Participation in Plan*B for Arkadianmäki
During Autumn 2004, the enactors of Plan*B for Arkadianmäki kindly asked our web community (homokaasu.org) to participate in the project. The project sounded very interesting, hence there was no objections to joining it.
We had meetings and a lot of communication with the project organizers and the guidelines for the project were outlined. The crux of the project was to experiment with alternative ways of indoctrination, expression of opinion and voting.
Our participation came down to that homokaasu.org should provide a question that would be subjected to voting and commenting in Kiasma and the project web site. It was left for the core team of homokaasu.org to determine in which ways this could be accomplished.
Voting system and framework
We chose to explore the relatively unfamiliar and arcane paradigm of gerontocracy and that in terms of participation timespan rather than physical age.
Another important rule established at this point was that the proprietors of the web site would have minimal effect on the content of the votings; they would only provide the framework and the voting system. The content would be entirely user-supplied. (It turned out that one important exception to this had to be made.)
The voting system was laid out thusly. In the first phase, effective from 28th November 2004 to 12th December, the registered users could suggest questions. There would be no limitations in the scope or number of the questions, except that they should make at least some sense. The web site included a short introduction to the project (both the big picture and the subproject at the site), what the questions were for and what would happen to them. Registered users could fill in a form that contained the following fields:
- The question
- Optional explanation
- Optional reason for asking this very question
The members submitted about 150 different questions.
In the second phase of the project, the members of the community would rank the importance of the questions according to their own set of values.
The aforementioned exception took place here. Since we did not expect that the members would read and rate such a huge amount of questions, we chose 12 questions amongst those suggested. The selection was done without formal rules, using gut feeling: questions that were suggested several times or that were extraordinary in some manner prevailed. However, we included also a few completely different questions just for further experimentation.
The members had drastically inequal number of votes – this was where the gerontocratic principles chosen earlier took form. The amount of votes of a user was the amount of other users that had registered to homokaasu.org after her. At the time of the voting there were about 92000 registered users. The 10000th registered user had 92000-10000=82000 votes. The penultimate registered user had one vote.
The twelve questions were presented to the members with an easy user interface for ranking the importance of the questions. They users should just click on a bar. The system took care of distributing the votes of the user to different questions according to the ratings the user provided.
The balancing of the votings was kept simple. The votes were distributed linearly: the ratings were normalized and the distribution of the ratings was also the distribution of the votes. For example, if rated two questions was rated equally important (and there were no other rated questions), they would both get 50% of the votes. If one question was 100% important, and two questions 50% important, the first question would get 50% of the votes and the latter 25% each.
We expected that not all the members would read and rate all the questions. If the users failed to read the last questions, that would bias the voting in favour of those questions represented earlier. This potential flaw was eliminated by listing the questions in random order to each of the members (they did not appear to shift places; the questions were always in same order for a certain user, but the order was different to that seen by some other user).
There were votes from 500 different members.
Results of the subproject
The question that received the most votes and thus was the question provided for Project*B was
Why the media is not an objective conveyor of information?
An elaboration was included:
Why the media is allowed to influence too much and create distorted impressions of the society? Why nobody complains about it?
Question subjected to public voting
The question was then subjected to voting in Kiasma and the web site of Plan*B similarily to all the other questions.
The answer to the question of homokaasu.org that got the most votes was
Because there is no absolute objective information.
While being arguably correct and true to the word of the question, our view is that it is not true to the spirit: the question was about the influence of media, not about the characteristics of information. Maybe the wording should have been different, or the explanatory text should have been more visible, because the meaning was distorted. Ironic, given the question. The answer was scarcely commented. The comments were mostly about how the personal opinion of both the reader and the writer of a news item effect on the outcome.
The second and third answers,
Business is more important
The media is too centralized in Finland
evoked a lot more comments. These strongly featured the notion that all the newspapers and tv and radio channels exist primarily to provide income to their owners. It is cheaper and more convenient to consumers to address things in a light manner.
Other noteworthy answers were
Objective information is either what sells the most (commercial media) or conflicts the least with surrounding information (national broadcasting companies)
Media tells about things that interest the greatest mass and evades politically sensitive subjects.
The rest of the answers more or less repeated the notions or content of those presented here.
Though quite obvious, it is noteworthy that the questions and votes provided by the members of homokaasu.org are not in line with the opinions of the great public. The active members of the site are very specifically selected (even the address of the site filters out certain kind of people very effectively). The selection process is not proactive – anyone can join the community – but reactionary: it is a secondary effect of the content and style of the web site. Also, the existing community certainly has some effect on the persons who choose or decline to join.
No formal research on the subject exist, but it seems that the archetype of an active user of the site has the following rudimentary characteristics:
- At least some academic education
- 20-25 years old
- More politically active than average person
- Strongly liberal (as opposed to authoritarian – no clear correlance in economic left/right position)
- Very critical towards mass media
The questions and their importance ratings seem to reflect the characteristics of the typical user rather well.
It is very difficult to conclude anything about the user demographics of the public voting, but it seems that the answers reflected the question and the background.
It is possible that the question reached best those already in fetters with the mass media and provoked them to answer, or that the entire Plan*B project got the best response from a certain, non-representative portion of the population. However, when considering answers and comments to other questions, this does not seem to be the case.
Although the single most voted answer was that objective information does not exist, the similarity of several less voted options is in our opinion more momentous.
We deem that the general public answered to the presented question
Why the media is not an objective conveyor of information?
with the following:
There always exists a trade-off between objectivity and personal or political agenda or economical or other aspirations. The distorting elements cannot be eliminated. When receiving information from any source, this must be considered.
Homokaasu.org is a web site developed to promote artistic experiments. The site features many experimental web applications and projects and interactive and communal elements.
A very important aspect are the users: a community of 98000 registered users (20th March 2005). Usually 10000 of them are active (visit every week) and 1000 very active (visit every other day). The title is based on an urban legend.
There has been features concerning homokaasu.org or part of it in several very prominent media such as the respected newspapers The Guardian and The Independent, the monthly supplement of Helsingin Sanomat (Kuukausiliite) or tv channels such as BBC and ProSieben.