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Google Buzz, Twitter and Blogs: Identifying distributed public opinions

10. February 2010 – 10:48 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The launch of Google Buzz, the search gigants attempt to get into the microblogging and status update world dominated by Twitter, yesterday again shows that the age of distributed publishing is here. People are stating their opinions and ideas openly in many different venues on the net – from Twitter to Facebook to their own weblog. But they are not limited to one of these venues, instead they regularly switch from one to the other. Therefor it is relatively hard to keep track of these statements.

As stated in some other posts on this blog before this kind of distributed opinions are arguments could be very valuable if they can be gathered efficiently and be integrated into discussion making processes. I would like to take a closer look at the first of the two conditions, the efficient scraping of the arguments and opinions, and provide a basic tool to get started with this work.

As a short demonstration of what unified search can do I quickly build this crude Yahoo Pipe (more on that later) searching through Twitter, Blogposts and comments of blogposts. Feel free to use it and take a look at the internals. This demo search shows the results for the term „Google Buzz“. Of course these results could also be in RSS format.

No lets take a look at how to build such a unified search tool with a lot more functionality.

First of all there is a need to reduce the venues and areas in which the search for statements and opinions is conduced. Just searching the whole net using a common search engine would not solve the problem as the results are out of context and have little meta information. In other words: Search engine results are very fuzzy and hard to deal with. Before starting to engineer tools to find the statements in the different venues it has to be clear which kind of meta information is needed to further work with the information found. These three questions are example for possible meta information:

  • In which venue has the statement been posted? (Blog, Twitter, Facebook etc.)

  • Was is a reaction to another statement or does is stand on their own? (Blogposts, comment, @reply etc.)

  • Where was the statement made (geographically)? (Many tools like Twitter or Google Buzz do attach geodata to posts)

After the decision of where to search for what has been taken the solution can be build. Most social web contents are public and can be search through by simple reproducing the sites own search queries. For example if you load the URL: in you browser, the Twitter search results for the term „pep-net“ will be presented to you. By adding the right parameters to the URL the search can for example be specified to just results in a 50 kilometer radius around the city of Hamburg. On the basis of this approach it is fairly easy to build unified searches covering many social web sites at once.

Building the actual search can be done using a tool like Yahoo Pipes or by implementing it into an actual programming language like PHP or Python. Using existing tools like Pipes allow for very rapid development even for a non-programmer but the final result does lack in performance. Using a programing language allows for maximal flexibility and performance but the implementation work is much harder.

This article is of course only mend to be a quick introduction to the basic concepts of unified search and its possible use in participation processes. If you are interested in this area just post a comment here.

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Images for reflection (II): “So… what is (e)participation?”

10. September 2009 – 08:25 by Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin

But... What is (e)Participation?

Again: everybody is invited to reflect.

(this image was introduced and partly explained as part of the discussion on the previous post: Impressions of the eDem 09 conference in Vienna). Reproduced below:

[ Well, I’m not sure if the “e-” should be dropped. Dropping could be too radical, and the e actually “adds” some meaning.
But I’m also not happy with the suggestion from Peter: to consider Participation and e-Participation as two very related things, but somehow also different: e-Participation understood as an extra channel for participation. Thus, we would need to be able recognize how to combine both and when to use each of them.

I think what is needed is to correctly relate the “e-” side to the “Participation” side of the mix.

And this means:

1. Recognize the diminishing meaning of the e- part of the term. In the next years the “e-” will surely just disappear. In the same way that we no longer speak about e-Banking, because we assume that any “Banking” worth its name MUST integrate an “e-” infrastructure that empowers it… citizen Participation without an “e-” backing will simply be a contradiction in terms.
It’s the same case with “electric lighting” too. “Electric lighting” was probably an expression profusely used at the beginning of the XX Century: but now, most of the time, we no longer explicitly name it “electric” -we just assume lighting “is” electric, since gaslighting belongs to our history.

This is the reason why our association, since years, uses the alternative “(e)Participation” term, that emphasizes the fading significance of the “e”.

