What are you really doing when you close a lot of hugely popular chat rooms? Looking for a real world analogy: are you just shutting the high maintenance, low profit caf? full of dodgy looking old geezers and annoying kids that you’ve been itching to kick out for years or are you doing something a bit more socially significant? Are you actually closing down a public place, with all the tricky public-private argy bargy that kind of action produces?
Chat rooms remind me of the kind of semi-public places that make up our City centres these days ? it might look like a Plaza, but it’s actually a privately owned chunk of high value real estate made available for nice, polite working citizens to eat their sandwiches in but definitely closed to smelly types and troublemakers.
No one will question Microsoft’s perfect right to close their chat rooms ? although I think this move is more about limiting legal liability than protecting kids ? but I wonder if there’s a larger corporate responsibility thing going on here. Should we expect owners of big chunks of high traffic online real estate like Microsoft to build and police safer online public spaces or is it OK for them to just duck out and leave it to the, presumably, shrinking band of chat specialists and marginal players who don’t really care what happens in their rooms?
Back in the real world, we routinely expect property developers to make provision for accessible and safe public spaces when we allow them to build in our cities. Should we expect the same kind of civic engagement from Microsoft, Yahoo et al? Or maybe we should bite the bullet and empower an already publicly-owned institution like the Beeb to provide these spaces for us.