Charting the path from web 2.0 to democracy 2.0

Open Source Voting Systems: A Digital Public Works Problem

April 10th, 2008 Posted in Interviews, Tools, Transparency | No Comments »

John Sebes and Greg Miller have identified a big problem — electronic voting is broken. And they have a big idea — fix it with a collaborative, transparent, open source approach. They call it a “digital public works project.” They argue that American elections are suffering a loss of trust and that commercial vendors expected to provided voting technology can’t be expected to put the publics’ interests before their own. John and Greg propose that a team of technologists working with a virtual community of volunteers design and develop a trustworthy e-voting technology.

To manage this process they are establishing a new organization, the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation (OSDV). The OSDV will look at the entire ballot system including design of software but also hardware, systems, standards, and specifications. The Foundation will also play an promotional role to convince the public this approach can work and is better.

John Sebes will be online with us on April 10, 2008 at 2pm ET to discuss the OSDV and issues with voting technology. Ask him questions, join the discussion or read the transcript at LIVE Interviews Online.

LegiStorm creates tsunami: public information vs. personal privacy

April 9th, 2008 Posted in Transparency | No Comments »

LegiStorm LogoThe Washington Post today says House staffers are “livid” over the release of personal information by LegiStorm. LegiStorm has aggregated public, but difficult-to-get-to, information and made it easily available online providing salary details not only for Senators and Congresspeople, but personal and committee staff as well. The Post summarizes the issue, saying “aides argue that the recent disclosures leave them highly vulnerable to identity theft. But the Web site, LegiStorm, contends that it has a First Amendment right to publish already public information about some of the Capitol’s most powerful players.”

LegiStorm has proposed some “next steps” to respond to concerns while maintaining access to information including modifications to the report form and payment to cover the cost “to redact the past disclosures”.

Congrats to the Creative Commons – twice

April 2nd, 2008 Posted in Commons's, People | No Comments »

CC LogoIt wasn’t an April Fools joke. Yesterday the Creative Commons announced that they got both a sizable new grant from the Hewlett Foundation ($4M to support the CC and ccLearn) and a new CEO as well — Joi Ito, “entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and free culture advocate,” and avid twitter’r. Ito is replacing Lawrence Lessig who is redirecting his energies at Congress.

New tools influencing policy

April 2nd, 2008 Posted in Readings, Tools | No Comments »

I was browsing through the PolicyCommons news aggregator this morning and noticed three items on new technologies being used to influence policy.

Talking e-Democracy: Interview with Steven Clift

April 2nd, 2008 Posted in Interviews, People | No Comments »

I’m excited to have Steven Clift — Ashoka Fellow, primary mover behind, Board Chair at, speaker, and author — join for a live interview today. Steven will answer your questions about e-democracy inside and outside the US, his activities and ideas, and where it is all going. You can ask questions now and join the interview at 11am.

The Radius and Half-life of Love

March 28th, 2008 Posted in Readings, Thoughts | 1 Comment »

Habitat for Humanity houseI spend a lot of time pitching the merits of social media approaches to a skeptical, traditional, policy and international development audiences heavy on economists. Now, some of my best friends are economists and the world would be worse off without the dismal science, but they can be a contrary lot. My talks tend to start with some version of “look how well peer production works” usually including something about Habitat for Humanity and then quickly moving to Linux, Apache, and Wikipedia as demonstrations. The reaction, inevitably, is “this is all very nice, but does it work in theory?”

I gnash my teeth, but the question deserves a sound answer. If we want to promote collaborative, “peer,” production, approaches to policy issues, we have to have a better understanding of when and how they work — what the incentives are. We are making progress on this.

For example, we understand that some of what we often class as “volunteer” effort by amateurs is really paid labor by professionals. The biggest example I know of is IBM’s corporate contributions to open source software — Linux and Apache in particular. Tapscott and Williams, in Wikinomics, say “IBM spends about $100 million per year on general Linux development.” (p. 81) Hindman cites Shankland saying “in 2001 alone, IBM’s contribution to open-source projects was valued at more than $1 billion.” (p. 194) Economists understand these investments — IBM sees these specific software categories as cost centers and actually saves money by leveraging other’s investments in open source products. It is profit maximizing.

