Saturday, March 31, 2007

How we are mis-approaching "Wiki Politics"

I know mis-approaching is not a word. This is the postmodern era, so deal with it.
"Wiki Politics" is a really exciting sounding idea. The journal Re-Public will soon be releasing a special issue dedicated to the idea of "Wiki Politics". When we talk about WP, we are referring to the famous Wikipedia , the marvel of collaboration and collective intelligence we all love so dearly. The principles of Wikipedia are marvelously democratic on one level. By which I mean: Anyone can participate, and anyone can access all the information. On another level its missing some pretty crucial features - Wikipedia is not about teaching or nurturing. If you have something to contribute, good on ya, but if you've got nothing to say, or even if what you say is not appreciated by the community, your voice will never get heard. Your contributions, if you make any, will be erased and fade into obscurity. The Framers of the Constitution feared the tyranny of the masses, and there are few explicit protections against it WikiPedia land. This is true for the internet too. Anyone can participate in any way they like, linking their sites to whatever sites they choose. And from this very egalitarian beginning arises a very un-egalitarian result. The popularity of websites follows a Power Law . A tiny number of sites have almost ALL the connections, and almost all the sites have only 1 or 0 connections. City populations and wealth also follow power laws. Scholars have referred to it as the "rich get richer" principle. And where the rich get richer, they also become more influential, and this erodes the egalitarian basis of the society.

So "Wiki Politics" as we understand it from WikiPedia is lacking in this way. It doesn't actively seek to recover its under-performers from the dustbin of history. But there is another problem with our talk about "Wiki Politics": implementation. The principles of Wiki Politics are great (with reservations), but often our idea of implementing Wiki Politics is to create a Politics Wiki . This sounds logical enough. But Wiki Politics is a translation into internet-speak of an old idea: "Participatory Politics". "Wiki" is a misleading term because it implies that this political social transformation should be founded on a particular software application.

A Wiki is really good at sharing information people already know. Its also good for helping people come up with norms to regulate how some disputes are resolved. Since Wiki's are so flexible, its easy to imagine how they could have all kinds of uses: notices of direct action events, debates about policy and theory, and much more. But participatory politics will need a lot more than just Wikis. It needs blogs to support more deliberative conversations. It needs youtube to support visual interaction among people far distant. It needs schools - really good ones that are publicly available - to make sure everyone has the tools and understanding to participate in the body politic. Participatory politics needs citizens to have health care and welfare. How will you help govern if you are too sick to leave your house or if you have to work 14 hours a day at menial jobs? Wiki Politics fosters trust, encourages negotiation, cooperation, and participation. We need to support the values of egalitarianism everywhere in society, not just on a software platform, for Wiki Politics to be possible.

Amazing video and the tradition of participatory politics

Guess which is me in this video. I've found more to the story of the student political movement of the 1960s, too. It seems that this notion is a major tradition among student activists. Starting as early as the 60s (and perhaps before?) there were students working to affect politicization of the student body. I remember at Haverford when I first started talking about a Student Political Network one prof. pointed me to a former student who had done something similar years before. It seems reasonable to guess from this that the student politization movement has been a consistent low-level presence in the American student body for decades. But why, with all these smart young cookies has it not been successful?
I think one culprit is the lack of connection among the students who work at it. Their period of engagement in the issue is short (around 4 years), and there are few enough and there are few enough institutionalized programs for connecting subsequent generations of students that over and over students must start from scratch. Consequently, the movement (if it can fairly be called one movement) can never even develop a particularly robust ideology. What would participatory politics look like? What would it mean? What do students need to do achieve them? These are all questions that don't get a chance to be answered in ways that stand the test of time.

I also think there is hubris in the goal of "transforming the body politic" and politicizing individuals. And it may be important for students to feel like they are inventing the movement from scratch. Its hard to feel like an entrepreneur when you're aware of how big and long-term the team you're working for really is.

