I've been thinking about online democracy a lot since my post the other day. Some of it's pretty exciting.
Mostly I'm just overwhelmed at how big the conversation is. I'm seeing new stuff everywhere I look. I think these next few months, the closing months of the failed New Labour project when no-one really wants Cameron to be Prime Minister, are going to be key for the conversation about democratic reform. I don't think there's time for anything to happen now but the energy is now, before the change happens, when everyone's excited by the possibilities. After the Tories get in I expect the fire will go out of the talk for a bit, but then we have the next four years to actually make something happen.
Anyway, so I've talked about Open Up, and linked a couple of the huge number of blog posts in the wake of the success of the Trafigura/Jan Moir temporary collectives. Seriously, these articles are everywhere. Here's another one. This isn't new, of course: people have been talking about reforming democracy online since Usenet, and I still think of MySociety as the pioneers in using online technologies to improve the quality of our democracy.
But recently ... I dunno, maybe I've just been getting more involved, but it feels like in the last twelve months it's really been gaining momentum. Our Kingdom has an ongoing conversation about democratic reform, and Guy Aitchison, the dude who runs it, is also heavily involved with the Power 2010 campaign.
Then there's 38 Degrees, and Louder, The Downing Street Project ... and that's just in the UK: worldwide it seems that new social innovation campaigns like The Girl Effect and the World Appreciative Enquiry Conference are springing up all over the place. Then there's thinktanks like IPPR which seem to overlap a surprising amount with the grassroots movements. It's inspiring and hopeful - so many people agreeing things need to change, and pouring so much ideas and energy and time into working towards that! - but also chaotic and dizzying. There's just so much of it! To what extent are all these different groups even aware of each other? Are they duplicating each other's work, are they all trying to reinvent the wheel? If none of this has any effect on the current system, is it so much shouting to the void? Are the messages reaching the people who need to hear them, or is it just a big echo chamber? With so many diverse groups, all with their own agenda, won't they just drown each other out? Do we need to get together and find points of commonality? Is that even possible?
Probably not, but today I've been thinking not about campaigns but about the tools they use. Yesterday I was utterly thrilled to read The Future of Politics is Mutual, which is by an awesome person I hadn't heard of before, called Hannah Nicklin. It's on the differences between the traditional press and online media, narrative vs information and the information economy, and the concept of wikipolitics.
( What is Wikipolitics? )
I don't think we've come close to hitting on the answer on it yet. I don't think a wikipolitics project as described would be likely to have wings: it would probably just turn into a community of hypergeeks bickering over details. I think Wave has the potential to be useful in the longterm but it's not ready yet, and neither is society.
There are a couple of "unconferences" on this stuff happening this week: Open 09 and £1.40. I can't get to either, but I'll be interested in hearing if the discussions went anywhere useful.
I don't know how to harness the energy of this conversation into action. I don't know how to get the disparate online groups to work together. But I think there's something in this, I really do.
I think the only way to fix our current broken democracy is to decentralise it to some extent. I think the internet not only offers strong models for governance in the form of open source ethics and the open source community, but also a unique opportunity for discourse, collaboration and development.
Anyway. This is me brainstorming. Feel free to join in.