There has been a lot of discussion on the use of mobile technology for electronic participation ranging from using SMS to full-fletched mobile browsers on smart phones. But participatory technologies can also be used on completely different and much larger interfaces. Smart television sets, set-top boxes and gaming consoles are bringing the web into our living rooms and therefore provide another channel to carry eParticipation into daily lives.
One of the big trends in the entertainment industry right now is the transformation of the big living room screen from a one-way broadcast tool into an interactive experience. Different devices enhance media use by allowing the former viewer to gain control over the experience and to transform into a user. These enhancements range from on-demand and time-shifted viewing of television shows (e.g. Boxee) to social interaction through collaborative gaming (Xbox 360 etc.). All of these devices and application share that they are fundamentally networked computers which in almost all cases also provide a means to access the internet through some kind of interface (mostly web browsers).
Essentially this new infrastructure allows eParticipation to happen in the living room and on the TV screen (eDemocracy geeks might see this as the seconding coming of the original Teledemocracy idea.). If this opportunity is used in the right way electronic participation can be integrated into the daily lives of participants and lower the barrier to enter into such a process. But to really take this step the eParticipation tools and processes have to be adjusted to the environment they will have to function in.
This environment differs from the classic situation of a person on a computer using a web browser to participate, as for example:
- The overall attention of participants is likely to be less focussed on the participation process as the living room screen is primarily seen as a means of entertainment and is often shared among different persons in the household.
- Graphical interfaces will have to adhere to the standards of 10-foot user interfaces, in which users are estimated to be 10 feet or 3-4 m away from the screen. Larger fonts, less text and easy navigation are needed to accommodate this situation.
- The user interface of an eParticipation tool has to adjust to the fact that participants will in most cases not have a mouse and full keyboard but a game controller, just a mouse or a reduced keyboard. This means that there will for example be the necessity to reduce the need for long and complicated text inputs.
In general any additional channel for eParticipation and eDemocracy can be seen as a positive development. The integration of web enabled devices into living rooms and therefore the possibility to bring eParticipation into it might help to address parts of the population which were not involved in electronic participation processes up till now and give those who are already involved another possibility to express their opinions. However the tools used for eParticipation in these environments have to differ from those used on normal computers or mobile devices to make use of these opportunities.