So does the movement really need better institutionalizing of memory and expertise? Haber's long-term dedication to the SDS suggests the power that accumulating experience can have. On the other hand, one of the goals of the "particpatory politics" movement is to get more and more people to be entrepreneurial in their civic action, and so there are certainly risks to establishing traditional organizations. I would work on this problem now, but its Saturday. ;) Instead I think I'll go juggle.

Friday, March 30, 2007

You Tube Interview on political video

Besides the content, there are a number of things about this video that highlight emerging forms of communication and other changes to society. The format is novel, as the interviewer never actually spoke to the interviewee. I haven't been following this story, and I'm caught by the references to his lost job. Why did his video cause him to lose his job? And more universally, its a problem today that one's digital IP is often a source of contention with employers. What are the rules (what should they be?) about how strictly an employer can control one's IP outside of the office?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Individual and the Law

Your tags are your own intellectual property. So are the content of other social networking and many office 2.0 applications. Camera phones are ubiquitous and hopefully other digital recording devices will become more so (why do camera's have to be so darn expensive?). But this clip illustrates two troubling things about this trend so far: almost nobody understands our legal system as it relates to media and IP well enough (even the police) and too many are responding to the spread of information by wanting to shut it down. Openness and fast communication may be the greatest boons of web2.0, but they are generating enemies as well friends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Student Activism 1960s and today, p. 1 - Short version

Well, that last post was godawfully long! Here is the short version.

I. Student activism in the early 1960s was VERY similar to that today. Most students were apathetic (or percieved to be so) and a small number of politics nerds. Many of these spent their time trying to convert the rest to their political lifestyle. There are other similarities, too, including a focus on building non-hierarchical organizations and communities, experimentation with forms of activism. An important point that DIDN'T make it into the last post is also that their ideology was not Marxist. In fact it was thoroughly steeped in good old fashion American (and even Jeffersonian) individualism.

II. But the Civil Rights movement made the most important difference between then and now, it seems to me. The civil rights movement gave students their 'in' into political action. Techniques of resistance to segregation allowed non-political students to dip into political action just a little bit at a time.

III. But then I think the CR Movement (and later the anti-war movement) eroded the student political movement. The student political movement was about getting students to actively push social change everywhere they saw need, and to feel a constant responsibility to be socially aware and active. But the CR Mmt. and the anti-war movement may have left people too issue-centric. My theory, that I would like to subject to scrutiny (mine and yours) , is that the student political movement dissolved because it was unable to transform issue-centric activists into citizens with a universal feeling of responsibility towards participation.

The long version is much cooler than this one, so I recommend you still read it. And the book I'm basing all this on, which I cite in the long version.


Student Activism - 1960s and Now. Part 1.

The 1960s are legendary (and infamous) for their student political movements. At no time before or since have American students seemed to be a powerful force for social change. Today young organizers hear stories of those years with awe and sometimes a sense of superiority. It is a shame, some of us think, that students cannot muster such enthusiasm and energy. If only we could rekindle that spirit again! But some of us also hold a degree of disdain for those defeated idealists. Imagine the naivete of thinking that as a young student you could change the world. Imagine the hubris of thinking that as a privileged member of the middle class and a college educated elite you even have the right to try.

There are many kinds of feelings among students considering the mythology of that dramatic time period. But what really happened? Were young radicals naive and arrogant? Were they just crunchy hippies on acid trips? What was so different about that time? I picked up Democracy in the Streets to see if I might learn a little bit about the era.

Perhaps I could find insights into why young people were active then, and we scorn activism now. What was the ideology that fed the mass movements? What kinds of organizational structures made them possible? Why did they dissolve in the end? What would it take today to rekindle civic participation among youth? I've read only the beginning of the story so far, and I'll keep posting as the story develops. But what I've learned has surprised me. The beginning of the New Left is almost exactly the same story as that of student activism in the last few years. The similarities come so thick and fast its creepy.

