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Zinging the Public Sphere

Submitted by donna on 4 September, 2009 - 17:57

Last week I got a call from friend and colleague Pia Waugh - saying she needed some Plan C magic from Creative Contingencies. The Melbourne venue for the 3rd installment of Senator Lundy's Public Sphere event had fallen through with only 5 days to go.  I called around some of my contacts, most of whom were booked out. But Trinity College not only came through with a suitable space, and great catering, but mobilised internal resources to put in place a wireless network with broadband access to the Internet where previously there was no such access. Wow.

The other Public Sphere 3 venues had access to full video conferencing courtesy of NICTA. In Melbourne we made do with a consumer grade video camera, a laptop and the ustream web service. It's amazing what a bit of pressure and ingenuity can realise. Big thanks are due to the Trinity tech team who went over and above the call of duty to make the impossible a reality. Thanks guys, the tim tams are on their way.

All of the above was just last minute stress-fest extras and we got there in the end.

The real story, and reason for my participation was to bring Zing to the mix of twitter, blogs, and cover-it-live for group contribution to the dialogue.  We made use of the MeetGspace zing server to connect three geographic locations into one online meeting space: Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong. The original plan was to have Melbourne participants log on using wireless keyboards, and Brisbane and Wollongong login to the server via the java based web interface. A network glitch severed the melbourne connection to the server but Brisbane and Wollongong carried on without problems and Melbourne carried on in stand alone mode. Fortunately  we were able to login to the server to continue remote facilitation, and add in the odd comment here and there, but our wireless keyboards remained an island.

I'm looking forward to putting zing into action again for similar events, hopefully with a bit more time for testing.

I'm excited by the Public Sphere events. In conjunction with initiatives such as OpenAustralia I reckon we're in for an interesting journey of re-awakening and engagement with our political institutions. Australia already has a much more pragmatic, and down to earth regard for Government than many other nations. Using technology to add more voices to the debate will perhaps let us stretch the limitations of representative democracy and overcome the tyranny of distance. Idealistic? Yes. No apology.