These questions arise out of an interest in the potential for new and emerging digital technologies to democratise the archaeological process through public-professional collaboration, placing not only the data but also the means of creating the data in the hands of anybody who is motivated enough to get involved. We argue that it is important to proceed with caution, noting that transformations in the communication landscape do not tend to consist of the simple, progressive substitution of 'older' media forms, content and audiences with entirely new ones. Rather, media can be seen as organisms that interact with one another and the environment, in a dynamic system (Naughton 2006, 43; see also Bonacchi 2012). Anything introduced into this ecosystem has an impact on all media-organisms and how they relate to each other, so that wipe-out scenarios occur only rarely.
On this basis it is important to recognise who participates in DPA in the UK, to be very careful in how we regard digital novelties, and to be aware of the continuing relevance and appeal of many so-called 'older' and non-digital forms of communication, in order to achieve a more inclusive public archaeology. We need a realistic and possibly dispiriting view of the actual levels of interest or demand for collaborative research undertakings, as well as an appreciation that the majority of people using digital resources to explore archaeology may be happy to remain less 'hands-on' consumers. Research in public archaeology, museum studies and digital humanities has consistently shown that there is still a tendency on the part of organisations to use social media as broadcasting channels, rather than platforms for exchange and discussion (e.g. Richardson 2014). On the other side, however, there remains an expectation from many archaeological enthusiasts that they will be guided by cultural institutions when engaging with their collections, information and activities (see for example Cameron 2007 with respect to museum engagement more generally). The participative potential of social media rarely if ever overcomes this popular desire for structured forms of engagement. Similarly, television remains the most popular (and distinctively unidirectional) way of accessing archaeological information for a diverse UK audience (Bonacchi 2014). One possible contributing factor to this trend is that, even in the increasingly digital UK, there remains a divide at the level of access to broadband, digital skills and literacy, with many still marginalised. The lack of socio-economic diversity within most aspects of archaeology can make these gaps harder to see.
Are patterns of knowledge production changing? Probably the most interesting exercises in democratic DPA can be seen in crowdsourcing projects such as the Megalithic Portal, a remarkably useable and longstanding online database. The value of the Megalithic Portal as a resource is a monument to carefully managed collaborative work over more than a decade, run by and for enthusiasts (Richardson 2014).
A possible perspective on the growing field of crowdsourcing in UK archaeology is comparing it to the on-going decline of traditional local archaeological societies (Manley 1999), often bastions of retired, white, middle-class amateur archaeologists (see Thomas 2010 for a report on demographics within community archaeology groups). It is worth considering whether online volunteering groups with active discussion forums can increasingly fulfil the same intellectual and social needs as local societies have until now. Here again we can look forward to examining the longer-term legacies of, for example, the Thames Discovery Programme, the MicroPasts project and some of DigVentures' initiatives, to see whether digital engagement can create new, enduring and interconnected communities. Generally we believe that online groupings will tend to remain more fluid, but by no means less valuable.