You make a telling point about the unwillingness of (for want of a better word) authority to sanction the independent inspection of their initiatives - that seems to be a fundamental failing of the system. At the recent meeting of the APPSBG (reported here)...
Professor Francis Chittenden of Manchester Business School gave a critical presentation of the burdensome compliance costs, Red Tape and ineffective Regulatory Impact Assessments which impacted adversely on small businesses ... the Government over-regulates and fails to adequately review and check the accuracy of their RIAs and their cost:benefit ratios (my emphasis)
... which is essentially this problem in a nutshell. No independent review (and no review at all, in most cases) means no way for the public to discover the accuracy of what authority has to say.
With the Downing Street forums, there was definitely an element of political censorship involved - perfectly polite messages were being removed. As ever, determining motive is a difficult task, and we've all heard the "overzealous civil servant" excuse before.
the forums where no posts remain must have something to do with the forum being taken down or something?
I think that's the case - they had a few abortive attempts at one stage to hive off certain types of discussion.
Anyway, enough of all that :-)
I've invited Susie Hughes (from Shout99) to take a look at this thread when she gets a moment. Her community is both politically interested and of large enough size (23000 registered users, over 1000 of them contributed something to the site in the last year) to be an reasonable sample.
If it turns out that the next forum you want to analyse could take advantage of some coding to gather statistics, we can worry about any funding issues as and when.
Thanks for the pointers to the books - I hadn't come across them previously (being buried up to the ears in any number of actual communities leaves little time to read about them too!)
Kollock's paper you referenced is interesting - in the last 8 years since it was presented the growth of virtual worlds has happened in the gaming, rather than the conferencing, community. Hugo spends a fair amount of time in an enormous virtual world system (I forget the name) so he can talk more knowledgably about them than I can.
(While I think on - don't forget to set up your email subs on this site so you get alerted when something new gets posted that's *not* a direct reply to one of your own items. You'll find the facility on your admin screen, just click the 'Logged in: scott' underneath the logo in the top left, and then go to the 'Receive automatic emails' page)