Ideologi: Tackling the challenge of democracy in the online world

I recently came across a fascinating a developer who has been working for rather a while on trying to model genuine democratic processes in the online world and wanted to share what he’s done. Going by the name “Mykljonzun”, he’s built Ideologi and his description of how it works and what he’s trying to accomplish is darn interesting. Most of the rest of this article is his writing on the subject, not my own words.
Imagine that there are a thousand remote users, registered at a site (not ideologi.com, but a site running software that allows them to run “an ideologi exchange”) to enter a contest to, say, “Create a new design element or feature for a next-generation iPod.”
To sweeten the deal, the host of the contest (called an Initiator in Ideologi terms) puts in a pot of $25,000 for winners. Here’s what happens next…


At a designated time, the contest starts. A sorting system (again, not ideologi, but a system that runs on the protocols established by ideologi) gives each contestant anonymous samples of other contestants’ submissions. You then score each of them. The sorting system retires the lower scoring submissions, and then resorts the high-scoring answers and sends them out again to those who haven’t seen these answers before. The Initiator determines the number of rounds in advance of the contest. Once the last scoring round is complete, the contest is over.
The sorting system then takes the $25,000 and breaks it into the amount of points given out during the contest and transports the money to each of the contestants — “payment on a curve” by a jury of their peers.
Think about Creative Commons licensing. You could run intellectual property development contests for ANYTHING. But who would own the IP generated/discovered by this mob of strangers? The ownership would be based on the amount of points you get during the scoring process. Picture a Linus Torvalds of any other industry who starts a contest by giving away only part of the ownership of his intellectual property in order to “polish it up” with ad hoc brainpower from the world’s mindtrust.
ideologi really is just a ruleset/protocol for running ideologi-sanctioned/compatible exchanges. The Ideologi Foundation would serve as the body that maintains the protocols. The ultimate goal is allow for the open source programming community to build shareware so that every blog, corporation, union, club, society, NGO, etc. can start using it.
If you eliminate the financial reward and IP component, it really can be a true bottom-up grass-roots networked governance system.
I find this entire idea incredibly compelling because I’ve been involved in a number of ’round-robin voting systems’ for competitions, etc., and they’re always terribly organized and it’s always impossible to know exactly how the results were calculated. But that’s me. To understand more about Ideologi I asked Mykl why he was so interested in creating this brainstorming, voting, democratic engine online too. Here’s his answer:
I am creating this because it must be made. I see ideologi as nothing less than a new creative consensus tool to solve large-scale participation problems in society. While the engineering world is feverishly trying to tap the world’s idling computers, the communications world has allowed the internet to turn into a blog/search myopia loop. I want to put ideas, not information, at the center of the Internet.
Imagine a political organization with the courage to allow its constituency not only to raise issues on their own, but to review and score each other’s issues. If they used ideologi periodically, they would have a fully-articulated understanding of what their constituency really needed. More importantly, their constituency would get to collaborate with a random (and anonymous) sampling of their fellow citizens. Isn’t that the real problem anyhow? When four out of five people in your community have the same complaint, then it’s hard to ignore it. Conversely, when one out of five informs you about a problem you weren’t aware of, you’re more exposed to reality.
This is how they did it in Athens 2500 years ago, more or less. A great book to read is First Democracy by Paul Woodruff.
While there are multitudes of ways in which one can collaborate on the web, there is nothing like what I’m building. My example of creating a next-generation iPod is a fairly good litmus test to see if other collaborative tools or services can do what ideologi can do.
A very interesting book that argues my case (without being aware of my contribution, of course) is a book called The Success of Open Source by Steven Weber. He’s a political scientist at Berkeley who has studied the political structure of open source projects.
I encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking about what Mykl is proposing here and check out his weblog, wherein he’s continuing to chew on this fascinating idea and talk about an implementation path for the future.

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