(Somewhat 'stream-of-consciousness' I'm afraid, due to time pressure)
I'd like to know whether they understand the importance of having active participation by genuine 'important' people in any webforum discussions.
Alistair Darling (I think) actually popped up on the Number 10 forums once, *and* answered one of my questions about StakeHolder pensions, which fairly knocked me over with shock, but was an excellent example of what is needed if this kind of thing is going to be taken seriously by the public.
The opportunities are there for the 'Big Conversation' to actually take place *between* the people themselves, with the politicians (and aides) stepping in from time to time to deal with specific points raised.
Crucially, it's got to be more than a one-shot response to a single question or thread - at the very least they need to be prepared to respond to the response that their original reply is practically guaranteed to elicit.
If they choose only the better (ie non-vituperative, well considered) postings to engage with, then that will be a natural spur to the onlookers to moderate their own language and attitude in the hope of getting their own posts replied to.
Imagine a pub with an MP in it and a crowd surrounding them, possibly all talking at once. If one person makes a good point, then the MP should ignore any ongoing abuse from the sidelines and answer that person directly, ideally allowing the point->response reaction to develop into point->response->conversation.
Another thing worth mentioning would be the need to allow opposing authorities to engage. Recent Question Times have become more interesting than hitherto because Dimbleby has allowed the panel to debate at length with each other, on points raised by the audience. The presence of *one* non-party-political individual prepared to discuss the issue itself has led to some useful enlightenment.
Therefore, any e-democracy forum *must* allow members of the opposition parties to take part (which implies a way of telling that the user with, eg, the 'nickname' Menzies Campbell *is* really who they claim to be). It's not necessary (particularly) for the public to be identifiable, but the authority figures should be.
MPs will naturally claim to have so many demands on their time that they couldn't possibly engage continuously with the public in such an arena. The point is, they don't need to engage *constantly*, just regularly. And by regularly, I mean "when they discover something that deserves a response", not "once a month".
I wonder if the way to develop the right sort of e-democracy is for the opposition parties and all back-bench MPs to take the lead - after all, they have more time to gain the experience of interacting in this way than Government ministers. Once in government themselves, it might be that they'd have come to appreciate the benefits of the idea.
Naturally, we'd be more than happy to give them the benefit of our experience for a small consideration! ;-)