Students were considered, then as now, a pretty apathetic bunch. Back then even voting was forbidden to most students. Like today, a few were hyper-political activists. Many of these saw as their objective "to re-create [...] the art of political discussion with a democratic and non-sectarian flavor" (55, the words of Tom Hayden). One founder of the New Left, Alan Haber, "stressed his vision of the campus as 'a laboratory where students test ideas and techniques which are later used in all areas of society" (33). Organizations such as Talk Lab , , Penn State's Social Awareness Committee and many others follow exactly this same model. A very small number of students want to create an atmosphere on campus of political awareness. In the bleakest interpretation, a group of young politicos are trying to turn everyone else into young politicos. Tom Hayden was right when he said this tiny movement is, in a sense, evangelical.

Students in the early 60s were experimenting with many of the same organizational structures and ideas on how to reform society. The famous Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee "sharply distinguished itself from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Martin Luther King by its emphasis on 'group-centered leadership" (56). Activists talked about building a participatory democracy, and focused energy on building non-hierarchical communities on their own campuses.

In an article written for The Michigan Daily [Tom Hayden] suggested [...] 'The University must work relentlessly at being a face-to-face, rather than a mass society. [...] To foster a sense of genuine community required a 'democratization of decision-making'.

The public sphere is brimming with activists and scholars discussing participatory politics and non-hierarchical organizational structures. What I never realized, and what I think has escaped the notice of many of today's activists, is that these ideas are not at all new.

However student activists in the early 1960s had two things that modern students do not. First, the President of the United States proclaimed his support for youth power. In his inaugural address in 1961, Kennedy announced, "Let the word go forth from this time and place [...] to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans." (55) Whether Presidential support helped student organizers, or whether it was simply a reflection of a broader social belief in the potential of young people to contribute to society, I do not know. Either way, it couldn't be bad for student political participation.

Second, the Civil Rights Movement became an essential resource for organizers as well (I think) as a source of the movement's demise. The positive influence on the nascent student political movement is clear. The hatred and segregation in the South gave students a clear enemy. And resistance in the South gave college students their first taste of political participation. The book's author, James Miller, explains that boycotts and sit-ins inspired by actions of SNCC "were an organizer's dream. 'They required a minimal commitment,' says Sharon Jeffry. ' People had to talk about it and say that that's what they were doing. But it was only two hours in the afternoon" (34). People become politically active in small increments, and the civil rights movement gave student organizers the tools to make that happen.

I'm beginning to suspect that the civil rights movement also became a problem for student politics too. Alan Haber argued that students needed "an organization that could illuminate the connections between issues like the arms race, poverty and racism and the discontents of the student body". (23) The student political movement was about engaging students in participating in democracy, helping them organize, helping them learn how to be active and aware citizens in every facet of society. The civil rights campaign gave tools to bring students into participation in politics. From there, students would be ready to participate in other areas of society too, fighting for change where ever they saw it needed. However I think it is possible that the civil rights movement subsumed the nascent student political movement. I think it is even more likely that the anti war movement finished off what was left of the student political movement. And then when the war ended, nothing was left to carry forward the energy, experience and habits of activists.

But i don't know yet. Maybe more reading in this excellent book will get me closer to the answer. And please feel free to share your thoughts about student activism now and then.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bridging a cultural divide in America

This post on Campus Progress is an opinion piece in which the author argues that progressive activists have reason to advocate their causes in the southern states. The author concedes the task is difficult because of discrimination in the southern states and elitism in northern ones.

The firestorm of angry responses from conservative individuals, many of whom said they were from southern states, is breathtaking. Response after response rails at the author and the article. The article clearly crossed an inviolable line in the minds of most of the responders. That which must not be criticized was threatened.

While the vehemence of this article is staggering, I've come across this divide elsewhere too, in personal conversations, in news articles. There are groups within the United States that cannot talk to each other, it seems. Our homework for the next 50 years: learn how to bridge that gap. I'm going to try to do some homework on the subject, although I'm also trying to get through some history of the 1960s. Any suggestions on places to look are appreciated.

Activism and governance

One of the purposes of this blog is to explore how activism works. Social change happens whether people try to change society or not. But its called activism when people try to change it explicitly.

