Gridless

I’m off the grid on Cape Cod, not responding to task requests, but still pleased to tell the world what I want from it. That’s always seemed to me an arrogant attitude but, in truth, most people like to know what you want from them: it saves a lot of time and confusion. After all, in a Web 2.0 organization like ours, it’s not like they can’t Just Say No…

I’ve been absent from this blog for 2-1/2 months, a gap that once seemed inconceivable to this narcissistic raconteur. In that time though, our team has created 5 potential blogs for me, at the following sites:

  1. iYear.US
  2. NewGov.US
  3. NewPrez.US
  4. .govAdvisers.US
  5. PeoplePressure.US

They created 5 potential blogs there for you too, since every member at those sites gets their own blogs, which include some nifty blog features that we’ve not seen elsewhere. (“nifty”= old fart for very cool)
It started when we rolled out the Independence Year Project (iYear.US) on June 23, as a major sponsor at the Personal Democracy Forum. Independence Year is the year between the last and next Independence Days, which we kicked off at a fireworks celebration at the East 43rd St. HQ on July 4th. As usual, the display was spectacular, being so close to the Macy’s fireworks barges.

[It’s always troubled me that a nation formed to support its citizens’ pursuit of happiness celebrates its birth by mimicking combat explosions. Having experienced both sides of combat firepower, I know there’s little happiness in the pursuits of a shooter or a shootee.]

The featured guests on July 4th were our partners at Zaah Technologies, Maurice Freedman and Sandy Fliderman and their friends and family. The Independence Year platform and its stunning possibilities are a celebration of the mechanisms provided by Zaah through our partnership to build a new way to transform American governance.

I hope to add to this each day from South Yarmouth, Cape Cod. If so, I’ll try to describe the many ways that the iYear platform routes around politics to implement citizen-managed governance, at every place that such a disturbance might be beneficial.

What if we formed a Party and Everyone came?

“Everyone” would be the ones Clay Shirky describes in his great book, Here Comes Everybody. We’ve already formed it, and sure enough, everybody’s coming. The next political party has already been formed, doing everything that a political party does, but with none of the overhead. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

A political party is a political organization that seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse a specific ideology and vision, but may also represent a coalition among disparate interests.

I know I belong to a pervasive Neo-Conversative party, whose members are conversing about government in a new way. I have lots of friends all over the spectrum and their appeal for me is how well we can discuss 1. how things are, 2. how they might be and 3. what we might do, specifically, to improve things. Without all three qualities, there’s no engagement for me, and I bet that’s true for you too.

The millions of supporting anecdotes aren’t enough to alarm broadcast politics’ flat-earthers, cable news and their politicians, but it’s just as obvious as a round globe was to observant coastal dwellers, watching the earth’s curve hide the hull first and the sails later.

Toilets overflowing, People going crazy, and no one’s listening!

Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry made that case last March At Politico.com, citing Clay Shirky’s point that Internet group-forming was the sole differentiator in cases just seven years apart, where people were equally outraged but unequally armed for success.

Every few years, an airline bureaucracy traps an airliner on a taxiway for several hours with the usual offenses against decency: toilets overflowing, no food or drink, missed connections, weddings, births, etc.

Two remarkably similar events, with two incredibly disparate outcomes. In Detroit [1999], the passengers’ fury led to a lawsuit but nothing larger. In Austin [2006], it led to the creation of a powerful organization that went national within days. As Shirky writes: “Why did one infuriating delay lead nowhere, while the other led to a real increase in pressure on the airlines?”

His answer: The key change was that Hanni had in her hands the tools to encourage and sustain participation. She had the desire to do something, and in 2007 she was able to communicate that desire in a way that created a public movement, using tools that have become commonplace…

…The adage that organized minorities are more powerful than disorganized majorities is now more true than ever. However, as these organized minorities multiply and grow, they are challenging the very nature of what power is and how it will be maintained in our society.

Already, we can see how presidential campaigns that embraced this new phenomenon — such as those of Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul — have been able to proceed much farther down the path to party nominations than they might otherwise have. Self-organizing groups, and networks that tie these groups into powerful coalitions, are the new players. To alter Time magazine’s formulation, the Person of the Year isn’t “you,” it’s “us.”

