Serve and Protect - The use of bottom-up online applications by civic groups
Center for Media and Communication Studies Central European University Budapest, Hungary
Sociology and Anthropology Central European University Budapest, Hungary
The presentation proposed here draws on a large-scale European project entitled CIVICWEB, in the course of which "Young people, the internet and civic participation" has been studied. The aim of this paper is to introduce the results of a qualitative analysis of European civic websites. We have carried out a web-based in-depth analysis to examine the characteristics and nature of the European civic online sphere and to gain a better understanding of the different ways in which issues are represented, users are addressed and invited to participate in these websites. 47 websites had been analysed individually in seven countries focussing on issues such as content, design, structure, interactivity and notions of civic and political. Where possible, producers and users of the analysed websites have been interviewed in order to gather as much insight and information about the website as possible.
In this paper, we will be focussing on one aspect of the analysis: the role the interactive bottom-up applications play in the life of the communities behind the websites. We will demonstrate the complex interplay between aims, the organisational nature of the civic group and the site producers' concept of the medium by examining and contrasting three Hungarian websites: judapest.org, a Hungarian community blog on Jewish identity, where tight control, strict moderation of the user-generated content is used to ensure what the producers see as productive, high quality discussion; lmv.hu, a community activist portal whose aim is to bring together people interested in the same issues and organise collective action; and criticalmass.hu, the single issue community portal of probably the most well-known Hungarian civic movement dedicated to urban cycling that also tries to attract the highest number of users possible, but whose function is primarily to create and maintain a "cyclist identity". We will be tracing the role the internet and its interactive applications have been playing throughout the history of the three communities showing how similar applications may be interpreted in different ways and evoke different practices and concerns about the technology.