inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #51 of 87: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 10 Jul 05 12:43
Well, sure, making a poor first impression can be hard to overcome.  I
don't see why reputation management makes this much different.  (On
the purely technical level, ratings could be given a lower weight or
expire as time passes.)
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #52 of 87: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 10 Jul 05 15:16
Over time the newcomer/first impression effect gets stronger and stronger.
That's always a concern in a group that is defined and designed to be 
inclusive.  It happens with the biological reputation systems that
manifest with "who are you?" or "oh, YOU again."  It also shows up with
overt rating systems used for rep.

But doing things online would not necessarily make things better or worse,
since reputation and opinion eaders are old phenomena.  

During the last US election cycle there was a lot of buzz filled with
allegations that the GOP was paying people to hang out on liberal
discussion boards to troll.  I don't believe that was proven, but it
raises another level of possible manipulations, deceptions, fraud and
corruption that's different from small face-to-face situations.

I think some things are different, many are the same, and there may be some
new hacks and pitfalls, too.  That's the basis of my mild skepticism.  I
think the best hope is that the nature of networks could appeal to some
people and bring those people into electoral and direct action politics.

Just my hunch, as a politically concerned user of community tools.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #53 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 10 Jul 05 17:41
Brian, that could work. I wouldn't want to render anyone permanently
invisible. (Or would I? I can think of a couple of folks... mmm, well,
never mind.)

Of course, you could take a Darwinian view. Bad reputation could mean
you're selected out.

Gail: tools change, and changed tools can change the way people
experience the world. I think you have to evaluate new ways of doing or
being - like doing things online, as you mention -  with consideration
all possible uses and implications. Consider the axe - good for
building shelter, perhaps not too good when too many trees fall, and in
the hands of Lizzie Borden, very bad.

As I've said, I don't think network politics necessarily makes things
better from all perspectives. If you're looking for the most efficient
way to make decisions, an "extreme democracy" might drive you crazy.
But if you want to be more inclusive, facilitate greater participation,
we've offered some ideas how that might be doable. 

But that's not the whole scene... facilitating participation is one
thing, running successful political (or advocacy) campaigns is another,
and you can use technology for either. Campaign technology focuses on
raising money, using blogs, petitions, email lists etc. to attract more
people, more email addresses, more donations. That process may be more
network-centric, but it hasn't changed so much in terms of the goals
(money!). It does make it easier for a campaign with little money to
cultivate buzz and raise dollars online. 
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #54 of 87: John McCreery (mccreery) Sun 10 Jul 05 21:57
As a guy who works in advertising, I wonder about leading with the
proposition that 

extreme democracy= " taking charge of the
political process, making it transparent, emphasizing a deep
in the people and "opening the policy-making process to many centers
of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized
around local, national and international issues." When we say
"extreme," we're thinking of extreme programming, small teams making
rapid progress on complex projects."

On second reading, I notice the "making it transparent." My initial
response, however, was

"Leninism, with IT support" and the thought that the authors of the
Constitution were acutely aware of the human flaws (greed, ambition,
that sort of thing) that make pure democracy a lethal form of
governance. (What, after all, is more democratic than a lynch mob?)

Reading further in this discussion I come across much more nuanced and
plausible thinking. It would have been a shame if I had been put off
at the start.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #55 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Jul 05 07:13
I guess I don't get the connection, John - what part of that
description make you think of Leninism? Confidence in the people?
Distribution of power? Networked coalitions? Action via small teams? I
can't make that connection. For one thing, Leninism was very
centralized, and in the paragraph you quote we're talking about
decentralized political discussion/action.

Please say more?
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #56 of 87: Mitch Ratcliffe (mratcliffe) Mon 11 Jul 05 11:52
Hi, folks. Sorry to be so late to this discussion. I'm Jon's co-editor
and co-author on the book. I'm reading the comments and there is a lot
of good thinking and discussion going on; got to say I am a little
surprised at the Leninism reference.

