Jan 182012
 

How suddenly you can get propelled back into the world of politics and other “important things”…

Lounging about, surfing a bit (on the internet. Too lazy to do any surfing of the other kind). Wanting to look something up on the internet. Of course the first place to look is Wikipedia.

Error!

Or no error, but I’m certainly not getting my information…

Wikipedia decided on a 24 hour black-out (English pages can only be viewed by using a somewhat complicated work-around), to protest against the proposed United States SOPA and PIPA legislation. Both are in name anti-piracy acts, but in practice could severely limit the freedom enjoyed on the internet. And though this would be US legislation, it would be felt world-wide.

I had actually in mind to write a much more light-hearted piece on party-hostals when my random surfing brought the mentioned to the fore and I felt compelled to write about that. I’ll keep the other post in the back of my mind though and you can expect that some time soon (knowing myself, probably tomorrow).
I didn’t know about about the legislation but after reading up on it (the pages on the legislation are still available on Wikipedia :-) ) I wholeheartedly support the Wikipedia protest. Find the information here: The Wikipedia SOPA action

The thing that actually really struck me was the way the decision was made for the black-out and how exactly it was to be done (affecting only English pages, lasting for 24 hours, etc). Within 72 hours, over 1800 people discussed the action, talking about different options, weighing pros and cons, finally coming to a consensus decision.

This is a very beautiful example of a non-governmental democracy at work. An idea which could impact just about the entire world (a lot of people use Wikipedia) is discussed in an open and very thorough way by anyone interested in participating. Has anything ever been remotely true about the democracy we live in?

Personally I’m intrigued by this way of forming ideas in a broad (world-spanning) discussion. Would something like a “Wiki-ocracy” be possible?

A number of points can be made about the process as it was followed to discuss the Wikipedia blackout.

First and in my opinion most importantly, in theory everybody could join in on the discussion, but in practice only the people who were actively interested in the issue actually knew (on time) that the discussion was being held. For a “first try” I would however expect nothing less. If this form of “Wiki-ocracy” were to be further developed however there would have to be a way of informing people about what is going on in a timely manner. This seems to be no more than a technical problem.

Second, if discussions like this were to be held on a large(r) number of subjects, the number of subjects could very quickly grow outside of what a human being could possibly follow. I think however that technology could come to the aid here. I’m sure that some sort of automated summary software could be developed, giving the major (and minor) pros and cons of whatever is under discussion. This would very much help someone not involved in the discussion to gather the main points quickly. Also, not all subjects will be interesting to all people. It would probably be possible to make some software as well that could “learn” what subjects its user is in general interested in (for example I would be very interested in subjects regarding financial markets, but I don’t care much about subjects on say bio-industry). This would then greatly reduce the number of subjects that a person would need to be active in.

Third and trivially solved, important discussions should not be held in 72 hours.

Given the above, I don’t see any technical restrictions against setting up a “Wiki-ocracy”. Remains to discuss exactly what its function would be.

One possibility could be to directly discuss legislation and “vote” for it online. This would be difficult to do in a world-spanning manner (given the lack of world-government (not that I’m saying that that would be a good idea per-se), laws for now will always be local), but on a local level this might very will be implementable. I do believe that this would be too dramatic a change in our democracy to enact any time soon. Still, some small-scale experiments would be very interesting to follow!

Another option would be to discuss (important) ideas in the manner given and make all this information available to anyone who wants to form her opinion on the subject. This could then be used to vote in a certain way in a traditional democratic election (or if felt strongly enough, by taking more direct action such as contacting democratic representatives).

If the idea does take flight I believe that it could be a very strong way for democratic representatives to be more informed about what their electorate wants from them.

All in all I see possibilities for improving our democracy. So if there is anyone who wants to work on this, do steal this idea!