We’re trapped in this broken airplane called America, stuck on the unforgiving tarmac of oily geopolitics. Shirky’s best anecdote is a kind of parable. A couple of hundred million of us can be as cohesive as a couple hundred passengers trapped for hours in a fetid airplane. That’s the force that Clay describes as being impossible in 1999 and inevitable in 2006.

At Andrew and Micah’s PDF conference on 6/23, the Independence Year Foundation will announce iYear, which runs from 7/4/08 to 7/4/09. iYear is not a catalyst to what will happen over that period, but a lever arm, perhaps bionic, to help the citizen’s reach exceed politicians’ grasp.
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*Andrew and Micah are the dynamic duo who seem to be everywhere that matters in the technopolitical space:

They have doublehandedly steered the conversation about politics toward results, in the direction we’re now seeing.

Recreational Arrogance

Americans forgive the incidental arrogance that success often breeds, like end zone celebrations and players’ “we’re #1” finger waving.

But there’s an almost recreational, willful form of arrogance that I think Diane Francis has a radar for. Lately, it’s been beeping whenever Bill Clinton swings into action.

Diane Francis is an American who’s become one of the most honored voices in Canada. She’s also a dear friend and respected adviser to our Independence Year project. Here’s her ORGware About page.

I’ve been following Diane’s new series at the Huffington Post. Here’s her radar at work, in point #2 from Hillary’s Hidden Agenda:

This is really all about Bill, not Hillary.

He wants his backdoor entry to the White House. He is a pathological competitor who is more motivated the more others pass him by, from Al Gore to Bill Richardson and certainly Barack Obama. Besides that, Hillary knows that idle hands are the devil’s tools and once she is out, Bill’s wandering eye will turn elsewhere.

The Clintons are betting their farm that Obama will make a mistake or that her persistence will somehow force him to choose her and Bill as his running mates — a move that former Clinton advisor Dick Morris said would lead to upstaging and backstabbing in the White House.

As some sage pointed out, no one wants Bill Clinton hanging around the East Wing with too much time on his hands. The other problem is that the Republicans, like the Secret Service, know about the girl friends in various ports. I don’t know this myself, but I’ve heard enough to be convinced. Spots. Leopard. Think. Some say it’s a story that will make the failed TrooperGate scandal look like a mistletoe kiss on New Year’s eve.

Alpha male philandering is the oldest form of recreational arrogance. A newer instance is Hillary telling Katy Couric half a year ago that “it will be me” (2:22 in to this video). Celebrities lose most Americans when their incidental arrogance crosses the bright line of willfulness.

Diane’s writing some great stuff from her Huffington command post. But you’d expect that from the woman who wrote:

I’m an American who lived in Canada for 30 years. I never meant to stay so long, but I got busy as a journalist and wrote nine books.

I’m happy to be home, except for the politics. Too much yelling. Too much anger. Too many labels. Too many bloated open-line radio hosts and close-minded columnists and bloggers. Too many obscene campaign contributions.
Too little brainstorming. America has become Nation Republican vs. Nation Democrat. It sounds like the Superbowl, but America is not the Superbowl.

This is a society with a lot on its mind and isn’t being heard. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are not undecideds or independents or cranks or lazy. We are shoppers who want to spend our precious votes on smart, effective policies and politicians with character.

Doc on Lessig: an ORGware Concordance

Doc Searls reported on Larry Lessig’s talk at Berkman last Friday. The talk is part of the launch of Lessig’s and Joe Trippi’s initiative, Change-Congress.org.

Toward the end of his talk, Dr. Lessig pointed out that project has no board and no structure yet, prompting Doc to write a “Note to selves: a lot of what Larry wants here is what Britt Blaser and friends are working on.”

Fair enough. I’ve kept Doc informed on the Independence Year project that my partners and I have been slowly hatching: a comprehensive back-channel for governance. Our back-channel will attempt to set straight the erosion of features as our United States Operating System (USOS) lost so much usability as it devolved from Version 1.0 (1789) to V. 2.0 (2008).