The word "extreme" was selected to draw on the ideas of extreme
programming, which is a process in which small teams make rapid
iterations to a product spec and, ultimately, a product. It points to
how, in a deeply networked community, a small group of activists can
rapidly collaborate and discover support, which, I suppose, could be
confused with the "vanguard of the revolution" that Lenin so
effectively turned into a dictatorship. But the idea is that democratic
dialogue—and competition of ideas and policies—can be brought down to
the citizen rather than relegated to the representative, if you take
full advantage of the transparency in information and collaborative
power of Net applications.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #57 of 87: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 11 Jul 05 14:58
Mitch! Glad you found your way here.

I think that "transparency" is exactly the right sort of answer to the
issues I posed and maybe to what John posed.


Allegiances, presumptions, and outright exchange won't all be transparent.
Gail's concern/interest is among mine: what an interesting new land to hack.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #58 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Jul 05 19:41
You're right, Bruce, we can't have perfect transparency, but it can be
our goal. We all know that there are situations where transparency
would be counterproductive, and we sometimes have to honor that. 

However the need for some areas to be "opaque" can be a problem,
because  unethical people will use the excuse to hide bad acts. I
haven't figured out a practical solution to that problem - has anyone?
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #59 of 87: Mitch Ratcliffe (mratcliffe) Mon 11 Jul 05 21:24
The unique opportunity we have, however, is to demand more
transparency, even if it isn't perfect. We've had, during the 20th
Century at least, a strong tradition of increasing transparency through
sunshine laws. In many parts of the world, sunshine laws are on the
rise, though they've suffered in the U.S. recently. 

A great first step for practitioners of the politics we're proposing
would be pushing for more transparency at every level of government.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #60 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Jul 05 22:06
And transparency can be mediated by technology. An example: state and
federal legislatures now post bills online as they are proposed and
modified, so that citizens can theoretically track legislation pretty
close to realtime. (Though I should add that you have to know where to
find the legisation, and how to read it...)
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #61 of 87: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Tue 12 Jul 05 07:42
Good parenthetical, Jon.

Does transparency extend to sourcing in journalism? There's much fuss of
late about anonymity and its abuses in journalistic practice. ON the one
hand, transparency here would help preclude the powerful from planting info
without accountability. On the other hand, it could severely limit access to
bigger voices by the less powerful.

(Or is the thinking that as tools spread more widely, whistleblowers can go
direct to the public?)
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #62 of 87: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Tue 12 Jul 05 07:47
I doubt we want evrything transparent, public toilet walls for examples.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #63 of 87: Mitch Ratcliffe (mratcliffe) Tue 12 Jul 05 09:22
Sourcing in journalism involves confidentiality precisely to
facilitate greater transparency. There's no clean-cut binary decision
about this, rather it's a balance of competing priorities. As a
post-journalist, I think confidentiality is abused by sources on many
occasions, but also by journalists who use it to shield their own
laziness or agenda. Matthew Cooper's referring to Karl Rove as a [I'm
paraphrasing] super double-double secret background source is an
example of how poorly journalists can apply the sourcing guidelines. 

Pressing for greater transparency in public information probably ought
to be accompanied by greater transparency by activists, too.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #64 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jul 05 08:12
Just a bit of administrivia: yesterday I cleared up a glitch that had
prevented our book from showing up at online retail sites. However it's
cheaper to buy it at ( -
and it'll still be a week or more before it shows up on Amazon et al.

Back to the subject at hand:

Aldon Hynes shared an interesting Wall Street Journal link with an
email list we're both on: (this is in the free
section of the journal). The title of the David Kesmodel piece is
"Should Newspapers Sponsor Blogs Written by Reporters?" Here's an
interesting and relevant excerpt:

"Some worry, though, that newspapers put their reputations at risk by
letting reporters blog. Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and
law at the University of Minnesota, said blogs often are at odds with
the traditional role of a reporter. 'We expect in the American
tradition to maintain this role of detached observer and not
cheerleader or insider, and blogs for the most part trade on...the idea
of inside information and commentary,' she said.