2. But at the same time that the “(e)” significance fades away… it gains more and MORE importance.
It is clear that the “e” doesn’t change the fundamental meaning of “participation”, that it doesn’t change its essence.
[Sadly enough, most “experts” on e-Participation still do not realize this. They have traditionally considered (and “sold”) e-Participation as something essentially different from Participation. And they have done this because, in most cases, they had NO idea what the traditional “Participation” is about, and what are the problems and dynamics associated with it. And they weren’t willing to read the thousands of socio-political papers devoted to it -( ].

Anyway, let’s go back: we were saying that the diminishing “(e)” does not change the nature of Participation.
But as time goes by, it will completely change the way Participation works. And it will also change our notions on what is possible to attain through Participation (and thus: through Democracy).
Again, the (e)Banking example is very illustrative. Using computers, networks and the Internet for banking and finance revolutionized what could be done. Not sure if those changes were for good… but the fact is that (e)banking, without changing the very nature of banking, radically changed the way banking works. ]

[This second “Image for reflection” tries to express in a vivid an humorous way what we have just explained.]

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Michael Jackson Delays the Revolution!

28. June 2009 – 19:04 by Susie Ruston

Last week many popular news sites (CNN, BBC, techradar etc.) reporting the unexpected death of pop legend Michael Jackson caused a world-wide slow down of the Internet which caused many popular engagement channels such as Twitter to crash! 

His death generated the most tweets per second on Twitter since Barack Obama was elected president. In fact many of my friends in remote locations at festivals such as Glastonbury (UK) learned of the shocking news through SMS and Twitter on their mobiles, Blackberry’s and iPhones as cyberspace began to go into frenzy.

This event raised many fundamental issues about the capacity of the internet that is critical to participation and democracy, as well as highlighting the global difference in how countries trust official and unofficial sources of information 

For example, the “Michael Jackson outage” on the net (caused by the West accessing many ‘official’ sources of trusted information) resulted in many users who were finding the tool critical for organising protest in Iran unable to access their usual sources of ‘unofficial’ information, thereby effectively delaying demonstrations. 

Ironically, despite the mainly unsuccessful efforts of the Iranian regime to shut down participation in the form of protests by denying citizens access to technology, it was actually the West who temporarily (albeit unintentionally) succeeded in achieving this feat through its overuse.

A clash of hunger for knowledge from official sources vs. the need to organize knowledge against official sources does raise interesting contrasts and demonstrates how far new media has the ability to focus our thoughts and actions in a modern world.

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Mozilla’s citizen participation programme – although, it might not called in this way..

26. June 2009 – 10:03 by Civil College

The enourmous civil browser factory, Mozilla has just launced their world wide social responsible activity week call – the Mozilla Service Week! It spreads the core message of common development: “We believe the Internet should make life better. Join us the week of September 14-21, 2009, as we take action to make a difference in our communities, our world, our Web.”

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I think we agree with them from our job ;)

The week, which is a great initiative, just like the previously promoted OneWebDay, which has been celebrated among PepNet members.

This initiative is if we can say, more complex.

When we think about our job, our political or either personal perspective, the roles we play in this arena, might have some extra power to get from the community. From those, who are living in the neighbourhood, who are our chat-forum partners, or even just the old grandmother of our friend.

We can help. We can support the community where we belong to – anytime. Mozilla Service Week is an initiative to put focus on this issue for a week, and go and reach out for anybody around us.

I do hope, that this kind of civil activisim is suitable for all of us – and will make us to subsribe and offer voluntary activities individually.

For me the questions is also somewhere a bit below. Can we, or shall we as Pep-net do something for the larger community of citizens in an organized way during this week?

Download the badges, information here:

You can check some stories here:

by Csaba

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Participation Camp: CHANGE THE RULES!

23. June 2009 – 06:48 by Madarász Csaba

Democracy is the game where we can change the rules together! How do we make this game more serious, more fair and more fun? Please let us know if you are interested in convening a virtual session at this event on a topic of your choice, or collaborating with us in some way!

Participation Camp, Change the Rules, in New York on June 27,28th, will provide the spark for an explosion of sharing, experimentation and collaboration around this question. Participants may attend a wide range of physical and virtual presentations (or deliver one themselves), compete in a conference wide web participation game called Nomic (, or roll up their sleeves in a hands on workshop. For preliminary details see:

If you might be interested in collaborating with us, please check out our wiki at:

What Makes “Change The Rules” Different?