The founders of the USOS implemented the following vision, with the Congress in charge and the chief executive “presiding” over the federal functions:

1789: USA, Version 1.0: The Founders’ Design

That was fine with the owners but, like so many managers who hijack the organizations they have been trusted with, things have changed a lot 22 decades later:

2008: USA, Version 2.0 – From Presider to DECIDER,
A Management Takeover

At last count, 81% of the country is longing to put things back where they were. Lessig says that, of course, change must come from the outside and, for starters, Change-Congress wants people to pressure their congresspeople to adopt four initiatives:

This is where the going always gets tricky. What specific mechanisms would compel a majority of congresscritters to do that? There’s no shortage of online outrage and cries for reform. How do we make Change-Congress.org more than simply another howl of anguished outrage? What mechanism transforms “Yes we can” to “How we can”?

What my friends and I continue to work on is a purpose-built web-based framework supporting about a thousand nodes, all communicating with each other. Yes, we’d prefer it was simpler for us, but that’s the only way to make it simple for the voters. It’s simpler for the constituents of a representative or senator to go to their own hyperlocal site than to pressure their politicians from a general site.

Here’s our plan for the oversites needed to reign in our politicians and agencies:

2009: USA, Version 3.0 – We The People, Re-Founding US Governance

“We need guns. Lots of guns.”

It’s been a pleasure witnessing Andrew Sullivan‘s progression from hardline Iraq war booster to an appalled moderate like most American patriots with a triple-digit IQ.

Who knows? Maybe he’s even embraced the doctrine that the Syracusans taught Alcibiades and George Washington taught the British: You cannot occupy a country that doesn’t want you to.

Yesterday, in From WFB to BHO, he quotes a wise reader who fondly remembers Bill Buckley from the early ’60s:

Buckley spoke like lightning to my fatigue with all the stereotyped political arguments of the era. He had the spirit of dissidence against establishment thinking, with a dash of dry sherry and topped up with cackling good humor.

So I worked for Goldwater in ’64, and then went through the intellectual crises of the ’60s with my Baby Boom friends. One thing I couldn’t do, however, was fall in line with the gung-ho, pro-Vietnam War enthusiasm of many of my fellow conservatives. I was appalled at their cavalier disregard for the costs of that war, as I am today about the Iraq misadventure.

And concludes:

I have no difficulty seeing in Barack Obama the fusion of dissident impulse and unreconstructed American civic spirit which has always fired me. Obama has Bill Buckley’s class, Barry Goldwater’s flinty individualism – and a passion for changing the way we govern ourselves in this country. Conservatives lost that passion at approximately the moment when Newt Gingrich gaveled the House to order on the first day he was speaker.

But now, with luck, and with the help of this tall skinny lawyer from Illinois with only a single congressional term to his name – a nice historical parallel — we may be on the brink of a once-in-a-century sea-change in the way we produce and distribute political power in this country.

I’m a big Obama booster, but I don’t think any President can lead a “sea-change in the way we produce and distribute political power in this country”, because of the Mutually Assured Destruction built into the system. But he might inspire US to build US 2.0 as Dave Winer and Doc Searls have been urging, an upgrade to USOS, the United States Operating System.

Governance sites. Lots of sites.


Indeed, we’re like Neo in the Matrix, needin’ lots of guns. But guns won’t help us. We need lots of by-the-people hyperlocal governance sites. We need them everywhere to aggregate and impose the locals’ interests on their representatives and senators. No one’s gonna build them for us, and there’s no f/x department to surround us with racks and racks of political firepower. So it’s up to US.

“Neo, no one’s ever done anything like this”

“That’s why it’s going to work.”

Re-Founding America

Please note CORRECTIONS # 1 & 2, below, courtesy David Weinberger.

It was a lovely week, treading water in my gene pool in Denver, and now I’m more determined than ever to save my grandchildren from ourselves.

The Miracle of Flight

Tomorrow, Tamara’s flying to Prague, then Paris, then Amsterdam. Like any of us would be, she’s focused on the mechanics of a 7-hour flight, not on the miracle of the journey.

