Over the years my work has brought me to Rome a few times. The Roman Forum as well as the Athenian Agora have always intrigued me as a model for envisioning online public spaces. Surrounding a public space you have major public and religious institutions, a commercial market in one corner, a place for public speeches, and in Roman Forums the “Albus” or a white notice board with public announcements written in black.

Today we often experience institutions (online and off) without a town square or commons in the center, which I try to counter with Issues Forums. However, today I’d like to focus on an element within the Forum.

The Albus (Latin for album) can be viewed as Public Notice 1.0. Perhaps the start of print media for that matter, even if it was made of government announcements.

Public Notice 2.0 is the mobile version of the crier on horseback traveling from village to village reading a proclamation aloud from a scroll (perhaps other than drums and smoke signals, the first broadcasters).

Public Notice 3.0 is where are today. Governments and others as required by law print detailed notices in newspaper but most local newspapers also print a list of public (government) meetings.

After four centuries of Public Notice 3.0, what might we do next with the public meeting notices portion online?

Public Notice 4.0 – While I’d like to see governments create rich digital media environments to not only provide personalized notice of public meetings and full access to all handouts, reports, and digital recordings, democratic innovation with e-government is slow. Our governments are much more excited about making it easy for us to pay our taxes online, but not so sure about helping us have a greater say online about how those taxes are spent.

Online news and citizen media should fill that void or they risk losing their position as a cross-roads in local democracy. Why not jump to front of the line and provide full access to local public meetings.

Turning each public meeting listing into full mixed media experience with access to public documents should include:

  • E-mail/web feed notificiation of public meetings based on keyword, organization, geographic relevancy
  • Full text of all meeting notices and agendas
  • Copies of all handouts prepared prior to the meeting and any unanticipated documents distributed or view (power point presentations) during the meeting
  • A link to any live webcasts as well as public access cable/radio broadcast schedules
  • And if you really want to make a splash, copies of all digital recordings (video or audio) for on-demand access as well as automatic delivery in popular podcast feed formats (iTunes, etc.). Providing quick links from the agenda to specific moments in the meeting would also be helpful but can be labor intensive.
  • In addition, the online news/citizen media site could host an lightly monitored online discussion space tied to each meeting as well as “reader comments” on documents. This is something governments in the U.S. are hesitant to host because the First Amendment limits government ability to deal with nastiness in truly public government owned online public spaces. The media can more easily censor the profane and obscene.

What do you think? Also, if anyone knows of any online news site (or a government) for that matter that is already doing this, please add a link in the comments section or drop me a note: clift@publicus.net

Steven Clift
E-Democracy.Org