In brief: Speakers’ Corner updated

It’s curious how traditional social communication is being enhanced by online technologies. A lovely local example came my way over the weekend. Most of us (of my generation, anyway) are familiar with Speakers’ Corner at  Hyde Park, the most famous spot in the world for ‘soapbox oratory’.

Australia has a history of it’s own Speakers’ Corners, the most famous being at the Domain in Sydney, which started way back in 1878. Here in Melbourne we also had one, which rather waned in popularity until a modified version (Speakers’ Forum) was established by the State Library of Victoria.

Now the latest incarnation from the aforementioned State Library has emerged, and at first glimpse it looks like a pretty good idea, a Speakers’ Corner with an online twist. It’s called the Wheeler Centre, the ‘centrepiece of Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature initiative’. OK, so it’s not exactly ‘soapbox oratory’, but the Centre, ‘dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas’, does include a regular soapbox.

Even more exciting, featuring next month on his soapbox will be the controversial philosopher, Peter Singer, haranguing us with ‘Why we need a beef tax’. Will I have the fortitude to attend and take him on with a pithy and disarming question (we Australians rather love our T-bones), or will I wimp out and watch the replay online?

I guess I’m writing about it because it simply looks good: an innovative idea that promotes cultural and educational values in an engaging manner. The website is attractive and includes all the now requisite social software (yes, of course Twitter’s there), but it’s more than that. It’s the way it combines the best of long-standing and successful community practices with appropriate use of technology.

I do hope it succeeds!

Note: On reflection, I guess that blogging is actually closer to the values of the traditional Speakers’ Corner than what is happening at the Wheeler Centre, but hey, why spoil a good story with the facts!

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