June 30, 2007

"Politics 2.0"

Mother Jones' latest issue is on "Politics 2.0".

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July 5, 2006

Campaigns Wikia

(Crossposted from Weblogsky)

Jimbo Wales created a workspace with "the goal of bringing together people from diverse political perspectives who may not share much else, but who share the idea that they would rather see democratic politics be about engaging with the serious ideas of intelligent opponents, about activating and motivating ordinary people to get involved and really care about politics beyond the television soundbites." [Link]

One hallmark of the blog and wiki world is that we do not wait for permission before making things happen. If something needs to be done, we do it. Well, campaigns need to sit up and take notice of the Internet, take notice of bloggers, take notice of wikis, and engage with us in a constructive way.

The candidates who will win elections in the future will be the candidates who build genuinely participative campaigns by generating and expanding genuine communities of engaged citizens.

I am launching today a new Wikia website aimed at being a central meeting ground for people on all sides of the political spectrum who think that it is time for politics to become more participatory, and more intelligent.
This is resonant with a couple other projects launched recently, Silona Bonewald's League of Technical Voters and Robert Steele's Citizens' Party.

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April 30, 2006

Peer to peer

In April, 2004 the Kerry campaign's CTO invited a group of professionals with expertise in online community development to create a plan for building grassroots support. The campaign ignored the plan, choosing to remain focused on a more traditional, top-down campaign strategy. I was a member of that group, along with Jock Gill. A couple of weeks ago Jock posted at Greater Democracy about the need for a more peer-to-peer organizing principle:

All of this is a round about way of getting around to the point that we must understand how the dominant organizing principle our national communications infrastructure shapes and determines our politics. If we want a truly democratic politics, based on the notions of equality with justice and fairness for all, based upon truly symmetrical relationships, we will have to have a communications paradigm that supports that goal.

Currently we do not. The dominant organizing principal in American communications is one that is fundamentally asymmetrical “Master/Slave” in nature with limited ability for the average citizen to participate and dependent upon rigid control of the distribution process. Why else would the current beneficiaries of this organizing principal demand draconian Digital Rights Management, with Infinite Copyright, and go to such great extremes to vilify and demonize peer-to-peer approaches? Indeed, the current communications paradigm, as enforced by the FCC and thus the US government is, at its heart, anti-democratic in both principle and fact. In truth, our current communications concentrates power in the hands of a few, supports a politics of oligarchy, and rule by the wealthy 1%. One clear result is today’s dominant politics of money, with humanity working for Mammon. It requires that we be sheeple.
A lively exchange follows, in the comments section, featuring Joe Trippi, Jock, Valdis Krebs, Zack Exley, Sanford Dickert, Rayne Today,and yours truly.

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February 7, 2006

Web 2.0, Participation and E-democracy

Will Web 2.0 facilitate Democracy 2.0? [Link]

The participation sector has spawned a large amount of research, methodology, and consulting services, but remarkably little new thinking about how to get better results from consultation and participation exercises. In the late 90’s, the Internet and related technologies were seen as a potential solution to these problems, but the majority of early e-government and e-democracy initiatives have been little more than old thinking disseminated using new media. However, the outlines of a new approach are beginning to take shape that draws on recent thinking in online social networks and the emerging culture of the World Wide Web to offer some lessons for the future.

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July 14, 2005

Social software and politics

This is something I wrote for the discussion on the WELL; thought it would be worth reposting here:

This has been a high-level discussion of the subjects we cover in the book, but before we're done, we should get to the nitty gritty... the actual technologies and how they're built. Blogs are important in this context, but they're not everything. Along with the ascendance of the blog came a whole social software movement that was gathering steam around 2002. Social software is pretty much any software that supports community or collaborative work over computer networks, i.e. the Internet. Nancy White (http://www.fullcirc.com/) and I had a discussion as I was putting together a presentation for an online conference around that time, and we realized that the real strength of social software was in combining tools, as in the "happenings" Joi Ito set up, with Ross Mayfield's help and input, to bring a bunch of us together online for the discussions that fed into the Emergent Democracy paper we include in _Extreme Democracy_. The happening was multimodal: teleconference plus IRC chat plus wiki (and later QuickTopic for a stage of collaboration on the paper). The chat supported the call by allowing visual cues: you could see when someone wanted to speak, and there was a way for participants to show thumbs up or down (by using a greencard or redcard widget, and there was a yellowcard for a ho-hum response to an idea). The wiki was for note-taking and, later, for collaboration on the text. The first version was Microsoft Word, and that was added to Quicktopic which has a way for you to upload a Word document and gather comments. Finally Joi added a version to his wiki, more comments were added, and that's the piece that I edited for the book.

