We first tried this approach in the summer of 1998, when we created the P.O.V. Salon to encourage discussions about the independent films shown on the public TV series P.O.V. Although, as a first time experiment, the process was flawed in many ways, the impact on active participants was so powerful that it changed the way we thought about the possibilities of online dialogue and the role it can play in people's lives.
A few months later, in the fall of 1998, we refined the process with Reality Check, a unique set of dialogues about the impeachment process that ran for four months. SGD was then used for a discussion of race in conjunction with the 1999 PBS broadcast of the series An American Love Story.
It turned out the effects were not only reproducible, but inspiring:
Needless to say, we were impressed with these results. As was Denise Caruso, who devoted her July 5, 1999, New York Times column to Improving Dialogue on the Internet, and focusing primarily on Web Lab's developing model, calling it "one of the most innovative ideas for creating value and relevance in online conversation."
In the winter of 2000, Web Lab made available for the first time the first part of the McArthur Foundation and the Markle Foundation fund report, focusing on Reality Check.
A Different Approach to Online Dialogue
At Web Lab, we believe that people with divergent backgrounds and beliefs
-- given the time and space to connect in a safe environment -- will
find ways to explore their differences and learn from each other, emerging
with a deeper understanding of themselves and the world.
At Web Lab, we believe that people with divergent backgrounds and beliefs -- given the time and space to connect in a safe environment -- will find ways to explore their differences and learn from each other, emerging with a deeper understanding of themselves and the world.
When looking at the standard practices online, however, we noticed that although Web-based discussions offer participants the ability to connect with each other -- one of the most powerful things any technology can do -- they often create a collection of people with no sense of accountability who leave a series of drive-by postings, rather than contribute to a dialogue or a community. Rather than expecting and planning for the best from participants, most approaches seem more concerned about preventing the worst and, as a result, end up reproducing the very problems they aim to avoid. We decided to take a different approach.