Is it activism when it's the government that tries to change society explicitly? I guess we'd all mostly agree that that is more properly called governance. What then is the distinction between activism and governance? It seems to be that part of governance (governance includes enforcement too) is explicit social action by the state and activism is explicit social action by non-state actors.

Today, perhaps, that distinction is becoming problematic. There is a plethora of public-private partnerships that even include privatized military forces . And (I think this is more prevalent in other parts of the world) there are non-state actors, for example Hamas , that provide many services that could be considered the responsibility of the state. In other words, non-state actors are providing enforcement. This doesn't make them states, though. Military contractors are not (technically at least :/ ) sovereign.

What does this mean for activism? As enforcement responsibilities erode from state institutions, perhaps so too will social action responsibilities? This may seem like good news for "participatory democracy" but I, for one, am far more comfortable keeping the enforcement powers strictly in the hands of a civilian controlled and popularly elected state. Is there a paradox here? Is the flow of one kind of authority out of the state a precursor of another flow? Can we have a society in which social action (deciding on the rules and norms) is shared by all but enforcement is limited to the state? Or maybe these aren't useful conceptual models at all.

All I know is, this clip from FreshCreation is pretty amazing.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Yack - More meta content

Today I found YackPack , one of the Office 2.0 web applications. This one is for facilitating voice communication among members of a group (a project team, a class, any group, really). There are 3 ways to use the service.

1. Live chat - On YackPack's website or with an embedded widget you can chat live with anyone from your group that is currently online.

2. Messaging - From the site of your group's YackPack, you can record and send messages to other group members.

3. YackCast - Like messaging, except with the YackCast, messages and responses are strung together to create a single audio conversation.

Here is the Talk Lab Yack . I've got a sore throat today so I haven't made any audio messages myself yet.

This is a neat service, but doesn't quite give me what I'd like it to give.

Given the constriction on only group members being allowed to add messages, it enables people who are already working together to talk, but doesn't make it very easy for people who are not already working together to connect.

I think something like blog services offer for commenting would be really useful. A widget could allow people to record responses to the site's YackCast by simply giving their names and websites. I don't think it would be especially vulnerable to spamming because the YackCast records voice.

I'm going to play around with it some more, and maybe put a badge for it on this site.

The YackCast and other Office 2.0 applications are just a little closer to making the mobile office possible. Using online office management tools, everything you'll need to run an organization will be online. Even the data and documents will be available from anywhere you'd like to access it. Who wants to work in a cubicle lit by overhead florescent lights when it will be just as easy to work at home, at Starbucks, by the pool, or anyplace else you'd like?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Trailfire trail of Carnival Citizen responses

Well here it is. It is a trail of the Carnival Citizen Carnival Blog on Church and State.
Its a neat tool and it has potential. I think it could partner very effectively with the Carnival Blog idea. It gives you a slide show of web sites and when the sites are tied together in content but not in actual web address, this tool can link them together. It is a step towards adding towards the meta level of the Internet, in which information is organized not just by how authors wrote it but by how users understand it. Its related to Diigo in that respect. If it were popular enough, you could use it as a database for searching, looking for websites connected to each other by trails. Shared text wouldn't be necessary for pages to be linked. They would be linked by human judgment.

However it does have quite a few problems. The interface for creating trails is pretty awful, I think. You add the plugin to your firefox browser and to make a trail, you push the button on the browser. A popup appears and a sidebar. The website at which you are adds itself automatically to the trail you select.

I look forward to seeing how it develops. Maybe authors could put buttons on their websites that link to all the trails the cite their page? There must be all kinds of functionality that could be added. But is the TrailFire architecture open enough to allow users to add new functionality?

(that is an interesting requirement, by the way. When else has it been an advantage for a product to provide its users the tools to reshape the product?

Blog Carnival and Trailfire

Sum of My Parts an excellent blog by a researcher studying social networks posted a short time ago (couldn't find that post unfortunately) that she fears the decline of inter-blog conversation. Too many blogs, she was finding, don't talk to each other or cite each other. Rather they site the same pages and papers that other blogs cite.

