.org.uk no2id.net greenpeace.org.uk openrightsgroup.org liberty-human-rights.org.uk F1 1.81 0.83 -0.37 -0.36 0.5 -0.19 -1.22 -1 F2 0.31 -0.02 -0.07 -0.96 0.12 0.08 1.97 -1.44

Note: See Box 1 for descriptions of F1 (Factor 1) and F2 We can see how these rotated values look when plotted in figure 6, which will be discussed in the following section.

Figure 6. Scatter plot for sites post Principal Components Analysis

Note: See Box 1 for descriptions of Factor 1 and 2

4.1. Discussion
If the single outlier openrightsgroup.org is omitted, a trend can be discerned amongst the seven remaining sites that relates Factor 1 to Factor 2 in a proportional manner. That is, on the whole a site with a greater amount of one factor is likely to have a greater amount of the

63 other. Considering that the original variables were all measures of a single concept, this relationship is to be expected. What is of interest is the positioning of the various sites along this line.

Firstly, we should note that there is no clear distinction between the two sets of sites studied, with a reasonable amount of overlap clearly present between the two sets in the plot above. If we were expecting to see a difference in the amount of interactivity encouraged by sites according to whether an organisation was engaging in a competitive model or a pluralistic model, then we would have expected to see a drift towards one end by the first set of organisations, and a drift towards the other for the second set. However, this lack of clear distinction would indicate that ICTs in as much as the technologies examined are intended to represent a cross-section of mainstream ICT mechanisms do not necessarily act as distinguishing methods by which different types of political organisation interact with their members/users.

Secondly, we can identify a possible trend for the four political party sites, from upper-right to lower-left, that ranks them in this order: Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrat, Green Party. Due to the mathematical model used, a wider variety of services offered is likely to impact upon a site's position along this trend. Thus, to some extent this ranking reflects the greater choice of content delivery systems offered by the various parties, as seen in table 12. In some ways, this reflects (in terms of ranking) the proportion that each party represents in the House of Commons after the 2005 election (BBC News, 2005), although it is difficult to determine matters of cause and effect at this level.

While the three of the second set of four organisations follow the same line as the first, the order in which they appear does not seem to be dependent on the size of the organisation. The largest organisation, Greenpeace UK, appears to encourage less on-line interactive participation than NO2ID, especially in terms of factor 1 (i.e. the level of interactivity achieved). This may reflect the more traditional, off-line forms of activism and organisation that Greenpeace have used for a number of decades, and their use of the website to let members sign up more easily and receive information about ongoing campaigns. In contrast, NO2ID have no such historical attachment to alternative forms of communication, and as

64 such may take the opportunity to capitalise on newer forms.

One should also consider differences in intended user-bases while environmentalist, grassroot campaigners have often adopted network technology quickly, such approaches may not scale as well to a more general audience that Greenpeace attracts. NO2ID, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with issues of a technological nature (i.e. schemes for identity management in or over computerised networks), and so is more likely to attract an audience that is technically knowledgeable.

The remaining, outlying website openrightsgroup.org - is the lowest in terms of the first factor, but the highest by far in terms of the second. Referring back to what each factor consists of, and what technologies this website uses, we can conjecture some reasoning for this outlying behaviour. Following from the Principal Component composition, we can see that this site is heavy on decentralised storage i.e. relies on the input from site users but is relatively low on the level of interactivity. Looking back to the original tables of coding (tables 11 and 12), it appears that this arises from an omission of technologies such as audio and video broadcasting, and from the inclusion of a number of technologies that other sites lack, such as e-mail discussion lists, and a wiki. From the mathematical method used, this can be explained as a more concentrated use of technology that encourages users to participate in open debate, rather than encouraging a greater audience through offering a wider variety of ICTs.

As ORG is chiefly concerned with emerging (and still, on the whole, yet to be understood) issues of life in a digital society, it can be said that it, like NO2ID above, is much associated with a technically knowledgeable audience. This familiarity with technologies may act as a foundation which other organisations and political parties cannot draw on, resulting in a more focused (and limited by resources) approach to implementation.

Notably, the two organisations scoring highest in the two axes (i.e. NO2ID for the first factor and ORG for the second) are also the most recently established. At least two factors may account for this. Firstly, we may be able to consider each organisation or party as an actor,

65 each with its own internal technological implementation trajectory. Newly created organisations may have less organisational or infrastructural baggage and so may be able to implement new technologies with relative ease and experimentation.

Secondly, as facets of every day life are integrated ever more tightly with computers and networks, we should also consider the possibility that newly created organisations are more likely to deal with issues that have, in some aspect, a technical nature to them. This binding may mean that an understanding of the technological aspects becomes ever more important and, as a result, the people most likely to organise around them are equally more likely to be comfortable adapting to new technology. Indeed, it is worth noting that the two organisations mentioned above also generated much of their initial interest through use of the same Pledgebank website (which allows people to sign up for a task but only commit once a certain number of other people have done so too), and continue to do so for further campaigning. (Pledgebank, 2005a; 2005b; 2006a)10 As functionality and connectedness across sites and campaigns becomes more complex, this may represent a move towards greater specialisation, with the various tasks of an organisation (e.g. fostering members, encouraging discussion, feeding into the political process) being divided up into a number of separate, yet more dedicated zones. This perhaps mirrors the idea that people act in roles within a political system, rather than as individuals (Knoke, 1990: 7).

