Remember the recent All Wales Convention? Yesterday they sent me this message via Facebook:
Diolch am ymaelodi a’r Grwp hwn. Gan fod yr Adroddiad wedi ei gyhoeddi bellach, rydym wedi cadw cofnod o gynnwys y Grwp Gweplyfr a’i ddirwyn i ben.
Thanks for joining the Group. Since the Report has now been published, we have kept a record of the Facebook comments and closed the Group.
Closing the Facebook group is probably a mistake.
Part of the reason for using social media to get people’s opinions SHOULD be open access to the original stuff. The Convention achieved that during their work – to an extent – but what now?
Where can we read the opinions that were submitted via Facebook? (I’ve replied to ask and will blog the response, if any. But I suspect they’re filed in a dusty box somewhere.)
It’s not only about reading them – but quoting them, scrutinising them and linking to them. The group now has the text: “The work of the All Wales Convention is now complete”. That’s correct, but its recommendations and conclusions will affect Wales for a long time to come.
There are lots of UNKNOWN reasons why you’d keep something live on the web, and preferably with its own unique URL. Who knows what future purpose it might serve? It’s cheap, so why not? Incidentally here’s: the URL to the blog post you’re reading.
Real time web is exciting but it doesn’t diminish the value of persistence. And if all this is undesirable for someone, they have the option of writing you a letter or email instead.
Weirdly, for some reason, there are only three members in the group now and most of the submissions have already vanished. As for the discussion forum on the All Wales Convention main site, it’s being closed for comments – but kept live for future reference. Does this mean your comments via Facebook are worth less than comments on the main website? I hope not.
For me this brings to mind major weaknesses in Facebook as a tool for political engagement. Sure, it’s fashionable right now and it does offer access to large numbers of people. I’m not saying Facebook should never be used for this sort of project. But it’s very difficult to export your data for archival purposes like this. It’s also impossible to deep link to a specific comment. Facebook itself makes no guarantees about the persistence of your data either.
UPDATE 11/12/09: The group has gone, along with everyone’s comments. I received a short reply saying they only had a paper copy and would get back to me about how it could be accessed. I hope future government projects emulate the good parts of this example (attempting to engage with people, mainly) and leave out the bad. Lots of potential blog posts there…