Virtual/Physical Hybrid Structure: One particular feature of this event is that we will be bridging the physical and virtual worlds. We will be opening up virtual spaces in advance of the actual session so as to engage virtual participants in the project. We will also have a room where virtual presenters can connect with those at the conference.

Open Space/Defined Hybrid Structure: We will be using Open Space principles for the creation of some of the sessions, but will also be seeking out the involvement of those that would like to actively engage participants on a specific topic. If there is an issue or a question that you would like to discuss at this event, please let us know!

Play Game: We will be playing the game, Nomic ( This is a game that is designed to teach participants, by virtue of their experience, some of the interesting features of governance, democracy, rule making, rule following, collaboration etc.

Pre-Session Dialogue: We have opened a SkypeChat space that enable those that are interested in the PCamp theme(s) to connect with each other, exchange ideas, plan potential sessions etc. (already opened)

Sustain Dialogue: Due to the fact that virtual environments are accessible from anywhere, it becomes possible for participants to continue their conversations with others after the conclusion of the session. This makes it possible for them to continue to explore the ideas and projects that they are interested in, as well as to cultivate the relationships with those that they have connected with. We hate the fact that what happens when events end is that there is little or no follow up!


Here are a few questions that we have been thinking about. Are there any such questions that are of interest to you, and around which you might be interested in organizing a virtual session?

What, generally speaking, is the role that technology can play in fostering citizen engagement?

What are the best tools for creating the right frameworks for fostering citizen engagement?
What are the particular challenges of using open, collaborative, platforms?

What sorts of business models are consistent with ‘open collaboration’? How can organizations that subscribe to these principles also generate revenue?
How do we utilize technology to mobilize the youth vote?


On June 20th, we created a chat space/conversation in Skype to which we invited all those that had expressed interested in participating in an open dialogue on issues relating to open governance. This chat space allow you the opportunity to:

* Introduce yourself and your project to others that are like minded
* Connect with others that might be interested in your project or might have interesting project ideas.
* Learn, via participation, about how open, collaborative, patterns of interaction work
* Learn, via participation, how groups self organize

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ECC 2009 in Örebro, Sweden

23. March 2009 – 12:05 by Orebro University

The European Citizens Consultation Sweden gathered on 21-22 of March,  91 citizens in Örebro to develop the Swedish perspectives on the economic and social future of Europe. The citizens participating in the consultation were randomly invited according to criteria of representatively: different age groups, different educational levels, gender, geographical distribution, and other Member States-specific criteria were considered to ensure that the citizens attending the European Citizens’ Consultation in Sweden represented the demographic composition of the country as a whole. The event was organised by Örebro University and its department for political science.   The consultation was held at the university where vice president of the EU-commission Margot Wallström, held the opening speech.

The national consultation is and of 8 simultaneous consultations in other European countries, and is a following step to the previous web-discussion (previously mentioned in a posting by Involve on December 16, 2008). At some points during the consultation contact with Hungary and Ireland was established through Skype (as well as a tool developed specifically for the consultations) and shared results and thoughts regarding the other countries. After the third and last weekend of national consultations (28th/29th of March) all results from the national consultations will be put together and discussed in a second online phase.

My experience as a moderator for one of ten tables during this weekend was very rewarding. Not only did I get a hands-on experience of a democracy project (with much eParticipation) in action, but also I got to witness how individuals who self-stated total disinterest in EU or politics in general develop a genuine interest in the debate. Some of the themes discussed were environmental issues (such as the Russian gas line), transparency in political administration and how the EU should handle immigration. It will without doubt be interesting to see what topics that have been raised in all other countries, and which of them that will win the affection of participants in the next online-phase.


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Open Space Technology: when Participation is participated

30. January 2009 – 19:17 by Roberto Zarro

ParteciP.A. logo

Participation is a complex and multifaceted issue. Why not improving participation processes by means of a participatory practice? This has been the approach adopted during “Parteci P.A., the Meeting of the Participatory Democracy”, which took place form 21th to 23th of January, in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. An Open Space Technology (OST) – a methodology for the design and organization of participatory events and meeting, through the direct contribution of the same participants – has been held as main method to debate about the future perspective of participatory policies.

Visions, hypothesis and concrete proposals about the possibility to improve participation processes has been shared among the participants. In an opening plenary session, more than one hundred people proposed the issues to deal during the rest of the day in specific workgroups, composed on a self-selection basis, and aiming to the production of thematic instant reports.