Social software applications included blogs, content syndication (RSS, Atom), forums, chats, instant messaging, collaborative editing, social network platforms like LinkedIn and Orkut, social bookmarking (del.icio.us), tagging (del.icio.us, flickr), etc. The purpose of my Deanspace piece in the book was to establish that project not just in the context of the Dean campaign, but also in the context of the social software movement, which had become very robust by then, and which influenced Zack Rosen, Neil Drumm et al. to pull that project together. Like many social software instigators, they were influenced by Reed's Law, which is David Reed's insight that the utility or value of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network. (See Reed's essay "That Sneaky Exponential - Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building" - http://www.reed.com/Papers/GFN/reedslaw.html).

He talks about the power of group-forming networks, and you kind of have to read and digest the whole essay to get it, but here's a relevant quote:

"In 'real' networks, it is important to note that although the total value of optional transactions that involve pairs and groups grows faster than linearly, the total price that can be paid cannot grow that fast. Typically, the consumers of the value have money and attention resources that scale linearly with N. So the law of supply and demand will kick in, lowering prices until the available resources (dollars and attention) are saturated. What's interesting is that this saturation process affects all types of optional transactions-so GFN value, peer transaction value, and broadcast content value all compete for the same resources. Once N grows sufficiently large, GFN transactions create more value per unit of network investment than peer transactions, and peer transactions create more value per unit of network investment than do broadcast transactions. So what tends to happen is that as networks grow, peer transactions out-compete broadcast content in the arena of attention and return on investment. And remarkably, once N gets sufficiently large, GFN transactions will out-compete both of the other categories."

Consider the value for a political campaign that goes post-broadcast, peer-to-peer. That's what Zack et al were seeing, so the idea behind Deanspace was to create, not just a way to build web sites that publish content, but a way to build a network of Dean supporters and establish connections, scale up the network, realize more value as it grows.

One aspect of this that intrigues me is that you can build an effective network that leverages connections without enforcing common belief systems or intentions, so rather than having a "political party" that adheres to a specific platform, you could have a looser association of people who are generally in agreement about somethings but may vary in agreement about others... an build ad hoc coalitions within that space. That's what I was thinking about when I wrote "Nodal Politics" in '97.

My pal Nathan Wilcox has created a way to do effective work through what he and his colleagues call Civic Action Networks (http://www.civicactionnetwork.com/index.php/Part_1:_Civic_Action_Networks), small, effective teams that form to address specific issues. He focuses on the individual teams and how they work; I think the next step would be networking those teams to scale potential efforts.

This isn't what people are thinking about, necessarily, when they talk about the impact of technology on politics. Generally speaking, they're talking about money - how you can raise money more effectively for a campaign using a suite of online tools where the approach is still top-down, still a lot like broadcasting. Moveon's model is a good example. The real value of Moveon is in its growing email list, and its ability to scale that list, but they're not building a network of adherents. They broadcast email alerts, invite people to the site to take action, and solicit donations in the context of those transactions. Moveon tends to do interesting things with the money, and keep people focused on progressive issues that are important, but the core business is growing the list and getting the donations.

Similarly, political campaigns use Internet technology to grow email lists and solicit donations to pay campaign expenses, including broadcast advertising. They also broadcast their message via the web, and they use blogs for that, and for "stickiness."

There's nothing wrong with this: Moveone is important and effective, and political campaigns are growing their understanding of the tools so that they might also facilitate better communication with supporters and constituents in the future.

But the political potential of social software and group-forming networks hasn't been realized quite yet, and that's what Mitch and I and some of the authors of the book were more interested in. _Extreme Democracy_ is a collection of writings that emerge from a context that is not partisan or campaign-oriented. What if we removed our identification with one party or another, and approached issues of policy without that particular baggage? In fact there are many people in the U.S. who aren't well represented because they don't identify with a political party. Maybe one effect of social technology is to bring them into the conversations about policy and national intent.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 7:05 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

R.U. Sirius interviews Jon L.

