FTI Blog Management – internal guideline

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Basic technology

Blog vs. Forum: The idea of using joomla.com type forums was discussed (Joomla is a CMS (Content Management System) framework rather than a user forum software.) It was decided to implement a test blog first on the religious freedom policy and review if we need to shift to a forum instead.

What do we want to attain from FTI blogs.

As internet penetration increases in India from it present mark of close to 4%, there is a likelihood of shift in the way people consume information and create content. Political parties in India have generally not shown the inclination to reach out to the citizens for understanding their perspectives and to explain their own stand or rationale of policies. This offers a clear opportunity for any political group to make its mark of being a truly people’s party by consciously making efforts to connect to the people at large.

Blogs can help FTI in the following ways:

Attraction:

  • Using blogs to demonstrate the credibility and openness of FTI and make it attractive to future leaders to join FTI, noting that leaders we are looking for almost certainly fall within the 4 per cent of India’s population referred to above.

Policy communication:

  • Dynamic portal to discuss policy matters with people and share the thought process of the party members on various matters of public interest
  • Understand the perspectives of the non party members as reflected by their comments
  • Influence public opinion
  • A platform for interacting with one and all much before the groundwork actually begins

Outreach

  • Marketing FTI to increase its support base in different forms. With a healthy population of people belonging to the younger age band, tools which appeal to the youth(such as blogs) would always help in building connect with them
  • These blogs could act as nodal points of outreach in members’ constituencies

Retention

  • By giving a realistic outlet to leaders these blogs would encourage retention in FTI even as the leadership assembles, and FTI policies and strategies, and fund raising is finalized.

Possible approaches to attain the above ends

Option 1

Each member maintains his/her own blog linked from the FTI website

Merits

  • Members get exclusive pages to share their perspective

· Can be targeted towards specific constituencies (members can choose three each and if necessary, separate ones created for each constituency, linked from the main blog of the member)

· FTI gets to know the member better (photograph, profile, policy views, etc.)

· The readers get to read the views of different members at unique webpages in detail

· Individual member-wise blogs might create a healthy culture of communicating with people amongst different members of FTI

Demerits

· With the current level of internet usage and blog popularity in India, Constituency level blog may not be the best option as when we make our scope of discussion too narrow as per region, there is a likelihood of not having enough to really discuss and to attract sufficient people to read one’s blog. Such blogs might gain readership only in metros of our country if at all.

· Once the number of members of FTI increases (say it becomes 500) we may have to maintain around say 300 blogs which doesn’t seem practical. It is too complex to even imagine to host on a single site not from technical standpoint

· Possibility of duplication of subjects being discussed by different members in different blogs as they may not always be aware of what is being discussed where

· Possibility of members giving contradictory stand on the same issue. For a political group this can be a big threat and regulation of the same may not be easy once the span of work increases!!!

Option 2

There can be two different categories of Blogs:

  1. FTI national blog where members can initiate topics of discussion on matters of national relevance
  2. State wise blogs where members from their respective states/regions can raise issues of relevance to that area and have discussions around that. Members can choose the language in which they would want to communicate based on what most people feel comfortable with.

e.g. people in general in a state like Kerala or TN would be comfortable with an English language blog but same may not be the case in UP (talking about the electorate in general)

Merits:

  • In case the members are able to successfully maintain their blogs, this option would allow the highest possible level of discussion and attract interested people as the readers would get to understand both – FTI views on issues like electoral reforms, judicial reforms etc and also get to understand the challenges of education pertaining to say Orissa at a regional level
  • Each blog with its respective regional members would be able to express their thoughts and connect to the people whom they want to reach out to for support and at the same time, people who want to discuss issues of national significance would be able to get to contribute at that level

Option 3

FTI can maintain blogs according to various politically relevant issues such as

FTI Infrastructure blog, FTI Agriculture blog, FTI Commerce & Trade blog, FTI IT& Communications blog etc.

