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Gunter Becker: Berlin.de im Kreuzverhör. Das Modell der virtuellen Metropole hat nicht nur Freunde (Tagesspiegel, 6.11.98)
A "neue Mitte", a "new middle" is opened in Berlin at Potsdamer Platz and millions pour in. On the Net, "berlin.de" is about to be relaunched. Are metropolises disappearing into their own (imaginary) networks? Are new contexts, forums, markets, communities being created that leave their counterparts in the real world looking rather old? Or is this all just a part of the neoliberal process of the deterritorialization of cities, their gentrification, which is also now beginning to take place on the Net as well?
In December, "berlin.de" is to be relaunched: an online community à la AOL with an urban basis? New content for everyone? A clever marketing move to combine ecommerce with public content and make it all more attractive? Or is the state (in this case, the Senate) getting smart and expanding its social care with new services and transparent information for its citizens? The 5th dimension for netizens of the next generation?
What sort of urban self-image
are such models based on, what sort of expectations, what sort of new opportunities
arise, what risks and potential limits are there involved? Is the Net replacing
the city or will Berlin become a Net-City?
The questions which arose during the discussion related primarily to the question, "centralization tendencies or heterogeneousness?" Within the framework of berlin.de, does a certain centralization take place with the help of the Senate? Should the confusing and multifaceted online culture be stamped with a "berlin.de" logo and should a centralization, a top-down model be created?Hilmar Schmundt: "Whoever sets up a competition and offers a domain name (berlin.de) and public information for free is going to receive offers from global players such as Telekom, IBM and debis, and so, already has a pretty rigidly defined selection. Smaller projects would need a bit of money in order to get started, seed money, but that wouldn't be a real investment. There are very many, very clever projects with a future which came about from this heterogeneous structure with very little money (Stadtplan.de, developed by Kulturbox, Fireball and the online version of "die tageszeitung", a daily paper, developed at the Technical University). And not supporting them is a big problem, and it will be for some time. berlin.de, on the other hand, will have a severe credibility problem due to the editors who select and compile the information. If the editorial team is built by a large investor from the real estate and telecommunications businesses, then the value of the information that offered will have no value at all."
If the discussion that followed took on the "character of a cross-examination," as Gunter Becker wrote in the November 6 edition of the Tagesspiegel, there were a variety of reasons: "Among those in the audience were Net activists who had already negotiated with berlin.de about taking part in the community online platform but then decided against the free delivery of their content. The logic of distribution system that would call for the free delivery of content in return for a portion of any eventual income from advertising seemed to some of the participants like the selling out of the information and content they had worked hard to produce. When Ulrich and Korp repeated again and again that they simply wanted to make an open platform available with space for any and everyone for their activities, to create a "living system," they were met with skepticism. The suspicion that those financing the project would prefer a streamlined presentation of content for reasons of commercial viability to an authentic reflection of the hetergenous Berlin landscape was palpable. And the announcement that municipal services, such as the re-registration of a car, would be offered online for a fee as part of the city information system was also met with little enthusiasm, as Horst Ulrich couldn't help noticing. At the same time, the persistent questions concerning data protection and the possibility of political participation showed how suspiciously many Berlin online projects view the virtual community."
(Excerpts from Gunter Becker,
"Berlin.de in the crossfire: The model for the virtual metropolis has more
than friends alone," in Der Tagesspiegel, November 6, 1998)