I talk about Extreme Democracy in a podcast interview by R.U. Sirius on his Mondo Globo Network. [Link]

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July 6, 2005

Extreme Democracy discussion on the WELL

I'm participating in a two-week discussion of Extreme Democracy on the WELL, one of the oldest and most influential online communities. If you're not a member of the WELL, you can still comment or ask questions by sending them to inkwell@well.com. [Link]

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 1:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 12, 2005

Review by JD Lasica

JD Lasica has posted a review of Emergent Democracy at Smart Mobs.

Ultimately, this book explores the idea of what happens after citizens take back their democracy by blowing up the existing political process. We may be at a watershed moment. As Ratcliffe writes, "The decades ahead could mark a profound break in political history, if people understand and act on this opportunity."

In its own way, each book posits that we're living in a transitional time for democratic institutions -- and each tries to imagine something emerging that is positive and fundamentally transformative.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 8:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 2, 2005

Announcement: book in progress on "Peer to Peer Theory"

Michel Bauwens is doing some interesting work that relates to Extreme Democracy; we asked him to write about it so we could post pointers here. Here's Michel's open letter:

Dear friends:

For the past two years, I have been working and researching on a book-in-progress, which is definitely related to the work done here under the concept of Extreme Democracy.

Peer to peer theory starts from the observation that one of the dominant forms of organisation today are distributed networks. They are distinguishable from centralized and decentralized networks in that their hubs, which may or may not exist, are not obligatory. To these networks correspond both a dominant network sociality, well described by Andreas Wittel, but also a counter-movement (just as the factory movement created the labour movement and its alternative practices) in the form of the peer to peer ethos. Recognising 'establishment networks' from those 'counter-networks' can be done by examining the relationship between hierarchy-centralisation and participation. In the former, such as the interlocking board memberships of CEO's, the network serves only to further inequality, but on the internet and the read-write Web for example, the elements of centralization promote wider participation. In this manuscript, I describe the emergence of P2P networks across the various fields, and offer a typology of their common characteristics as a new institutional form, which differs from markets, as well as from the gift economy. I also attempt to explain 'why' it is emerging, and how it fits in a broader view of human evolution. It is both an objective fact, but carries with it important ethical transformations which point to the possibility of civilisational forms which could be dominated by these new forms of wider partcipation.

See at http://www.networkcultures.org/weblog/archives/P2P_essay.pdf for an early draft, but if you're really interested, ask me for the latest Word version by email. You may want to check the newsletter archive at http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p , for a record of recent p2p developments.

I really appreciated Extreme Democracy, especially some essays, but at the same time, I hoped for a theoretization of a new form of democracy, something like the 'absolute democracy' concept of Negri in Multitudes, and did not really find it.

As I'm writing on peer to peer theory, I have the same unresolved difficulty still in how majority-based democracy, corrupted as it is today, and the affinity-based peer to peer networks and commons, can and will function together. However, the essay formulates some ideas of how a P2P Commons would fit in a society that functions around the rules of natural capitalism (market without capitalism, and characterized by 'steady-state-economics' or a through-put economy), and the gift economy. It seems clear to me that the current form of biosphere-destroying economy is not sustainable in the long run.

Michel Bauwens

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May 25, 2005

Pushing Power to the Edges

At WorldChanging.com, I've just blogged a pointer to a useful paper produced by E-Volve Foundation and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), called "Pushing Power to the Edges: Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement.". [Link]

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 3:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 22, 2005

"Personal Democracy Forum 2005: Power to the Edge"

I posted an account of the Personal Democracy Forum at WorldChanging.com. [Link]

Network-centric systems are associated with the phrase power to the edge, a peer-to-peer concept. Traditional activist organizations were centralized, which means that power and authority for decision was held by some central entity, and whatever staff/members/chapters were at the edges of the organization acted only according to direction from the center. With a network-centric approach to advocacy (what I used to call nodal politics), members of the activist network connect as peers, and they all have authority to act and make decisions relevant to their context. This is resonant with the thinking behind Extreme Democracy: participation is through smaller, active organizations and teams that are part of larger activist networks.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 7:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Extreme Democracy at Personal Democracy Forum

Extreme Democracy at Personal Democracy Forum Jon L., Adam Greenfield, Britt Blaser

