For the last three weeks, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been holding a dialogue on consumer participation in the Smart Grid, taking questions on the desired or optimal architecture; who gets access to, and ownership of, data; and questions about the communication standards for consumer appliances. How are they doing this? They set up a blog.
Central to the idea of the Smart Grid is the notion of 2-way communication; from the utility to the consumer (domestic or industrial) and from those end users back to the utilities. So it's only fitting that, in canvassing for input, the OSTP chose to adopt the blog as one of its communication tools. For each week of the three week period the OSTP posts a number of points on which they would like us to weigh in and (if we feel that we have something useful to say—or not, since this is the Internet, after all) we can reply. At the end of each week a summary of the comments is posted. Needless to say, it is very interesting reading. The discussion period ends on March 12.
But I find the method of the conversation even more interesting. The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel maintains a Smart Grid TWiki, a structured form of the system used for Wikipedia and other wikis, and one designed to facilitate collaboration and communication. Heck, NIST is on Facebook and Twitter! And they aren't the only ones, either. As long as you've got access to an Internet connection, you have access to conversations that weren't available to you before. Do I happen to think that this is the bee's knees? Well yes I do, because it involves people doing what people do best: communicating and sharing information with each other. Because the Smart Grid will affect us all, its development has to incorporate information from its great variety of stakeholders.
Is there a downside? Always. The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and the existence of tradeoffs. These methods exclude the people who don't have easy access to an Internet connection or aren't comfortable with the technology. Also, any attempt like this requires intelligent and robust moderation to set and maintain the tone of the conversation and to keep it on track—this is both time-consuming and nontrivial. If you've spent any time on mailing lists or online communities you know how quickly things can go south. That said, if you have a wildly complicated undertaking that requires the collaboration of technical people, this seems like an excellent way to go about it.
For those of you who are participating in Smart Grid development, do you use these tools? Do you like them? Do you dislike them? Please let me know!