What if your news site could create a place online where it was so attractive to participate in the discussion that politicians, lobby groups and your average Joes would all happily post under their full names to make their voices heard, to argue their case in a civilised manner: thereby creating a virtual conversation hub where journalists and readers, politicians and voters could inform each other, or at least exchange ideas and information?
If I understand Bengler correctly, that is what they have tried to achieve with Origo, a social network developed on behalf of A-pressen, one of Norway’s biggest local newspaper groups (to be precise, according to one of the Bengler-guys, Even Westvang, Origo is a service that has a social network, a bit like Flickr, which is about sharing pictures but has social aspects as well - where who you know is used to tell you what’s new for you according to social relevance). You can read more about the basic hows and whys of Origo in this piece I wrote for journalism.co.uk (or, if Norwegian isn’t all Greek to you, here and here).
It all goes back to how you scale quality online debate successfully: in Origo’s case it has meant requiring people to identify themselves (at least when they register) and have stable identities; Origo does keep a track record on users - so people who insist on behaving like trolls can be evicted - and creating technical solutions which better visualise that people are in fact having a conversation, not just a shouting match.
There are several examples of local politicians finding Origo a useful place to be: both to launch initiatives, or distribute news about these, and to participate in debates, which make it seem to me that these measures must be paying off. The way local newspaper Lofotposten is using the site is another example of how the Bengler guys seem to have achieved at least some success with what they set out to do: making it an attractive place to act in the same role or capacity as the one you have in real life (as a politician, a journalist, a human rights activist, a vegetarian etc etc) .
“We have looked a lot at how a publishing tool used together with news sites should work. The big difference between social media and news sites is that social media know a lot more about you, which makes these sites heavy to develop because you’re effectively making personal media sites shaped around the activity of the individual user,” Westvang, who, intriguingly, sees Origo as a rhetorical tool acting in the world on behalf of its developers, told me.
(Btw: Matt, I owe you a comment on community vs. network, I’ll try get back to you in a post on that soon)