But what about contributions to products that don’t have commercial investment? Benkler insists that “we need not declare the end of economics as we know it.” (p. 92) He goes on (chapter 4 is great) to describe the increasing sophistication of economic understanding of behavior with contributions from other fields including psychology and sociology. Benkler concludes:

My claim is not, of course, that we live in a unique moment of humanistic sharing. It is, rather, that our own moment in history suggests a more general observation. The technological state of a society, in particular the extent to which individual agents can engage in efficacious production activities with material resources under their individual control, affects the opportunities for, and hence the comparative prevalence and salience of, social, market — both price-based and managerial — and state production modalities. The capital cost of effective economic action in the industrial economy shunted sharing to its economic peripheries — to households in the advanced economies, and to the global economic peripheries that have been the subject of the anthropology of gift or the common-property regime literatures. The emerging restructuring of capital investment in digital networks — in particular, the phenomenon of user-capitalized computation and communications capabilities — are at least partly reversing that effect. Technology does not determine the level of sharing. It does, however, set threshold constraints on the effective domain of sharing as a modality of economic production. (p. 121)

I don’t disagree (and only partially because I’m not sure I understand what he said!) However, I think Clay Shirky said it better at his recent talk at the New America Foundation. He said the reason peer production can work, what has changed, is that “the radius and half-life of love have increased.” (this is at about 1:11:27 into the video). He pointed out that people are often (mostly?) involved in communal, cooperative, non-monetary behaviors and that the drop in the cost of sharing has just allowed these behaviors to affect more people and “invade the space of neo-classical economics.” In some sense, I can do things for strangers at no more cost than when I was just doing them for my family.

Moreover, Neuroscience is now suggesting I’m hardwired to desire this behavior. Summarizing 2006 research at NIH, the Washington Post reported “The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.”

Half-life of love indeed!

Update: Marines and Army restoring document access

March 28th, 2008 Posted in Transparency | No Comments »

Federal Computer Week reports that, after a FoIA request from the Federation of American Scientists, the Marines are reposting in public documents they had taken off-line. The Army has also restored public access to a document repository they took offline, again responding to FAS.

I’m giving $50 to the FAS Secrecy project. These guys are good.

F2C: Freedom to Connect 2008 – next monday & tuesday

March 27th, 2008 Posted in Events, People | No Comments »

Freedom to Connect conference logoI’ll be attending the Freedom to Connect conference at the AFI Silver Theatre, Silver Spring MD next week (3/31 and 4/1). I’ve updated the Policy Commons calendar with the times of sessions I think look particularly interesting including:

  • “Politics, Democracy, Internet” panel with Alec Ross, Donna Edwards, and Matt Stoller, moderated by Micah Sifry. Monday at 10:30am
  • “Our Rights On Line” with Bruce Schneier, Suw Charman, and Danny O’Brien with Gigi Sohn moderating. Tuesday at 8:30am
  • “The State of the Internet” with Drew Clark, John Horrigan, Katrin Verclas, and Ron Sege, moderated by Andrew Rasiej from PDF. Tuesday at 10:30am.
  • the closing keynote with Clay Shirky. Tuesday at 4:15pm.

Registration is still open (with prices going up soon), but they will be offering a live stream to those who can’t experience the luxury of the AFI in person.

I’ll be on twitter at @dwitzel and would love to catch-up with you if you will be there too!

Politics Online Conference: Looking back at 2008 and forward to 2009

March 26th, 2008 Posted in Events, Interviews | No Comments »

The George Washington University’s annual Politics Online Conference is one of the highest profile events focused on how technology is affecting politics and policy in the US and around the world. Julie Barko Germany, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet and conference organizer, will join us this afternoon to talk about how things went in 2008 and what she’s got planned for 2009.

This year’s conference included dynamic sessions on America’s broadband strategy, “White House 2.0,” and open source government.

Please join us at 2pm with your comments about the conference, wish list for what you’d like to see next year, and questions about how she makes it all work.

Next week Steven Clift will be taking questions about his work “Building Town Halls Online”. You can make comments and ask questions now. Don’t miss it!

Megacommunities: Interview with authors Gerencser and Kelly

March 24th, 2008 Posted in Interviews, Readings | No Comments »

In their new book Megacommunities, Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly describe “a practical model of collective leadership” that can create a “healthy, prosperous, effectual environment in which issues are addressed and complexity is reduced.” They explain:

our concept of “megacommunity” — an idea that will help leaders cope with the challenges created by the global dynamics environment, in part by transcending some traditional ways of thinking that have blocked solutions in the past. The concept of megacommunity draws heavily on the fields of network theory, group dynamics, and behavioral economics, but always in the service of the goal of sustained solutions to problems that no single organization (or methodology) can solve alone.

The authors, all senior managers with Booz Allen Hamilton, use a number of examples from their consulting work to illustrate the concept including helping plan HIV/AIDS responses in India, supporting HP to improve engineering education in Africa, and helping Italy’s Enel negotiate plant locations. They argue that a Megacommunity structure will allow business, government, and civil society to better work together to address problems that cross the borders of any one entity.

Two of the authors, Mark Gerencser and Christopher Kelly, will be participating in a live online interview on Thursday, March 27 at 2pm ET. I have started to submit questions for them, but would appreciate questions from you as well. See my questions and ask your own at LIVE Interviews Online.

An earlier, abbreviated, version of the Megacommunities concept is available online at BAH’s strategy + business magazine.