All members of FTI to be free to become members of each of these blogs provided they adhere to the basic rules (to be created). Thus if some member wants to pick four themes and participate in initiating dialogue on that, they should be free to do that.

The blog can have categorization both on the basis of date of entry (as all blogs in general) as well as the initiator of the discussion. Thus if people from a certain constituency want to understand the perspectives of Mr/Ms A on Economics, they should immediately be able to do that on the click of a button after accessing the Economics blog

Challenges

As we create blogs on specific issue of national relevance, it will kind of give an open view to people on specific aspects pertaining to that issue in detail. This design of blogs would call for expertise on the part of the members to maintain the details with complete understanding, expertise and recency of developments.

Option 4

Combination of options 1 and 2

  • FTI has a main blog linked directly from the main website. It would contain generic material (initially) limited in quantum. Each article would have relevant tags (including policy area and state tag). This blog would be closely supervised by the FTI blog team.

  • In addition all members would be given a blog linked from a separate web page (called Member blogs) where members would (mandatorily) post their profiles and (optionally) any other material they wish, including articles/writings. Clearly if they post material contradicting the principles of freedom, that would give FTI an opportunity to discuss these views with the member (including explusion from FTI), but within that broad ambit they should be free to post anything they think has relevant to their constituents/readers.

Merits:

· A reader wanting to participate on FTI would have two options – subscribe to the main blog and the blogs of those members he/she is interested in. This would give us some input into the relative standing and credibility of various members, and also which kind of articles attract the reader.

Decision Option 4, in a staged manner

Operational issues:

· Individual blogs Given that individual blogs are linked closely with the membership database, let’s wait for membership processes to be finalised before implementing individual blogs. In the interim, links will be provided to on the FTI website to member’s own blogs.

If blog be used to discuss local issues, it needs to meet following requirements:

  • Person maintaining the blog should have time and inclination, as it is not a one time event
  • Local issues should be significant enough to engage people’s interest (since what is happening at Delhi may actually not enthuse anyone in Allahabad as far as local issues are concerned)
  • People of the constituency should be blog savvy
  • The author of the blog needs to play atleast some role on the ground to comment or to direct (if not influence or shape at the beginning) public opinion in a certain direction
  • The blog needs to have an identity – some of the identities are
    1. Forum for intellectual discourse as observers of what is happening and what should ideally happen
    2. Forum for venting out one’s frustration
    3. Forum for acting and advocating certain ideas

I feel that any constituency related blog should follow a clear intent or thought process of doing something at the ground level. Most of the times people tend to lose interest when they don’t find the blog to have any potential to actually change the as-is situation. Thus amongst the three sub points that i stated for the last point, only the third one would be able to attract attention when we are talking about geographically limited blogs.

My take is only those people should initiate this effort who are ready and willing to spend some time on the ground in doing some relevant work. Blogs could of great help in spreading the word in that case

· Policy blogs. Each policy will be a separate BLOG entry with the author name as FTI panel. Each BLOG topic will have 2 flavors:
1. Public entry. “Public Entry” will allow anyone to comment but those comments will ONLY appear after a moderator approves them.
2. FTI only entry. “FTI Only” entry will allow only registered FTI BLOG members to comment (it will still be readable by public).

Other thoughts

· The different proposed designs will have both an immediate plan of starting as well as a long term view

· Each of the four proposed options would call for a different policy of maintenance and hence the need to finalize the option before we go ahead with drafting the policy for maintenance

Risk management

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Bloggers-can-be-nailed-for-slur/articleshow/4178823.cms

The blog disclaimer at: http://waronredtape.blogspot.com/ could be used as model of the conditions we can put on our blogs. This link clarifies that:

4. AMA Victoria will not publish posts [this means comments in this case] which;

(a) are defamatory

(b) are discriminatory or otherwise non-compliant with law

(c) are aggressive/bullying

(d) inappropriately name individuals or classes of people

(e) promote commercial services

(f) expose AMA Victoria to potential legal or commercial risk.

Please note that defamation can be established against individuals, classes of people, or organisations.

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