The fact that openrightsgroup.org is an outlier due to its apparent willingness to use more deliberative technologies over other, more allocutive or consultative ones may reflect this difference. Rather than using the site to promote itself to new members and raise awareness of its campaign, the focus seems to be on information and deliberation, leading to action in the longer term. This contrasts with the one site for all tasks approach that many of the other sites adopt. This may, of course, simply reflect the resources available for each organisation. But if so, it indicates that the initial resources required to enter into the political process as a pluralistic organisation is decreasing as a result of both the availability of technology and new paradigms in the set-up process.

10 The same website has also recently been used by Tony Blair for a campaign regarding sports club patronage (Pledgebank, 2006b).

66 In summary then, it has been shown that the techniques and methods used do not, on the whole, drastically differ between competitive political parties and pluralistic political organisations. There is, however, some marked variation in the amount of interaction each website offers that seems to relate, in the case of political parties, to past popularity and, in the case of organisations, to how technically knowledgeable they are. It also appears that this knowledge is providing the opportunity to establish reasonably sturdy groups using initially limited resources, but that this rule-of-thumb does not necessarily carry over into other small groups with a longer history and/or greater experience.

The implications of this will be discussed below. Before this, a short discussion on the restrictions and shortcomings of the research will be presented.

4.2. Limitations of the Study and Further Research


It is important that this research is set in context, and that the factors, influences and alternative routes described in the theoretical framework are taken into account. This section seeks to outline the restrictions and limitations that may infringe or impact upon the result obtained above.

Firstly, it is essential to note that it is very difficult to draw a causal, directional link between the results obtained and their effect on political influence, or vice versa. Does greater interactivity (or a greater sense of interactivity) lead to greater numbers of members and/or greater influence on the political process? Or is on-line interactivity dependent on other, offline efforts to draw members in? In taking a cross-sectional approach and studying a range of sites at one particular moment in time, the rate of implementation and diffusion of technology through the different spheres has been largely ignored. Two parts of this research a historical perspective as part of the theoretical framework, and an attempt to gauge whether a technology has ever been used on a site - have hopefully alleviated some of this omission, but it is clear that much could be learned by monitoring who implements different technologies when.

A further limitation has been that technologies are treated equally in economic terms that is, how much they cost to implement. Certainly it appears that many of the smaller groups are

67 introducing audio and video messages as part of their repertoire. However, while the influences on whether a user can receive content through a particular mechanism (cost of equipment, usability, et al) have been investigated, some further analysis of the efforts and resources needed to produce and maintain each technology may shed some further light on their diffusion. Again, as costs for multimedia production continue to decrease, tracking such costs and implementations over time would be enlightening.

Furthermore, this research is restricted in that it makes no attempt to measure actual usage, only potential usage. While diffusion of technology may be assisted or hindered through implementation costs and effort required to receive content, it is difficult to gauge the success and impact of a technology once in place. Statistical data on usage of each technology would greatly serve to augment the research. Again, time-based data would also be of great assistance in determining whether the provision of certain technical services encourages usage and debate, or vice versa. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the availability of data makes this difficult to carry out.

Finally, a reminder should be given of the wider context that this research finds itself in namely, that the pluralism identified above extends beyond the borders of the organisations examined. This pluralism (as noted by Rhodes) reaches into the emerging field of international and cross-border politics and the shifting forms of local politics, alongside an increasing amalgamation of public debate within corporate control. In order to obtain a more complete picture to answer questions such as do different discussions take place in different contexts? and are certain contexts more accessible? - similar research should be done to compare further types of public sphere in addition to those presented here.

68

5. Implications and Conclusions

Lessig (1999) wrote about the challenges and questions posed by the clash of traditional values, under traditional communication systems, with new and often ambiguous values arising from new possibilities under emerging communication systems. The notion he poses is whether we, as a society, are capable of dealing with those questions and making the appropriate choices. The answer he finds is that we haven't the institutions, or practice, to make them. (Lessig, 1999: 213)

Looking at the evidence highlighted above, it is difficult to argue that this is a state which will change any time soon. While questions around inequalities in access and in skills are around to take centre stage in political posturing, the author suspects the more difficult debates around the broad implications of networks and technology will go mostly unnoticed for some time to come. Despite a general optimism and many high hopes for the opportunities that new technologies afford, the fact remains that the idea of technology as a truly equal and hence democratic paradigm is deeply short-sighted. On top of Barney's observations regarding ownership of these networks (Barney, 2000: 120), the imbalances (and remaining barriers) to adopting technology presented here mainly serve to confuse the matter further. As shown above, sufficient resources or sufficient technical capabilities are still essential if one is to get one's voice heard amongst the increasing morass of overlapping public spheres.