"Newspapers also may be exposing themselves to legal liability with
reporter-written blogs, particularly if posts aren't screened. 'It does
create considerable additional libel risk for newspapers to have their
reporters doing blogs that are not edited,' said Michael Rothberg, a
media lawyer with Dow Lohnes & Albertson in Washington. 'Newspapers are
every bit as much responsible for these blogs legally as they are for
their regular articles.'"
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #65 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jul 05 15:07
R.U. Sirius interviewed me for his Neofiles podcast:
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #66 of 87: Thomas Armagost (silly) Wed 13 Jul 05 15:40
    <scribbled by silly Sat 7 Jul 12 17:44>
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #67 of 87: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Wed 13 Jul 05 20:00
Not to mention, the idea of a million voices, all equally load, and having to
choose among them. Daunting.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #68 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jul 05 21:08
Which reminds me of the site Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon
have put together at the Berkman Center at Harvard... Global Voices:  The site just got a
makeover with Boris Anthony's design assistance. It's an amazing site,
an aggregate of many voices from many blogs across the world. When you
see how many voices are bubbling up from the developing nations where
blogging is just getting a foothold... pretty impressive. Check out
this post, and the comments following:
"Is it a Muslim problem?" Pretty heated discussion. But what's good is
that it's a discussion across cultures. 
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #69 of 87: Thomas Armagost (silly) Thu 14 Jul 05 06:13
    <scribbled by silly Sat 7 Jul 12 17:44>
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #70 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 14 Jul 05 06:53
I went offline and wrote this post. It's long, and for that I

This has been a high-level discussion of the subjects we cover in the
book, but before we're done, we should get to the nitty gritty... the
actual technologies and how they're built. Blogs are important in this
context, but they're not everything. Along with the ascendance of the
blog came a whole social software movement that was gathering steam
around 2002. Social software is pretty much any software that supports
community or collaborative work over computer networks, i.e. the
Internet. Nancy White ( and I had a discussion
as I was putting together a presentation for an online conference
around that time, and we realized that the real strength of social
software was in combining tools, as in the "happenings" Joi Ito set up,
with Ross Mayfield's help and input, to bring a bunch of us together
online for the discussions that fed into the Emergent Democracy paper
we include in _Extreme Democracy_. The happening was multimodal:
teleconference plus IRC chat plus wiki (and later QuickTopic for a
stage of collaboration on the paper). The chat supported the call by
allowing visual cues: you could see when someone wanted to speak, and
there was a way for participants to show thumbs up or down (by using a
greencard or redcard widget, and there was a yellowcard for a ho-hum
response to an idea). The wiki was for note-taking and, later, for
collaboration on the text. The first version was Microsoft Word, and
that was added to Quicktopic which has a way for you to upload a Word
document and gather comments. Finally Joi added a version to his wiki,
more comments were added, and that's the piece that I edited for the

Social software applications included blogs, content syndication (RSS,
Atom), forums, chats, instant messaging, collaborative editing, social
network platforms like LinkedIn and Orkut, social bookmarking
(, tagging (, flickr), etc. The purpose of my
Deanspace piece in the book was to establish that project not just in
the context of the Dean campaign, but also in the context of the social
software movement, which had become very robust by then, and which
influenced Zack Rosen, Neil Drumm et al. to pull that project together.
Like many social software instigators, they were influenced by Reed's
Law, which is David Reed's insight that the utility or value of large
networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with
the size of the network. (See Reed's essay "That Sneaky Exponential -
Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building" - 

He talks about the power of group-forming networks, and you kind of
have to read and digest the whole essay to get it, but here's a
relevant quote:

"In 'real' networks, it is important to note that although the total
value of optional transactions that involve pairs and groups grows
faster than linearly, the total price that can be paid cannot grow that
fast. Typically, the consumers of the value have money and attention
resources that scale linearly with N. So the law of supply and demand
will kick in, lowering prices until the available resources (dollars
and attention) are saturated. What's interesting is that this
saturation process affects all types of optional transactions-so GFN
value, peer transaction value, and broadcast content value all compete
for the same resources. Once N grows sufficiently large, GFN
transactions create more value per unit of network investment than peer
transactions, and peer transactions create more value per unit of
network investment than do broadcast transactions. So what tends to
happen is that as networks grow, peer transactions out-compete
broadcast content in the arena of attention and return on investment.
And remarkably, once N gets sufficiently large, GFN transactions will
out-compete both of the other categories."

