I was just reading Schneiers latest book “Data and Goliath” and was struck by a concept he mentioned: Commons. In the meaning of a digital commons, open and available for anyone to use; not under the control of any specific entity.
Usenet still exists but most online discussions are carried out on (corporate) entity owned websites and platforms. Entities that can and do exercise editorial control.
Anyone who has spent any time in newsgroups on Usenet know full well that it is the “wild west” out there. To the considerable chagrin of some.
A number of academic publishers have banded together to a repository for academic publications and named it (a) Digital Commons.
Not under any ones control and open to all. This satisfies some characteristics of a Common.
But going beyond publication of static documents, what is there. In a common there were many different activities possible: pasturing animals, gathering firewood and food stuffs. Perhaps a digital commons should allow for something more than making static files available to the public. Something interactive, something with some logic – i.e code.
Consider the case where the patron has the block already purchased. Perhaps long ago. Trying to find a sculptor willing to undertake the job of making something of it. Clearly the patron would like the largest sculpture possible, using as much of the expensive marble as possible. For marble, read facts. For block, read all the available information and relevant factors.
The marble block can be awkwardly shaped (and facts often are). The larger the sculpture the more or a constraint is the shape of the block. A small paper weight can be freely shaped from a block the size of a car. Any design and shape would be possible of the size if the finished item is much smaller than the starting block. The sculptor is without design constraint if he can chip away as much marble as he likes. (And virtually any position can be defended with impeccable logic if all inconvenient factors can be ignored. )
But if the assignment is for a wild animal perhaps a elephant is a better design choice than a giraffe if the block has the shape of an apple and as much of it as possible should be used. And so the design becomes more constrained.
The David was a masterpiece of making the most of very awkward block of marble – thin and long. Many artists declined to commission when they saw the block the City of Florence had bought for the purpose. Having seen a sketch of it in the Accademia that is easy to understand.
Some time ago I had occasion to read the print version of right-wing online news, debate and discussion forum. The editors had made a selection of the best articles that had appeared on the site. Having never looked at the online version I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and buy a copy of their “best in show” pieces. It wasn’t bad. The articles I read were well put together and argued. But very narrow. The authors didn’t include much of the “marble”; They had taken David-size blocks of marble and carved beautiful paperweights.
For some time it has been clear that online discussion are more laden with personal invective than those that are carried on face-to-face. The causes sited are numerous. A loss of inhibition when not facing the other person; The opportunity to be anonymous and therefore feeling free to went without consequence; Absence of non-verbal communication; More persons not-schooled in the art of the debate entering an arena where before they were excluded by editors.
These all have merit and explanatory power.
But this strand in my blog will not deal with these aspects, but rather consider them as given. Looking for a constructive way forward in the mechanics of the debate itself.
Proposing, designing and building a tool where those participating in the debate themselves execute the steps required to carry on a constructive debate and the tool helps them to do so.
I fully realize that most participants in online debated have no interest in constructive dialog. And indeed may well be incapable of it. For most participants in online discussions the primary purpose is to give them to their feelings with out a second thought, or any thought at all. A cursory examination of any commentary field on any major newspaper will confirm this. Online fora that pretend to seriousness, have been forced to employ editors to curb the worst excesses.
My ambition is that the tool to come of out this design process would make a human editor non-essential. Primarily this will be for the minority who desire to examine an issue constructively and inform themselves of aspects of it they were not already familiar with. Again, learning and trying to both deepen and broaden ones understanding is a minority pursuit. This will be a tool to aid this minority.