Forty-one years ago in USAF Pilot Training, my Instructor Pilot asked me to look at our stubby little jet-fighter wings and tell me what I saw. “Don’t see a thing.” I replied. “Think about it,” said 1st Lt. Skip Vara, “That’s all that’s holding us up. Isn’t that amazing?”

As amazing as a fighter pilot finding magic in Bernoulli’s Principle.

The Miracle of Re-Founding Governance

Our little band believes that a good-enough World-Of-Ends solution can redefine US governance. Our challenge is the same as any group with this vision. We try not to get distracted about the general issues that any such project must address. Instead, let’s question our purpose and the components of our particular proposition.

Our Purpose

To tease out and aggregate the inchoate political will of the people; to focus it with enough palpable force that politicians and their stakeholders must listen with the urgency that Jeff Jarvis’ Hell inspired at Dell.

Our Proposition

A week ago, David Weinberger suggested that we not concern ourselves about the specifics of the ORGware platform, since he knows enough about it that he assumes it is reasonably conceived and sufficient to our purposes. Instead, we should focus on the means by which we gain critical mass.

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CORRECTION #1: David wrote to say that it’s not that he knows enough about ORGware to be satisfied about its sufficiency. Rather, he assumes it’s coming along fine because he trusts me. He certainly knows we’re not rushing it to market!

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We’re building a public utility: a federation of hyperlocal sites pre-configured to attract hope and outrage and action around specific issues. That should be enough to catalyze a vibrant enough conversation to grow without much nourishment from the builders. That’s a safe bet: zillions of people blog and kvetch (comment) without a purpose-built environment, and zillions more kvetch in purpose-built environments like Huffington Post and Drudge and RedStates and TPM. As they did with the Dean campaign, legions of kvetchers crosstalk using their favorite authors’ blog comments, and it serves them just as their own blog would – they reach whom they want to with a minimum of hassle. People clearly have something on their minds and need to share it.

Pun intended, we’re in the business of laying eggs. Using ORGware’s ability to spin off sites spontaneously, we provide a protective shell loaded with a temporary supply of nutrients and that’s it – we’re done. Then we cheer from the tiki bar and see who hatches and gets across the beach to safety. That’s more than the weeping tortoises did, abandoning their eggs in Mondo Cane. They really don’t care which of the collective offspring will last long enough to make a difference. Everyone wants to be heard, some want to make a difference and even fewer will. But those are enough.

Leaders emerge. People follow. Some followers become leaders. We’re building a series of promising hierarchies without the ability to lock in anyone when the hierarchy grows to apparent dominance. That’s the difference between a world of ends and a world of means.

Our hyperlocal egg varieties

Yeah. I know. This list is old news to many of us. But, let’s keep it in perspective: It’s amazing that we don’t question whether we can launch these public utilities, or whether the platform will be sufficient.

NewGov.US

A dedicated site for every congressional district and Senate seat, 435 for Congress, styled as http://newgov.us/ma4; 100 for the Senate – http://newgov.us/ma/senatea (or “senateb” – I can’t find a unique identifier for senate seats – amazing)

NewPrez.US

An independent site for supporters of every candidate for President, one of which automatically morphs into a “Master Site” for feedback to the sitting President. As we all hoped DeanForAmerica would.

.govAdvisers.US

Focused citizen oversight of every Federal agency (Defense.govAdvisers.US; FDA.govAdvisers.US, etc.).

Politicopia.com

50 state legislative sites for citizen collaboration on state lawmaking, plus a “Master Site” for citizen collaboration on Federal legislation.

CommunitiesDoneRight.com

100+ sites with the DoneRight moniker, for the 50 largest US cities, all the states and some other places. Ad-supported, with the ferment of urban living and instant social networks for every school, neighborhood association, church and treehouse.

Marketing vs. Self-organization:

  • Marketing assumes we can reach people to take actions that they otherwise would not.
  • Self-organizing assumes that people will act in ways that scratch whatever itch they’re feeling.
  • Marketing assumes we’re smarter than the people we’re persuading. When we stop, they stop.
  • Self-organizing networks require us to build obvious-to-use backscratchers.
  • When we get it right, they keep scratching, as long as they feel the itch.