I am happy to report the discovery of the Blog Carnival . In a Carnival, a blogger will host a theme discussion. Participant bloggers will send in their submissions. Then the host will accept the ones he or she thinks fit the theme and will then post them, and write short responses and descriptions of them.

The effect is to create a group of posts talking to the same issue and to each other. This is an excellent boon to blog conversation, and its great for bloggers (like me!) who are trying to get a little more exposure, and trying to find the community in which they'd like to participate.

Building on Bruce's comment , one could put together a Trailfire trail of all the pieces of a carnival, so one could click through the summary, then the pieces the summary indicates.

I may do that tonight, if I get a chance. But first I must enjoy the beautiful weather. All computer and no outside makes Jack an incomplete individual.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Percolation and social movements

Oh goody! I found one. The paper, "An application of percolation theory to political science" by two professors in Tokyo:

Kazuyuki Ikko Takahashi (Meiji University, Tokyo)
Ryosuke Murai (University of Electronics and Communication, Tokyo)

Unfortunately I couldn't understand their model very well, partly due to my ignorance of percolation theory and partly to difficult-to-read English. Basically what they look at is how a social model can spread in a society.

They break society into three kinds of actors: regular people, supporters and activists. The regular people, it seems are just sitting there waiting to be converted. Supporters ascribe to a social movement but they don't recruit anyone. Activists recruit.

How they got to their results, I don't understand very well, yet (it'd help if I could run my own simulations of innovation-spread in a social network, but i haven't found anything to let me do that. :( )* But what they found was that a social movement can create an infinite cluster (one that reaches throughout the network) with just 50% of the population. And there can be far fewer supporters if there are also a few activists.

However their model doesn't adequately deal with the topology of the network. Each actor in their model can only make 3 connections, and my impression is that those connections were limited to a lattice - that is if all actors/nodes made all three connections, you'd have a lattice of little triangles. There'd be no small-world effect or scale-free network effect.

What I'd like to do is look at percolation in a bi-partite graph where one layer is the graph of people and the other is the graph of groups they belong to.

(Note: future models should also examine how different groups bestow different levels of influence on their members. i.e. family and school influences are stronger than political party)

*How often to I end a parenthetical remark with an emoticon? I really want to find some way around that awkward double-parenthese thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Protest movements are SO not now.

Today on my way somewhere else, I stopped by the Climate Crisis Action day in DC. This is the crowd by 11:00am.

It was a little disappointing. And my mom , who actually went to the rally, felt unsatisified. The march was boring, basically. Like all the others I've been to, everybody stands around trying to hear somebody talking about politics through a sound system that does more harm than good. Its no wonder that many of my friends look down on protest events. "They never accomplish anything" goes the complaint.

But there are many examples of very successful protest movements. The 1963 March on Washington brought the Civil Rights movement to the forefront of American politics. Optor! is a student protest movement credited with bringing to an end to Slobodan Milisovec's rule. Duncan Watts (whose excellent book, Six Degrees I just finished reading today) also mentions "thirteen sensational weeks in 1989" when thousands of residents of Leipzig, Germany took the streets in the hundreds of thousands and led to the demise of the Berlin Wall.

The lesson I take is that there is more to the story of protest movements than "they don't work". There has been a lot of research into this already, which I'd like to find out more about. And I also had an idea from Watts' book. He talked about how innovations and diseases spread throughout a whole society by first coming to dominate a "percolating cluster". Percolation theory is a whole field of study, it turns out. In the model, a new idea or disease won't spread unless it finds a kind of home-base mini-network to propogate it throughout the rest of the system. Once the percolating cluster has been dominated, the rest of the network is sure to follow.

Maybe protest movements are most effective because of their role as a "percolating cluster" for social change. I'd like to find out more about the theory, but it seems to make sense on face value.

If this is true, the goal of a protest movement is NOT to win a single policy goal - rather it is to build a densely connected network of individuals sharing a particular attitude towards a kind of policy issue. This attitude, nurtured by this rich community, then can tumble out and infect the rest of society.

