We at openDemocracy recently launched our new website, as an elegant home for our multiple editorial offerings and vast archive of over 40,000 articles. It is a modern platform that enables us to enter the next phase of our mission with greater technical dexterity.
openDemocracy was established in 2001 as a common space, primarily of the written word, to enrich public debate in the emerging digital landscape.
It remains a collaborative creative act, an attempt to bring together voices from across borders and ideologies.
It began as a political blog, at a time when there were far less of them, recognising that the web would change the nature of journalism. Those changes have accelerated as “the digital” comes to occupy ever more of what concerns us politically. A great deal of what we write about at openDemocracy, and across the wider global media, relates to how code and algorithms define the flow of information, decision-making and life itself. The discourse on contemporary politics is ever more a debate about the contours of the digital terrain. Modern media must observe how data affects our lives, and also participate actively in the distribution mechanisms which drive data flows.
The most proactive media organisations ride ahead, creating tools to improve information dissemination, challenge fakes, and leverage technical systems as part of the journalistic arsenal.
From The NYT digital lab’s contributions, to the smalltown creator of our website software Django, and Mozilla with their pioneering Coral Project’s engagement systems, there is a rich legacy of media and civil society leading in the spirit of open-source development.
Yet the history of this process is a delicate one. Stark stories circulate of critical software, borne of a solo developer’s good will, causing havoc across the web due to insufficient funding for basic maintenance. The lesson is that we must tend to the commons of code.
As we enter the age of AI, of the 5G hyper-connected Internet of Things, and other waves that will radically shift the nature of being human, the commitment of civil society to build and set technical standards becomes all the more pressing. Increasingly, we must actively contribute to as well as critique technology.
A laboratory for civic journalism
Our new site is a modern platform, suitable for us to design and test tools that contribute to the state of the art in a continually advancing digital world.
This vision makes openDemocracy as much a petri dish for edifying code and functionality as it is for challenging words and ideas. We should seek to build tools that protect reader data as well as working ethically to provide personalised content which today’s web user takes for granted.
Today, we are working through the question of how to make our site and digital networks a productive home for novel experiments in the realm of public interest informatics.
Ideas on the table range from curatorial features to puncture filter bubbles to new ways of showing readers exactly how their data is being used on site.
This is not something we can do alone. As an independent, journalistic outfit, we fight to fundraise every penny that allows our staff to do the work of critical media. The ambition that I describe, of developing tools and precedents for a better digital reality, will require support from our networks and from anyone else who cares.
We are well placed to coordinate, test and share better ways to live with the web, but we need you to be involved.
Are you a developer or tech operator of any stripe? Are you a citizen who strives for ethical, privacy-focused technology as a core tenet of society?
We want to grow a network of people committed to these aims, to support the work and help us, collectively, do our bit for a better web.
If you are interested in finding out what we come up with, sign up to our new digital newsletter. We will send out occasional updates on our plans in this space.