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Sun Feb 25 2007 11:25:18

Participatory Culture as Applied to eBay

By: Ina Steiner

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I attended Beyond Broadcast at MIT yesterday. The conference theme was "From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy." Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide," gave an outstanding keynote presentation and posed the question, what does democracy look like in the 21st century?

Jenkins discussed "bottom up" power, using an example of a teenager who created content in his bedroom that got national and international attention. I came away from the conference with ideas of how individuals, working alone and in groups, can be agents of change in politics using web tools such as videos on Youtube, pages on MySpace, meeting organizers like MeetUp.

The eBay/online-auction community has a long history of activism. People have used discussion forums and online groups, have created associations and trade groups and have attempted to create cooperatives. Companies in the industry have responded, attending and sponsoring member-organized events and sometimes changing policies in response to overwhelming feedback from users.

AuctionBytes has provided a forum for letting online-auction sellers voice their concerns - through discussion boards, publishing letters from readers and through interviews and articles. But should AuctionBytes provide a framework for "participatory democracy"? If so, what would that framework look like?

Member activism needn't be limited to trying to change corporate policies. Government agencies are now getting involved in the industry in the area of regulation and taxes.

I don't believe it's appropriate for AuctionBytes to set agendas for sellers, but should we provide moderation and guidance to help them set agendas and stay on track? Or is it enough to cover seller groups in news stories?

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by: Jim

Sun Feb 25 13:08:39 2007

Thanks for posting a thought-provoking blog Ina. Seems Henry Jenkins has been reading some Foucault!

Regarding a 'participary democracy', it may be a bit of a challange to unite the various groups and communities under one vaguely common cause. For example, the views of ''sellers'' are often as polarised as they could possibly be (especially large v small sellers). Likewise, their agendas are often completely different.

If 'moderation and guidance' would entail a way of finding a common ground via democratic means, as well as provide an opportunity of networking the various groups and ensuring ALL voices are heard, I can only see it as a good thing. imho 'inclusiveness' should perhaps be a fundamental principle too. i.e. don't just take the word of PESA or FOEB to gain a sellers' perspective.

The last week has been a PR disaster for Ebay regarding the Vladuz affair. We've also seen that their bullying tactics of 'censor and intimidation' have only alienated many of their users even more. Perhaps to the point of no return as far as trust is concerned. Hence it is vitally important that there is somewhere to turn to when Ebay lose their hearing capabilities (which is quite often). Following Vladuz-gate, it would seem Ebay have decided to prioritise their forum censoring and legal team in order to surpress the truth, as opposed to attend to their gaping security holes. This should not be allowed to happen. And if there was an effective body to resist these tactics, then Ebay (and others) would probably think twice before taking the medieval route again.

Power to the people!

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by: Randy Smythe

Sun Feb 25 13:10:51 2007

Hi Ina, I believe AuctionBytes serves a valuable role in providing information for online sellers and that role might be compromised a bit if it was to become more of a tool for activists. With that said, I am sure there is a way for AuctionBytes to serve as a conduit for viewpoints that might benefit the whole community. You might start by offering a blogroll on the AuctionBytes blog to give a voice to the “agents of change”

Auctionbytes could serve as a hub for the seller and vendor community possibly offering vendor and seller profiles similar to MySpace profiles.

Just a few ideas to get you going, keep up the good work.

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