Emergent Democracy

By Joichi Ito

Version 1.1 February 18, 2003


The proponents of the Internet have promised and hoped that the Internet would become more intelligent, enable a direct democracy and help rectify the injustices and inequalities of the world. Instead, the Internet today is a noisy place with a great deal of power consolidation instead of the flat democratic Internet many envisioned.

In 1993 Howard Rheingold wrote[1],

We temporarily have access to a tool that could bring conviviality and understanding into our lives and might help revitalize the public sphere. The same tool, improperly controlled and wielded, could become an instrument of tyranny. The vision of a citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network is a version of technological utopianism that could be called the vision of "the electronic agora." In the original democracy, Athens, the agora was the marketplace, and more--it was where citizens met to talk, gossip, argue, size each other up, find the weak spots in political ideas by debating about them. But another kind of vision could apply to the use of the Net in the wrong ways, a shadow vision of a less utopian kind of place--the Panopticon.

Since then he has been criticized as being naive about his views.[2] This is because the tools and protocols of the Internet have not yet developed the necessary features to allow emergence to create a higher-level order. These tools are being developed and we are on the verge of an awakening of the Internet. This awakening will facilitate the anticipated political model enabled by technology to support some of the basic attributes of democracy, which have eroded as power has become concentrated within corporations and governments. It is possible that new technologies may enable a higher-level order through emergent properties, which will enable a form of emergent direct democracy capable of managing complex issues more effectively than the current form of representative democracy.


In the dictionary definition, democracy "is government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system."  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."[3]

Although Rome was a based on the notion of democracy, it was run as a republic because direct democracies do not scale. It was physically very difficult for people to travel to Rome and participate directly in democracy. The United States is also a representative democracy.

A democracy is ideally to be governed by the majority and protects the rights of the minority. For a democracy to perform this properly it must support a competition of ideas, which requires critical debate, freedom of speech and the ability to criticize power without fear of retribution. If it is a representative democracy, the power must be distributed into multiple points of authority to enable checks and balances.

Competition of ideas

A competition of ideas is essential for a democracy to embrace the diversity of its citizens and protect the rights of the minority, while allowing the consensus of the majority to rule. The process of the competition of ideas has evolved with the advancement of technology.

The printing press made it possible to provide more information to the masses and eventually provided the people a voice through journalism and the press, which have more and more been replaced by mass media operated by large corporations. This has created less diversity and internalized much of the competition of ideas.

Critical debate and freedom of speech

The competition of ideas requires critical debate that is widely heard. Although we have many tools for managing such debate, increasingly there are barriers to our engaging in it at all.

The commons[4]

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. (Thomas Jefferson)

As the notion of intellectual property continues to grow in scope, more and more of what was one part of common knowledge is becoming the property of corporations. As the infrastructure for communication becomes more tuned to the protection of property than the free spreading of ideas, the capacity for critical debate will be severely constrained.

Even though ideas are not subject to copyright, increasingly draconian copyright protection legislation is beginning to have the effect of limiting the scope and meaning of free use and even the flow of innovation thereby having the same effect as if ideas were property owned and controlled by corporations. It includes the code inside of the computers and networks, which controls the transmission or reproduction of information. It includes the spectrum allocation, determining whether it is shared by individuals or allocated to large corporations broadcasting protected intellectual property.[5]


In addition to the legal and technical ability to speak and engage in critical debate, citizens must be allowed to speak without fear of retribution. In the increasingly sophisticated world of databases and systematic profiling of individuals, the protection of those citizens willing to question power and speak up must be protected. The powerful are increasingly able to threaten the weak, and this power must be countered by an increase in the protection of whistleblowers and dissidents through enabling people to manage their identities, which are more and more defined by the profiles created by electronically collected information.

It is essential to understand the difference between privacy and transparency. When the powerful collect information to control the weak and hide behind secrecy, this is an invasion of privacy and is the basis of a surveillance-based method of security.

