My co-workers and I had a meeting today to discuss plans for our new website. Two important things caught my attention in thinking about how to frame the work we’re doing through our visual and semantic design.
First, visual design. The thing that sets us (community media centers) apart in a REALLY important way from social network websites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.) is our focus on the physical communities we serve. We need to represent that both in our stories and in our visual images online.
For example, the picture above from the staff page on the DCTV website shows the visitor that there are people involved at DCTV in a physical community. So, if you’re a worker at a community media center with a presence online show pictures of your access center and the people from your community. It not only humanizes the web technology that you’re using, but it also tells the website visitor there is a physical place and people involved that others can come to learn more about, learn from, and participate with.
Second, community media is about empowerment. Therefore, community media on the web is not about getting “users” involved. It’s about empowering people to become producers and owners of their own images, messages and meanings–not the ones told by somebody else.
One way that we can take back the terminology adopted from computer technology is to re-frame “users” as producers of community media on our cable access channels AND online.
For example, if a resident in a community signs up on a community media center’s website to participate in a conversation online (e.g., on a blog), they are producers, not users. If this individual is contributing positively to the public discourse on an access centers’ website, they are producing as a member of a physical community, not just simply using the website for individual needs alone.
By showing pictures of a community media center and the people involved on a participatory website and by re-framing users as producers online, community media centers can not only help to take back the discourse surrounding participatory media online (e.g., “Web 2.0″), we can continue to lead and innovate in an space that may soon become co-opted by a commercial Internet culture.