I had mentioned the many political organizations sending out "action alerts" that compete for our attention. Levin notes rightly that this could be cobbled together through a mixture of RSS feeds.
This is correct, however there is a larger challenge about action items that would remain unresolved. When people have an urge to volunteer, it's usually abstract and not very targeted. We usually just go and sign up. In a sense, a bombarding mailing list is the perfect match for that, because it's similarly untargeted.
So there remains the problem of the nonspecific nature of the action alerts - sending money, signing a petition. That needs to be solved from the requesting side.
Nevertheless, if you are an online political organization, it is a very good idea to create a feed of your action alerts. If you're a subscriber, request it from anyone who sends out these emails. People could then subscribe to individual feeds, or intermediary services could aggregate them.
Yochai Benkler's classic "Coase's Penguin" theorizes that "peer production" will arise where there is a vast supply of decentralized skills, low transaction costs, and low communication costs. It stands to reason that these dynamics will come into play with political action as well.
In the political blogosphere, we've definitely got the first and third. If I define the "transaction cost" as being the distance between feeling "someone's gotta do something!" and ranting about it on a weblog, and then actually figuring out how to do that something, then that's where we have to make progress.
Here's how one such system would look:
It would start as a discussion site, probably more like Scoop than a normal weblog. The site would have to be membership-driven. I believe the pages would have to be promoted from within, but using user-defined trust metrics. But at any rate, the site would have to start with discussion - the motivation to do things starts with discussion and identifying need. Then, at any point, someone might identify an action item.
At that point, they could create a project. The project would be closely tied into the discussion site. It would be similar to a bug-tracking system, except more freeform. They could identify an objective, and then brainstorm about it through a related forum and/or wiki with other members interested in the project. The entire project could be made public or private.
The project would yield tasks that could be linked together in a variety of ways. The tasks could be assigned to particular members - if no one is available, the task would be advertised as a form of job opening that would advertised on the site for the community.
Tasks and projects could be "tagged" with many tags, labels, or categories. And so could users. At any point, a user could search for projects that match their interests or skills. A project manager could also search for users that match the tags of their project. At any point, these users could approach each other to explore a potential match. (Users would undoubtedly also search for users for other side-benefit purposes.)
Beyond that, it's just a matter of adding gear. You could create reports, you could find projects with common objectives, you could create very pretty flowcharts with technologies such as dot and graphviz. And all of it would be driven by an active community that first enjoys blogging and discussing together, but second is interested in going further by taking action. That is where the critical mass would come from.
The online action community is very small and young. Even now, when people determine they need to take action, there is very little understanding in the blogosphere of how to do it. Even with the bankruptcy bill, there weren't a lot of ideas that didn't require somehow inspiring a massive sea change of public opinion within days. With greater maturity and sophistication, the community will be able to identify actions that are actually doable with the resources they have. With more powerful tools, we'll be able to increase our resources dramatically.
The question is, which publishing toolkit is closest to this combination of features? The two that I know of are Scoop and Drupal/Civicspace. There are also plenty of CMS systems I know less about. I could write one from scratch in perl or php but it would take hundreds of hours.
Posted by tunesmith at March 22, 2005 12:09 AM
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