In one of the earliest critiques of the ID card proposal (January 1986) Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, now dean of law at Queensland University, observed: One of the fundamental contrasts between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government [or other totalitarian organization] relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas in the civic culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse.[6]  (Simon Davies)

Steve Mann presents the notion of sousveillance[7] as a method for the public to monitor the establishment and provide a new level of transparency. This has been the role of the press, but with the strong positive feedback oriented mass media, the media has tended to focus on less relevant issues which get an inordinate amount of attention such as the case of Gennifer Flowers claiming that she had had an affair with President Clinton.

Weblogs and other forms of filtering coupled with many of the capture and transmission technologies discussed by Steve Mann may provide a better method of capturing and filtering relevant information while suppressing irrelevant information where the privacy damage exceeds the value to the public.

An example of weblogs exceeding the ability of the mass media to identify relevant information is the case of Trent Lott. The national media covered briefly his racist comments during Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. After the national media had lost interest, the weblogs continued to find evidence of Lott's hateful past until the mass media once again took notice and covered the issue in more depth.[8]

Representative democracy versus direct democracy

Direct democracy - the government of the public by itself - has always been said to be impossible on a large scale because of the technical difficulty of such direct governance and the fact that the complexities of involved in running a large state requires a much deeper understanding of the issues, specialization, and a division of labor. Representative democracy, wherein elected representatives of the people are chosen through a voting mechanism, is considered by most to be the only possible way to manage a large democracy.

As the voting mechanism becomes more organized and the difficulty of participating in the critical debate increases, we find that elected representatives are representing the people who have the power to influence the voting mechanism and the public debate. These groups of people are often minorities who have more financial influence or the ability to mobilize a large number of motivated people through religious or ideological means. Many democracies are dominated by the extremists and corporate interests, and the silent majority have very little input in the selection of representatives or the critical debate.[9]

A variety of groups have been successful in polling the silent majority and amplifying its opinions to provide support for moderate politicians on policy issues. One such group - Peaceworks - operates in Israel and Palestine through polling by telephone and the Internet, the average citizens who are in favor of peace and amplifying their opinions by then publishing the results in reports and the mass media. This method of bypassing the traditional methods of influencing representatives is a form of direct democracy, which is becoming increasingly popular and important as technology makes such activity easier.

Polling, as a form of direct democracy is very effective for issues, which are relatively simple and about which the silent majority have an opinion that is under-represented. For more complex issues, such direct democracy is criticized as populist and irresponsible.

What is difficult is ability for the silent majority to engage in a debate and understand and develop complex ideas without any one citizen needing to have control or an understanding of the entire system. This is the essence of an emergence, and it is the way that ant colonies are able to "think" and our DNA is able to build the complex bodies that we have. If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed emergent understanding and management of complex problems in the same way that ant colonies solve complex issues, direct democracy would be not only be feasible, but superior to our current representative governments, which are unable to control or understand many of the complexities of the world today.

In complex systems the role of the leader is no longer about determining the direction and controlling the followers, but about maintaining integrity, representing the will of the followers and influencing and communicating with peers and leaders above.[10] The leader becomes more of a custodian of the process than a power figure, and is often the catalyst or manager of a critical debate or the representative of a group engaged in one.[11] The leader is often the messenger delivering the consensus of a community to another layer or another group. Indeed, some leaders in a representative democracy exhibit these properties. Information technology will enable leaders to be chosen more quickly and on an ad hoc basis as leadership becomes necessary to manage the development of an opinion or an idea about a complex issue and represent that position in a larger debate.


In the study of complex systems, the idea of emergence is used to indicate the arising of patterns, structures, or properties that do not seem adequately explained by referring only to the system's pre-existing components and their interaction. Emergence becomes of increasing importance as an explanatory construct when the system is characterized by the following features:

á      When the organization of the system, i.e., its global order, appears to be more salient and of a different kind than the components alone;

á      When the components can be replaced without an accompanying decommissioning of the whole system;

á      When the new global patterns or properties are radically novel with respect to the pre-existing components; thus, the emergent patterns seem to be unpredictable and nondeducible from the components as well as irreducible to those components.


