Every student of public relations learns about the 'two-way symmetrical model', considered to be the only excellent approach to public discourse by organisations. Though published 25 years ago (by US academics James Grunig and Todd Hunt) this model stands up remarkably well in an internet and social media age that prizes conversations and transparency.
I've just read a batch of essays stating that blogging exemplifies the two-way symmetrical model. Let's agree that blogging is (or should be) a two-way process. Readers can comment, they can continue the discussions on their own blogs through trackbacks and hyperlinks. But how is this symmetrical? A blog post always has more prominence than the comments; comments (particularly on corporate blogs) can be moderated and deleted. This is no more symmetrical than a newspaper that has a page for readers' letters and which prints occasional corrections (though rarely with the prominence of the original story).
If not blogging, then are there better examples of two-way symmetrical forms of social media? Conceptually, wikis are the most democratic form – since anyone (or any member of the community) can have equal rights to create and correct content. In reality, though, this is idealistic. Wikipedia (the most celebrated wiki of them all) has increasingly strong editorial controls and an army of volunteers policing changes and new content. So there's asymmetry here too. Besides, participation inequality (the 90-9-1 rule in Groundswell) suggests that very few members of any community are willing to do more than passively lurk – so we're back to one-way communications. Forget the conversations.
As for podcasts and videos, it's hard to argue that they're even two-way channels since they are products of editorial control (though the ease of creation and the way they are shared makes them a form of social media).
What about twitter? This is close to the ideal of unmediated voices in the public sphere (within the contstraints of 140 characters). Conversations can be joined and followed and there's apparent equality of voices because of the lack of editorial control. Clutter means we need filters, though, so Shirky's power laws still apply. Those with more followers have unequal conversational power.
Where are the social media examples of two-way symmetrical communications?