I think this suggests a few strategies for protest movements. But all this deserves more organized consideration and broader discussion, so I'll leave it here for now. Maybe I'll do a few posts about in a series?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Storymapping software

So here is a storymapping social network site. It lets you create maps, tag locations on them, add some limited content to the tags, and trace routes as well. The web app is Wayfaring . Here is a simple map I made of the olde Alma Mater with a route to the theater at the neighboring college I would perform at:

You can probably see here that the site is fun to play with, and its social networking element is nice, too, allowing you to share waypoints, maps, etc. You can also track the maps of other users. And it has the most essential feature, the ability to embed the maps you make elsewhere. But I found that it is a little rough still though. The search function didn't seem to work. I entered Haverford, PA and it couldn't find it. I had to drag the map all the way across the country to get to where I wanted to go. Maybe I'm just using it wrong.

Anyway, its a great tool, and I hope it gets better.

ps. This is not even remotely related, but I found episodes of the Original Batman series. Holy Web 2.0, Batman!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Idea for commenting on websites

Diigo is a service, like I said in the last post, that could be used for creating commentary on any website. But a person would have to be a Diigo user in order to see the commentary. If Diigo had a competitor in the meta-page industry (I'm calling it that because the comments would make a content-layer with the original page as the foundation and inspiration for the new page) people could only see the commentary of users using their service be it Diigo or something else.

Instead we need a standard for meta-page commenting. My idea is similar to the RSS feeds.

RSS feeds have a button on the page which accesses the feed. Users would access the meta-page by clicking a similar link/button. This would activate the code that comprises the meta page. Bubbles would appear over the content of the page, and a pop-out window would appear which would provide the interface for navigating and adding to the page.

There are numerous challenges - how would bubbles be located on the page? In absolute terms by pixels? Relative terms by locating them within certain page elements? Maybe either one?

Commenting on websites and videos.

Today's post on PART a transliteracy blog links to two fascinating websites. BubblePLY and Mojiti both offer the same basic service. They allow users to add comments to videos. There are sort of two ways the comments attach - some comments are public and create a running conversation on the video. Other comments are exclusive. This creates a new video that simply adds one voice's commentary to a video.

YouTube does already have a kind of conversation in the form of video replies and comments on videos. But these two other services allow comments to be inside the video itself- the commenter controls where in the video they appear and also what they look like, where on the video they appear (comments can be under a main character, they can appear as a text bubble from a puppet's mouth, or anything else in that vein.

This is a terrific new step in making the web interactive. But they need to go a bit farther - their service, of commenting on videos, needs to be available from anywhere on the web. Diigo a social bookmarking and web page annotation page has a good idea - their service allows you to comment on web pages. The most common practice is to add private comments that only the writer can see. But there is also the potential for users to write public comments on the web page. Its easy to imagine how a web page could acquire a new level of content of the conversation of those commenting on the web page itself. Diigo offers a Firefox extension that makes it possible for you, the user, to use the diigo service from your browser (i.e., no need to visit Diigo) Delicious does a similar thing. The video pages could learn from this feature.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Web 2.0 and political opportunities

I asked myself, why has Web 2.0 and all of this exciting technology we're all buzzing about not reformed democracy? Why are democratic habits and practices atrophying around the world? For the United States, I have part of an answer...there aren't opportunities for citizens to wield effective authority in governance. An vanishingly small elite group of leaders make decisions and there is not infrastructure for the general public to participate.

The extent to which the general public can participate is simply to participate in semi-annual elections in which citizens are reduced to consumers. We each have one vote/dollar and can spend it as we see fit. Here web technologies are doing some good. The George Allen campaign debacle illustrates how the web can make politicians accountable to the entire electorate for what they say. One commentator complained that YouTube prevented politicians from being able to 'hone their message'
to particular audiences. If you look at it another way, YouTube is preventing pandering - if you say something to one group, everybody is gonna know it, and you'd better not pretend you think something different (unless you change your mind. But learning to accept politicians changing their minds is a skill that we need some practice with!)

