Davies, Newman, O'Connor, & Tam: Deme @ CodeCon 2006, 1:15pm Sunday

Continuing prejudicial CodeCon session previews:

Todd Davies, Benjamin Newman, Brendan O'Connor, Aaron Tam: Deme, 1:15pm Sunday @ CodeCon 2006

Deme is being developed for groups of people who want to make decisions democratically and to do at least some of their organizational work without having to meet face-to-face. It provides the functionality of message boards and email lists for discussion, integrated with tools for collaborative writing, item-structured and document-centered commentary, straw polling and decision making, and storing and displaying group information. It is intended to be a flexible platform, supporting various styles of group interaction: dialogue and debate, cooperation and management, consensus and voting…
This is an area of longstanding interest to me; creating online spaces that could reach convergence on a consensus, with the help of discussion and ranking widgetry, was a big theme at the founding of Activerse (1996-1999), though we eventually went in the direction of a decentralized buddy list.

The complementary-and-contrasting yin-and-yang of software for enabling online groups is:

(1) Technical decisions do influence the character of a community and the results it produces, including whether it is welcoming of newcomers, maintains an institutional memory, converges or diverges on major issues, fans or suppresses 'flaming' communication, and so forth. The Arrow Impossibility Theorem demonstrates that every voting system exhibits 'artifacts' where idealized goals cannot be met simultaneously; larger collaborative systems, which go beyond voting to include other forms of interaction, both magnify the potential for artifacts, and offer the chance for norms of behavior and other feedback to ameliorate any untoward gaming.


(2) Programmers consistently overestimate the importance of technical measures, over-engineering in anticipation of problems that may never arise, and inappropriately reaching for technical solutions to whatever problems do come up. In Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' stump speech, he likens this tendency to caging restaurant-goers to protect them from each others' steak knives.

Solutions like Deme have to be conscious of the influence of technical design, but not enthralled by its possibilities. The proper balance is difficult to determine -- and is certainly different for different communities.

Deme has four presenters listed, each tackling a different aspect of their mission or technology. I predict they run long and get truncated.

As aspect I don't see mentioned in their materials is the transparent management of organization resources -- especially finances. I've long wanted to see someone develop what would essentially be an open, multiuser, web-based QuickBooks for distributed organizations. Every cent inbound and out could be tracked, linked to the group goals and decisions, and mapped back to the contributors who made things happen. This would also open new avenues for voting on priorities by contributing or allocating contributions.

The Deme team might find it very helpful to review Christopher Allen's series of articles on Collective Choice:

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