E-Politics and E-Government

Government and politics are changing in the “e” world. It’s part of a fluid, on-going conspiracy to keep the average Joe from understanding them. Let’s get to the heart of it…

Our speaker this evening touched on a critical piece to this that was both surprising and not surprising at the same time. The notion was that Republican Web sites typically don’t link to the outside world, and Democrat sites do. In the research referenced, Republican sites were more likely to provide information WITHIN the site, such as copying content from other resources and providing details rather than referencing other sites. In other words, once you’re in, you’re in to stay. In contrast, Democrat site are typically more liberal (obviously) by providing links to other resources and information, and creating and supporting ideas with other’s references. They want you to learn more and seek other opinions, and the sites are more of a focused portal to democratic information.

This concept settled for a bit until I began thinking about one of the studies we read this week called Hate & Peace in a Connected World. The researchers studied two types of sites, a hate-based site and a peace-based site. Both of these are fairly well known sites, but I’d rather not offer free advertising for the hate site, and therefore, in the interest of fairness I won’t share either. What was interesting in this study is that they found that the hate site kept visitors on the site without links to anywhere else, whereas the peace site was more open with connections to other resources and information.

Pretty clear comparison methinks. I won’t draw any politically-charged conclusions from this other than to say that it’s research, and therefore based on information gathered rather than personal opinion. The contrast of the two types, grouped for my purposes as Republicans and Hate versus Democrats and Peace, created an interesting contrast of how the Web can be used as a resource in very different ways. On one hand, “closed” sites create a sense that visitors are a part of a group, that there are specific people in charge and there is an order of things. Information is trusted as reliable without the need to seek other outside resources. On the other hand, “open” sites create a legitimacy of information by siting sources and providing further information by others. Basically, they two sides of the same “community” coin in that one creates a tight, special community, and the other advocates an open environment and inviting community. Each of these have factors that lead to whether they catch on, and tend to draw people of similar minds… closed or open. That’s my two cents on e-politics for the night.

Now to e-government. It’s interesting to see how this is changing, and how it differs at various levels of government For example, I was looking at houses the other day and stubled on to a couty Web site where I could find maps, property values, aerial photos, sale information, tax details, parcel outlines, flood plane images and more for a single house/property. It was amazing to see how much detail is publicly available, and it led me to look up my own condo where I found all sorts of information about me, my purchase and my living space. On one hand, this info has always been available, but it required effort to find, such as going to those old things we used to call a “library.” Now, it took me about ten minutes to make my real-estate agent obsolete. We’re closing in on a point in the citizen/government relationship (barring discussion of the digital divide) where communication can soon be direct rather than requiring a middle party.

On the flip-side, one of my classmates recently went through the process of getting a US visa (no, not the credit card) and found the online process to be quite complicated. She mentioned that there was infinite information available, but that the process itself was made more difficult through e-government. It’s an interesting point in that this direct interaction with government also allows the government to manage the level of complexity. In this this instance, for example, it may be that the government “weeds” visa candidates by making it a complicated process. It reminded me of a city job I applied for a few months ago where the application process was so overly complicated that I got frustrated and backed out. Clearly they sought a smaller pool of candidates with higher levels of patience… but that’s the control they now have. -Alex

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