But besides holding politicians accountable for everything they say, what else would count as an enhancement for participatory democracy? A closer relationship to individuals and government? Given the current strength of hierarchy in government, there are too few decisionmakers for them to be able to make meaningful connections to many of us. The poor dears would be overwhelmed. How would government function if it were less centralized? There would certainly be problems with that. Oh, I'm confused.

By the way -
In post-modern society there isn't a clear definition of the 'general public'. Individuals' relation to governance is on a sliding scale. Identifying two classes - the leaders and the followers - is misleading, perhaps. On the other hand, there could be a power rule in effect. People with government power accumulate more and more. The other name of the power rule, by the way, is the "rich get richer" rule. That's a topic for further discussion, though.

Socrates online

So my Mom found these online Yale lectures here . There are many amazing topics, and I really recommend them. Through that I also found a series of great speeches from history. Last night I listened to Socrates' defense before the Athenian court. I enjoy Socrates a great deal - in his dialogues he is such a jerk all the time that he is enormously entertaining. And I guess the philosophy is important too. But after listening to his defense, I find it easy to imagine that I would have voted to make him drink from the cup too. Take a listen for yourself. You can find it on Itunes.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Wiki Politics

I'm working on a paper today, that I don't know if I will finish in time. The journal Re-Public which is a very neat journal about the future of democracy in the super-connected world of today and, hopefully, also tomorrow.

The journal asks for papers that discuss Wiki Politics - Papers that discuss "the openings for democratic theory and practice" that are created by new technologies like Wikis and other children of the read/write web. Its due by the end of tomorrow, so I don't know if I'll get anything in, but I'd like to take a stab at it.

For understanding Wiki Politics, we first need to decide what a Wiki Political system is, and then to decide what it would feel like for the individual. As it turns out, the answers to these questions are different.

A Wiki Political system refers to a system in which a very large number of individuals participates actively in governance of their society. It requires tools and social mores that enable and encourage every individual to not only accept the opinions and follow the decisions of others, citizens must create opinions to influence others and make decisions regarding the system which governs them. Every individual would be substantially autonomous but would have the inclination, habit and ability to choose to work to support the good of the society. Howard Simeon in 1773 discussed this as the freedom, not from restrictions, but to work for the good of the society. Since then, scholars have discussed this distinction as the difference between the 'freedom from' and the 'freedom to' (Clark 2004)

A Wiki Political system will rely on people understanding their responsibilities to the system as a whole, and to all of its members. "With great power comes great responsibility" (Was that Pres. Bush or Spiderman?)

This is sort of what I want to write about - the ethical and behavioral obligations of individuals in a society of Wiki politics. A wiki society must be one which enjoys diversity, creativity, and nurtures its citizens to teach them the skills and principles necessary for participation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The web and the senses

In the future...

The whole body will be useful for interacting with the web - see this article on full body game controllers .

This article also from the BBC discusses technology for adding scent to the computing experience.

And sound is already essential to the internet experience. Podcasting is everywhere and today I found a very cool site called Odeo, which facilitates sharing sound in mp3 form. I know its hardly the only site that does that - the innovation of Odeo is that they allow you, by giving you an account, to keep an online playlist of songs, syndicate your playlist and preferred channels by RSS or other formats, subscribe to your list on Itunes, and also subscribe to other people's personal channels. This makes it possible for your music to become an easily reached part of your personal internet platform - the customized workbench of tools from many sources that bring you the content that you want.

All this adds up to an internet that is a much more immersive experience. It may even become misleading to call it the internet, as technological connectivity becomes part of everything we do, Everything will be connected in some way to the internet. It won't make sense anymore to define the 'internet' as something different from regular experience.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Storytelling online links

Speaking of storytelling, I found the Oort Cloud yesterday. Its a site for anyone who wants to submit science fiction and fantasy stories. Like One Million Penguins and the Theater Wiki site I work on a little bit, it is trying to bring publishing into the internet age. Gone are the days of big-money publishing houses holding all the keys to the castle of Anyway, I think its interesting to compare the different ways these projects set up the rules for their publishing system. I like Oort Clouds: they structure it so each story is like a post to a single blog. That way, every story goes up on the whole communities radar once, and if the readers like it right away, it'll stay up. It keeps the playing field even, or even-er, to give everybody some airtime.

