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  • Can too many people participate in a project?

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    From software online news service Beta News comes the inevitable question "Was Wikipedia Just a Fad?"

    According to research by one user

    new account registrations are down a quarter since earlier this year. This decline in new editors has also resulted in a decline in the editing of articles -- some 17 percent -- and article deletions, down about 25 percent. Also down were user blocks, down 30 percent, and uploads, down 10 percent.

    This may simply be Cassandra-ness that screams when things like Facebook usage declines and faddists move on to new climes like Web 3.o - whatever that this.

    But I do wonder whether, when it comes to participatory projects, have we reached a moment to ask the question "when does the tent get too big?" or "does the tent get so big that it hits entrophy - and declines?"

    I've just run a public design project in the U.K. in which a thousand people grew food in public places and shared it at a closing event that was attended by 8000 people. The total population of the town is 140,000. That's a 6% participation rate. Amazing.

    We structured the project in a way that carefully drew a basket of over 60 'cellular' groups together and they came together into a final epic (ish) moment. But what does the high closing hit-rate mean?

    Would the entire town be prepared to grow its own food? Or is there a moment when production would hit capacity, then steady and simply decline?

    Is something fundamental going on in the public mind linked to climate change, food production and environmental equity?

    Or are people today prepared to grow food in number and spirit similar to how they might might once have participated in other forms of justice, such as war?

    Are people social networking because relationships, media and culture have genuinely changed?

    Or are they simply turning up in droves to create and edit each other's material, only to move on to, say, walking backwards?

    At the moment Government champions public participation in public policy here and in the United States. But blogs are starting to draw sharp dividing lines between marketing and democratic engagement and questioning the openness of 'open media'. And the limitations of social networks are beginning to be charted: their value defined by not only who's on it, but also by whose excluded.

    Is the tide turning not just on Wikipedia but also on 'marquee politics'?

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