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Write to your elected representative! (2.0)

28. January 2009 – 17:18 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Writing letters to elected representatives has always been one of the more effective ways for citizens to state their concern for a political question or to make their opinion clear to “their” member of parliament. This seems perfectly reasonable: If hundreds or even thousands members of the constituency write to a member of parliament how can he or she ignore the statements – both as a responsible representative and a politician who would like to get re-elected?

In the United States this practice is often used by citizens to reach out to both the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In more recent years the “letter” on paper was often exchanged by an email. But there is one particular problem with email in this setting: There is no post stamp on it and therefore it can not be determined on first glance if the email is really from a member of the parliamentarian’s constituency – This does limit the effect of email in comparison to letters (one could argue that there is also a psychological impact related to the fact that a member of parliament gets a “real letter” signed by a “real citizen”). Does this mean that the proliferation of the internet and the social networks developing in it does not affect this practice of political participation? No, but the influence is indirect.

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Towards an accessible information society ?

23. December 2008 – 12:57 by Evika

According to the recently published Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions “Towards an accessible information society”(1.12.2008) eAccessibility and Web accessibility in particular have emerged as a high societal priority due to the growing importance of the Internet and the explosive growth in online information and interactive services, namely online banking, shopping, government and public services, and electronic communication with distant relatives and friends.

ICT-enabled government, participation and democracy can contribute to the objectives of inclusion in a variety of ways: by providing new ICT-enabled channels for delivering government services and making these services more accessible for people with special needs (eServices eAccessibility); making the democratic p process and governmental decision making more transparent, consultative and participatory through online information provision in all relevant languages and formats, deliberative initiatives and empowerment of advocacy groups that serve at-risk groups (eEngagement), and, by harnessing the same tools in a targeted fashion to make inclusion policies and initiatives themselves more transparent, participatory and accountable and by stepping up the provision of content relevant to groups at risk of exclusion.

Participation within an inclusive governance model is possible only if political, economic, technological and social barriers are removed and access to these opportunities is equitably distributed. Easy access to (ICT) is a prerequisite for participation. Facilitating this access entails, inter alia, removing barriers, making ICT tools easier for everyone to use, and encouraging people to use them by raising awareness of their economic and social benefits.

Progress in this area remains fragmented and slow, despite such targets and many actions involving public authorities, industry and civil society. Accessibility of public websites remains stuck at 5%. Only 10% of people aged over 64 are Internet users while the average in Europe is 47%. Without further intervention, the gap will only be halved in 2015 instead of 2010. The latest assessments conducted for the Commission show that accessibility of websites, communication terminals, TV sets and other ICT remains problematic, with lower-educated, economically inactive and elderly people at the greatest risk of being left behind.

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New international conference on eParticipation and call for contributions, September 2009

4. December 2008 – 12:59 by Danish Technological Institute

Received a piece of news concerning a new international conference on eParticipation which may be of interest to you.

As some of you probably know, 2009 will be the first time, ePart, a new International Conference on eParticipation (, will take place following the 8th international EGOV conference 2009 (part of the DEXA conference cluster, ePart is dedicated to topics on eParticipation and eDemocracy. ePart will take place 3-4 September 2009 in Linz (AT), i.e. right after EGOV conference 30 August to 2 September 2009 with which ePart will be co-located.

A call for papers and workshops/panels is published for both the 2009 ePart and (EGOV

Contributions may be in the form of scientific papers (distinguishing between completed research and ongoing research), project presentations, and workshops. Each format encourages scientific rigor and discussions of the state-of-the-art, innovative research in progress, studies of practical eGovernment/eGovernance, eParticipation and eDemocracy projects, as well as system implementations.

Accepted papers will be published in Springer’s Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) Ongoing research and project papers will be published in the Trauner (Linz, AT) proceedings.

Important dates include:

  • Submission of papers:  28 February 2009
  • Submission of workshop/panel proposals: 15 April 2009
  • Submission of PhD projects:  15 April 2009
  • Notification of acceptance for papers: 15 April 2009
  • Notification of workshops/panels/PhD projects: 15 May 2009
  • EGOV conference: 30 August to 2 September 2009
  • ePart conference: 3-4 September 2009

Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, Danish Technological Institute