Monday, March 5, 2007


I came across this video of a lecture about how storytelling is important for nonprofits thanks to PART, a blog about transliteracy . The speaker's major points are that

  1. Storytelling is a fundamental tool human brains understand information (He uses statistical and anecdotal evidence for this)
  2. American society and governance relies on 4 archtypical stories
  3. Non-profit orgs. should learn to tell stories much better, and
  4. A story consists of three main parts - a character with a goal, obstacles to his/her achievement, and a payoff at the end.

The idea that there are a few foundational stories, which different groups emphasize in different proportions depending on their goals, is very similar to George Lakoff's framing argument in Don't think of an elephant

I bring it up for a few different reasons. Its a great lecture, for one thing. Watching lectures online is one of my new favorite things to do. (I'm pretty cool, after all) He is entertaining and thought provoking. He mixes narrative with declarations about the way things work and employs humor well, of self-deprecating and other varieties.

And storytelling is a form of communication that social activists will do well to cultivate. Many, including Lakoff and Reich have made the point that the left has lost much of its ability or dispostion to tell compelling stories. I am certainly no storyteller, and my tendency to talk about my intellectual goals, ideas, and principles in academic terms (i.e., talking about them explicitly as goals, ideas and principles) has certainly made it hard to share my passion for them with others. Its a difficult lesson to learn - that the way to communicate abstract ideas is indirectly.

This points to what many like me might consider to be a limitation of 'storytelling' and the kind of communication it represents. Storytelling, or communicating anecdotal examples of larger ideas, doesn't really even claim to be exhaustive and precise. If we want to talk about poverty, academic language will try to engage the whole issue, naming parts of it, identifying trends, patterns, flows of behavior, money and information. It will try to identify different kinds of poverty, state causes, and in general try to be as specific and explicit about the issue as possible. A story will not be explicit. A story might be about a poor person, and his or her life. All those elements about causes and repercussions and nuances should be in a good story, but they will not be named. The listener or reader must search for them.

And there is a major limitation with stories. Their power is their emotional appeal, but there also is the danger. A story can hide its misleading picture of reality through pandering to emotional appeal. Or because a story's meaning comes from the listener's understanding of its content, one story will deliver multiple meanings to different listeners. (But this happens with academic work too)

Also, writing a good story requires understanding all those things that academic language names. The left's problem is that it relies too heavily on academic understanding of problems, leading to facts that others cannot share easily. The problem of the right is that it relies too heavily on stories. It denies that what might appeal to intuition in a story might not actually be true in the real world. Both errors are dangerous.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Living in the corner of the network

I've been thinking about what it is like to be a node in different kinds of social networks. How does the subjective experience of a node (if its also a person) depend on the structure?
Consider a star-shaped network like the one in this post . The hub and the spokes must have each a very different outlook on the world. The hub must feel very important, but also very pressured by the information, desires, messages and everything else flowing from its spokes. If the hub is, for example, a politician, I can imagine how she might be both important to the spokes (constituents, staffers, etc.) as well as constrained by them, bounded and defined by them.
What about a more regular network, in which the number of links to vertices/nodes/individuals are more equal across all nodes?

This network is a little more evenly distributed. Every node in the network is an individual, with a full complement of emotions, thoughts, dreams, plans and experiences. And each has a different perspective on the world.

Imagine the red node is you. Your entire experience of the world is limited to a very small part of it. This is as true for dots as for people. How do you decide what to trust? What to believe? I know these are questions much discussed already, but it is the kind of question that is always useful to go over more, I think. After all, each of us dots has a unique perspective on the world, and it may be that only by sharing our perspectives can we get a sense of the whole picture.

Related tid-bit: this book describes a philosophy of the universe which originated in Asia: the god (or gods, I can't remember, or find the exact passage) has a net of an infinite number of gems with an infinite number of faces on each one, and all the gems are tied together. And in the infinite faces of each gem are the reflections of all the rest.