Along with three Extreme Democracy authors (Aldon Hynes, Adam Greenfield, and Britt Blaser), I spoke about the book on a panel at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City Monday. We had a great and enthusiastic turnout! We discussed the book's focus on political participation via smaller groups that scale up as part of larger networks that sustain their connections through the Internet. We also discussed how the book is not technoutopian, but acknowledges potential shortcomings of decentralized, emergent grassroots online networks. Blogs and social networks will can be effective in building communication and trusted connections, but we also need more focused activist organizations and initiatives, and technologies to suppor those efforts.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

Thoughts on extreme democracy

When I first tried to write a book similar to Extreme Democracy, in 1996-97, I bogged down because I didn't know whether I wanted to talk about advocacy (my original intention - to create a new "rules for radicals" on the web) or democracy. To the extent that I'd been politically active, I'd been more of an advocate, but when I started thinking hard about advocacy, I was distracted by democracy. I found interesting space between the two… what the hell is democracy, anyway? If you have 50 people voting and 40 of them are idiots, what does that say about democratic process? Of course that's an old problem, but it had never captured my attention before. I wasn't a political scientist or particularly grounded at that point.

I had my civics badge; I knew functional democracies are actually republics or representative democracies where popular will is delegated to government infrastructure with checks and balances to keep the wolves - and kings - at bay. But lived through Watergate and other revelations of the points of failure within that infrastructure. I was also media-focused and could see the growing and increasingly effective use of broadcast propaganda.

I figured the powerful will use their power wherever they can to build the world the way they want it. There's nothing to suggest that concentrated power makes smart decisions. The powerful may be smart about some things, about others they may be just as stupid as the 40 out of 50 people I left voting in a room in that next to last paragraph.

Somewhere along the way I was convinced that we needed more voices in the conversations leading to decisions about the world. When I started thinking that way we didn't have the tools we have now - blogs, wikis, aggregators, tags, etc etc. - so though I knew there was possibility, I wasn't quite sure how to get there.

The last couple of years have been quite an education in that realm. What some are calling "web 2.0," the social web, converged with the explosive political environment of the 21st century, and new voices are emerging. Many new voices. We can hear them individually or in aggregate, a chorus of new thinking, using online tools that activists and technologists are co-evolving.

Extreme Democracy is a collection of writings, many written as the Howard Dean campaign was playing out. Some of the writings express a vision for a new politics; others are observation and analysis of the impact of technology on politics. We've tried to create a book that explores the relationship of social technology and network applications with a more participatory form of politics.

Somewhere along the way I began to think of democracy as an operating system and various forms of advocacy as applications within that system. That might be one technology metaphor too many, but I think it's apt.

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May 12, 2005

Personal Democracy Forum

I'll be at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York Monday discussing the vision for Extreme Democracy and the book's evolution. [Link]

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May 9, 2005

Extreme Democracy available in print

You can now buy a print version of Extreme Democracy here (Lulu.com). Cost is $18.00.


Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 7:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

Colophon change

The change is on your left; we made the chapter list easier to use by linking the chapter name to the pdf of the chapter, and adding a "post/read" link that links to the chapter's blog item, where you can post corrections, feedback, love letters and advice.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 11:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Extreme Democracy Plus Future Salon in San Francisco

Extreme Democracy contributor Ross Mayfield will join Tom Atlee, author The Tao of Democracy, and Zack Rosen of the DeanSpace project to discuss the future of networked democracy on Thursday, September 16 at SAP Labs North America, Building D, Room Southern Cross, 3410 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304. The event starts at 6 PM and is expected to last until at least 9 PM.

The event will be hosted by Future Salon and SAP Labs. Please RSVP by sending an email to markfinnern at yahoo dot com, so that planning is easier regarding food. And, best of all, it's free.

Posted by Mitch Ratcliffe at 11:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 15, 2004

Potential Chapter: The Calculus of Political Power

This PDF is a draft of a chapter that we are considering including in the book to address the widespread application of the notion of "scale-free networks" to social systems, which, while it is a powerful idea, ignores all the externalities that actually shape social decisions. Your comments are welcomed!

Posted by Mitch Ratcliffe at 7:02 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

There's more on the way

What you see on the site now consists of about half the book. The second half is being formatted and produced as you read.

Posted by Mitch Ratcliffe at 7:22 AM