Nov 16, 2009

Public Diplomacy 3.0?

Overall, I really enjoyed the Glassman speech. It was incredibly refreshing to have someone from government actually say, "Wait a sec... maybe we as government should take a step back. Maybe we should actually trust the people to do this public diplomacy stuff, and not just force it down their throats." (A tactic which, as Joseph Nye notes, often backfires).

It's interesting to see web 2.0 being touted as the future of public diplomacy, and the philosophy upon which America should build its public diplomacy efforts. Glassman makes a strong and cogent argument that the interactive nature of a public diplomacy 2.0 approach will ultimately edge out the top-down, rigidly controlled, hierarchical communications systems of Al Qaeda. He argues that by having the government work more as a facilitator for public diplomacy interactions, rather than setting its own agenda, people will respond more favorably because they themselves will be in the driver's seat. One can see at work the application of a communications philosophy largely mobilized by the private sector (while it's ostensibly the "users" who drive these web activities, it's the private interests, or start-ups hoping to eventually cash in on their ideas, that are putting it in action), onto government policy -- perhaps not the worst thing in the world.

That said, in the internet world, 2.0 is already passe. Even as Twitter and Facebook, the epitomic models of web 2.0, still struggle to find a reliable revenue model, internet movers and shakers are already at work on web 3.0, or the "semantic web". This internet model is about intelligent searching, personalization, how the vastness of the world wide web matters to you as a unique individual, rather than as one of the masses. For the government to be putting their eggs in the Public Diplomacy 2.0 basket would be to invest in something that will likely feel dated and irrelevant by the time it comes to full fruition.

This is not to say that Public Diplomacy 2.0, simply as drawing a link to a particular philosophy of the internet evolution, is not a worthy model. To say that government policy should simply mimic internet evolution would make the government just another enterprise trying to ride the coattails of innovative success. However, we should remember that the revolutionaries of closed societies rarely follow institutionalized patterns. That is, it is often on the fringes of the mainstream, in those places where people have no alternative but to think outside the box, that we find an opening cleft, a crack to exploit. Thus, if the government wants to stay in tune with these people, those that have the open mindedness to think beyond their own closed society and constructed images, they should probably focus on the cutting edge, rather than trying to play catch up to private industry.

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