SO:

  • No half-assed social network can be saved by good marketing.
  • A well-provisioned, relevant SN needs no marketing.

What’s wrong with that logic?

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CORRECTION #2: David Weinberger again: “I really don’t believe in a build it and they will comestrategy. It needs marketing, or at least programs that will build critical mass.

I should have said “A well-provisioned, relevant SN needs a lot less marketing than you’d think”.

My marketing vs. intrinsic growth opposition was over-the top, but SNs do encourage us to expect growth far in excess of the marketing budget. Take the phenomenon that David and I first bonded over, 4-1/2 years ago: the Dean campaign. Without enough money, staff or lists to mount a “real” campaign, Joe Trippi turned to the Internet. With little more than a Moveable type blog and comments turned on, the campaign was able to attract and hold attention based on Dean’s galvanizing speech to the California Democratic Convention in March, 2003. That much is well documented. It’s happened again this year with the Ron Paul campaign. David’s point here is reinforced by the presence of the free marketing given to a televised speech by a Presidential candidate.

Our viewpoints differ at the margins of sponsored social networks. SNs absolutely cannot grow without a seed crystal powerful enough to crystallize interest and commentary around it. If you have a seductive meme and truly viral mechanisms, you can reduce your marketing efforts. Also, if you attract existing organizations’ members to a site offering immediate benefits, they are likely to invite their associates, providing a multiplier effect.

A great example is the previously cited Jeff Jarvis “Dell Hell” phenomenon. A loosely-coupled social network formed around Jeff’s story and took it from there. But Jeff’s blog is called “Buzz Machine” for good reasons: He generates more marketing before lunch than most of us do all week.

Key Point: For many issues-based networks, there are Jeff Jarvises out there ready to spring into action. If you can awaken them, they can provide most of the marketing you need. So those first-tier infectious vectors can count as part of your marketing effort.

To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, “The audience markets better than I can.”

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Issues and Viewpoints

Issues and viewpoints fuel social networks. The organizer of an ORGware site, or of a group (there is no difference) must assign at least one issue to her new site. If it’s an issue not listed before, it’s added to the tag list. For what it’s worth, it also creates a new public group for anyone to kvetch broadly, separately from the organizer’s more focused group. Tag lists are in order of popularity, to encourage people to gather around the most-used tags.

Aside from its logo, color scheme and “About Us” pages, the only characteristics that make a group what it is are its issues and how well the core members speak about them. We can’t control the speaking, though we can seed it. The Eureka! of the blogosphere is that there are smart, talented writers everywhere and they sprout like mushrooms whenever they discover a place they can make a difference.

Strategic Question

Are there enough compelling voices, in enough cities and states and congressional districts, to demonstrate that a federation of such sites – this public utility – is a viable back-channel for governance? Since nothing is certain, let’s appreciate a probability as stunning as Bernoulli’s Principle:

Our odds of re-founding America are better than the Founding Fathers’

Tactical Questions for Ten Refounders

Our little band is seeking ten Refounders: leaders to act as the Board for the Public Utility that we might call the ORGware Federation of sites. This is like starting a water district in a new town. Leaders of the town pay a lawyer to write and file the magic words to create the district. They serve as the Board of Directors of the non-profit utility. They encumber their property with new taxes to pay for the water district. They do all this in order to provide clean water and to improve the value of their property and businesses. There is no conflict in their non-profit and for-profit roles.

Our challenge to our Ten Refounders:

Please invest significantly in this utility, but not as much as each of us has.
Please lead opinion and sentiment in your world to assure the utility’s success.
Please help us do the right things.

Our ten Refounders will be the leaders who answer yes to:

Are the ORGware public utilities as likely to succeed as the Declaration of Independence?
Is your investment and busy schedule as exposed and precious as the Founders necks?

Operational Question

What’s the best way to spend the ten Refounders’ investment to make all this happen? Continue reading “Re-Founding America”