Consider the value for a political campaign that goes post-broadcast,
peer-to-peer. That's what Zack et al were seeing, so the idea behind
Deanspace was to create, not just a way to build web sites that publish
content, but a way to build a network of Dean supporters and establish
connections, scale up the network, realize more value as it grows.

One aspect of this that intrigues me is that you can build an
effective network that leverages connections without enforcing common
belief systems or intentions, so rather than having a "political party"
that adheres to a specific platform, you could have a looser
association of people who are generally in agreement about somethings
but may vary in agreement about others... an build ad hoc coalitions
within that space. That's what I was thinking about when I wrote "Nodal
Politics" in '97.

My pal Nathan Wilcox has created a way to do effective work through
what he and his colleagues call Civic Action Networks
small, effective teams that form to address specific issues. He
focuses on the individual teams and how they work; I think the next
step would be networking those teams to scale potential efforts.

This isn't what people are thinking about, necessarily, when they talk
about the impact of technology on politics. Generally speaking,
they're talking about money - how you can raise money more effectively
for a campaign using a suite of online tools where the approach is
still top-down, still a lot like broadcasting. Moveon's model is a good
example. The real value of Moveon is in its growing email list, and
its ability to scale that list, but they're not building a network of
adherents. They broadcast email alerts, invite people to the site to
take action, and solicit donations in the context of those
transactions. Moveon tends to do interesting things with the money, and
keep people focused on progressive issues that are important, but the
core business is growing the list and getting the donations.

Similarly, political campaigns use Internet technology to grow email
lists and solicit donations to pay campaign expenses, including
broadcast advertising. They also broadcast their message via the web,
and they use blogs for that, and for "stickiness."

There's nothing wrong with this: Moveone is important and effective,
and political campaigns are growing their understanding of the tools so
that they might also facilitate better communication with supporters
and constituents in the future.

But the political potential of social software and group-forming
networks hasn't been realized quite yet, and that's what Mitch and I
and some of the authors of the book were more interested in. _Extreme
Democracy_ is a collection of writings that emerge from a context that
is not partisan or campaign-oriented. What if we removed our
identification with one party or another, and approached issues of
policy without that particular baggage? In fact there are many people
in the U.S. who aren't well represented because they don't identify
with a political party. Maybe one effect of social technology is to
bring them into the conversations about policy and national intent.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #71 of 87: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 15 Jul 05 10:41

I'm curious as to how many readers of this topic downloaded and read 
the whole book, and how many went to specific pieces in it?  Jon, is 
there a "read this first" portion you would put in front of someone 
who might not otherwise read the book? (Is that the part you just quoted?)
Anybody else have a favorite?
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #72 of 87: Hal Royaltey (hal) Fri 15 Jul 05 12:25
We've reached the formal ending of this discussion, and I want
to thank Jon, Mitch, and Bruce for an interesting discussion of
an area of politics that can only grow in importance.

The discussion is by no means over, however.   Everyone is invited
to continue to read and post.   I hope our authors will be able to
continue checking in here and commenting.

Thanks so much to all of you.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #73 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 15 Jul 05 12:38
Thanks, Hal! I'll keep checking in.

Gail, I think you could start anywhere in the book, all the pieces are
interesting. I would probably suggest reading the three "founding
documents" first, and I also think everyone should read Steven
Johnson's analysis of the Dean campaign's rise and fall after reading
"Emergent Democracy." 

BTW I'd like to thank all the authors who contributed to the book. We
were fortunate to get work of such quality.

I should also mention that we just reposted a version of Valdis Kreb's
piece at - the online version now includes a
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #74 of 87: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Sat 16 Jul 05 13:22
I just received my printed copy from lulu this morning.
inkwell.vue.248 : Jon Lebkowsky, "Extreme Democracy"
permalink #75 of 87: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 16 Jul 05 21:20
Excellent! Hope you'll read it tonight and have comments tomorrow!


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