It is easy to highlight the obvious lack of such a utopian ideal though. What should be concentrated on here is not the inability of technology to magically revolutionise the political playing field in a matter of decades. Instead, the lessons to be learnt are those concerning the ongoing dynamics of this playing field, and the continuing evolution of what it means to be a participant within such a system.

If technology has not managed to introduce such a libertarianist reality, it can at least claim to have re-shaped or influenced the method by which people may expect to participate in policy issues. As we have seen, the simultaneous expansion and merging of competitive and

69 pluralistic/participatory styles of democracy can be said to have opened new avenues for both citizen representation and citizen involvement. If smaller organisations are able to reach individuals on a similar footing (in terms of interaction) to more established, larger organisations, then it is possible that a wider range of representatives take to the stage. If individuals, unsure of the future as times change ever faster, are more attracted to issuespecific viewpoints than generalised party alignments, then a pluralistic approach seems more appropriate, even natural, to the situation.

Still, where does this leave the idea of the public sphere? The historical perspective shows that capitalism and the public sphere originally grew from a need to balance the private realm with public authority. It is not the goal here to dispute Dean's assertions of communicative capitalism as an alternative to the idea of a public sphere, but in the historical light, it also seems that such an assertion is almost unnecessary.

However, a shift towards a more flexible form of pluralism (i.e. whereby, given the ability, political groups are more practical to set up, publicise, maintain and wield, politically, than before) threatens to undermine the nature of this communicative capitalism. The links between diffusion of technology and the political infrastructure are still relatively unexplored. It is feasible to suggest that as technology becomes more highly integrated with all aspects of society, the traits seen in this research (specialisation in political activities, easier user interfaces and use of more deliberative/discursive technologies) will become even more ubiquitous. However, Barney's observations of network ownership, plus the necessity of traditional, non-technological networks (i.e. based on physicality and familiarity) mean that such a transition does not occur in a vacuum; for example, publicity for new organisations is still highly dependent on established social links. These pre-existing, 'external' forces (including other pressures such as those of an economic nature) actually define the background against which a techno-pluralist design occurs. The question is whether such a design is able to grow despite, or alongside, these factors to the point where it is able to influence them in return.

Finally, we turn to the implications for a variety of actors within the system, corresponding to those we have investigated through the research.

70

5.1. The Implications for Organisations


Firstly, it is essential that organisations, if they are to be maintained over a substantial period of time with some success, do not place too much faith in the ability of new technology to reach their goals. The choice over which technologies to implement is, as we have seen, dependent on the aims of the organisation, which may or may not coincide with the aims of other organisations. As such, and as can be seen by looking at the example of the Open Rights Group, it may be more beneficial to select a small number of technologies that are appropriate, rather than to compete for members on the grounds of all-inclusive mechanisms. Having resources available helps in this regard but, as in the case NO2ID, lack of resources does not necessarily imply a proportionally lesser amount of technological adoption. If this is to be the case, though, it seems that understanding the technologies in question is becoming a necessary part of the participation process. Conversely, the challenge for those organisations relying on publicity is to adapt partially to the technology, but also partially to the new forms of alternative participation arising. For all of these organisations, striking a satisfactory balance between attracting members and achieving meaningful interactivity is something that needs to be taken into account as an inherent function of implementing technology,

5.2. The Implications for Policy-Makers


It is clear that the democracy in a traditional sense is unlikely to remain as it is. Already, the increasing number of ways in which citizens can gain access to previously inaccessible information is weighing on the structures set up for feedback within the system (ePolitix, 2006). As we have seen, the availability of content-delivery technologies is varied according to the size, capabilities and aims of each organisation. Meanwhile, the possibilities for citizen interaction and participation are opening up, with organisations such as the Open Rights Group offering alternative methods for discussion outside of the traditional, institutional domain.

The questions facing policy-makers, then, concern how this move towards pluralism and different political modes is integrated into society. How much influence should each minority group have? Should popularity bear more weight than well-discussed reasoning? And which

71 channels are most appropriate for both making information available, and for gathering opinions? In other words, and in a similar yet mirrored situation to the citizen, to what extent should policy-makers engage with various forms of participation on offer?

5.3. The Implications for Citizens


The role of the citizen is almost inevitably defined (following the selection of organisations as the unit of analysis) as a result of the two other actors above. On the one hand, citizens should be offered from pluralist organisations - increasingly more user-friendly interfaces with a wider choice of possible political standings. In light of declining voter turnouts, this sounds commendable an alternative mechanism through which interested individuals may reengage at some level. However, the challenges faced by policy-makers mean that this form of pluralist representation does not necessarily lead to immediately greater levels of accountability or of response to citizens. Thus, while pluralist organisations may offer a more immediate level of feedback and peer-to-peer interaction, unless further steps are taken to integrate the formal representative political structure (i.e. MPs and councillors) with the emerging system, political engagement on behalf of the citizen will be an exercise in futility.

As such, the responsibilities of the individual/user are in line with those of the organisations, in that the future of political engagement should not be seen to be technologically deterministic. As it is, if citizens wish to see a smooth transition to a state in which technology can be used to participate usefully in politics, then the onus is equally upon them as much as any other actor to ensure these mechanisms are taken seriously.

72

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