The 2009 Documentary titled ‘Us Now’ delves into mass online collaboration as well as power of online participation. What was most thought provoking to me was the magnitude of participants that contribute to certain online platforms. What drives hundred of thousands of people to contribute to a website such as Wikipedia? I have often considered what publics get out of it and why they have dedicated their time and knowledge to a public domain. Don’t get me wrong, Wikipedia (and many other participatory based websites) are exceptional tools that in their own unique way have prevailed traditional public services, however I wonder what motivates these publics to be a part of these platforms.
Perhaps I have already come across the answer as to why publics contribute to online platforms, to be a part of something. The documentary suggests a motivation for such contribution – telling that the general public has something to give back, to contribute. That may very well be a part of it although I’d go further with that and say that by contributing they may gain a sense of self-validation or a feeling of unity. However, I perceive that perhaps a motivator for the ‘general public’ to contribute to online spaces is the prospect of being a part of (there’s that phrase again) a broader public. One that their area of expertise may not reach in their everyday lives. Perhaps with sharing their knowledge, interests and experiences with an online platform they may feel a sense of being a part of a larger community.
One aspect of online participation that predominated throughout the documentary was that the quality and reliability of certain participation-based sites could be qualified through the number of participants involved. Whilst there is always going to be a concern for your safety when you meet people online, quantity is quality assured… or at least more reliable. The documentary discusses certain mechanisms and practices that are put into place to make some online platforms more trustworthy. A lot of contemporary platforms are highly reliant on the ‘reputation system’. This can be seen on sites such as EBay and couchsurfing.com where reviews and ratings are placed by people who engage with other users of the sites. Additionally, a mother that is an avid user of mumternet.com (a online space where mothers share their experiences and knowledge) told that when sourcing information on sites where publics give advice, she determined information reliable by the number of users who say the same thing. For example, if one user provides advice about something but various other users disagree, then you probably shouldn’t take the minorities advice. It goes to say that the method of determining information or a user reliable abides by formal as well as informal practices.