In the book Emergence, Steven Johnson writes about harvester ant colonies, which exhibit an amazing ability to solve very difficult problems including geometry problems. The following exchange is from an interview with Deborah Gordon who studies ants.

"She says, 'Look at what actually happened here: they've built the cemetery at exactly the point that's furthest away from the colony. And the midden is even more interesting: they've put it at precisely the point that maximizes its distance from both the colony and the cemetery. It's like there's a rule they're following: put the dead ants as far away as possible, and put the midden as far away as possible without putting it near the dead ants.'"

Johnson explains that there is no ant in charge. The ants' solving of such problems is emergent behavior that comes from their following very simple rules and having several ways to interact with their immediate surroundings and neighbors.

The human fetus develops into a higher level of order through this principle of following a set of rules and interacting with its immediate neighbors. When the first cell divides into two, one half becomes the head side and the other the tail. The next time it divides, the quarters determine whether they are to be the head or the tail, and they become the head of the head, or the tail of the head, and so on. This division and specialization continues until in very short order, the cells have created a complex human body. The liver cells know to turn into liver cells by sensing that their neighbors are also liver cells and reading the DNA code to understand exactly what it is supposed to do. There is no omniscient control, but just a huge number of independent cells following rules and communicating with and sensing the state of its neighbors.[13]

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that urban planning in America has tended to fail when top-down plans to change the nature of neighborhoods have been implemented. Most large projects to increase the quality of ghetto areas by building large apartment projects have not succeeded in their aim. Conversely, neighborhoods which have been able to thrive usually do so in much more of an emergent way. She argues that the interaction between the people on the sidewalks and streets creates a street culture and intelligence which is much more suitable for managing neighborhoods in cities than central control, and that instead of bulldozing problems in the city, planners should study neighborhoods which work and try to mimic the conditions that produce the positive emergent behavior.[14]

Weblogs and emergence

In Emergence, Johnson says,

The technologies behind the Internet--everything from micro-processors in each Web server to the open-ended protocols that govern the data itself--have been brilliantly engineered to handle dramatic increases in scale, but they are indifferent, if not down-right hostile, to the task of creating higher-level order. There is, of course a neurological equivalent of the Web's ratio of growth to order, but it's nothing you'd want to emulate. It's called a brain tumor.

Emergence was written in 2001. A change has taken place on the Internet since 2000. Weblogs, a sort of online diary, which has been around for almost as long as the World Wide Web, have begun to grow in number and influence. These weblogs are beginning to exhibit an ability to manage a variety of tasks, which appears to be a form of emergent behavior because of changes in the way weblogs are managed.

Johnson's explanation for the inability of web pages to self-organize is,

Self-organizing systems use feedback to bootstrap themselves into a more orderly structure. And given the Web's feedback-intolerant, one-way linking, there's no way for the network to learn as it grows, which is why it's now so dependent on search engines to reign in its natural chaos."

He also describes how, in the example of the ants that the simple, local, random and high number of interactions of the ants helped them exhibit emergent behavior.

Weblogs are different from traditional web pages written by hand in several ways. Weblogs involve the use of content management tools, which make it much easier to add entries, increasing the frequency of the posts. The posts are generally small items of a variety of types of information - e.g. text, photographs, audio, and video referred to as micro-content.[15] Weblog culture encourages bloggers (people who run weblogs) to comment on entries in other weblogs and link to the source. Several systems have protocols, which also cause a link from the source automatically to create a link to the new entry. Weblogs generate XML[16] files in addition to the html based on a standard protocol called RSS[17], which allows computers to receive updates to weblogs through special clients - such as Radio Userland[18], Feedreader[19] for Windows and NetNewsWire[20] for the Macintosh - that constantly scan the users' favorite weblogs for new posts.

When new entries are posted to a weblog, they send notification to services such as weblogs.com[21] created by David Winer, which keep track of updates. A variety of services have developed which create meta-information about weblogs which use these update services to track changes. These new information sites includes sites such as Blogdex[22], which scans weblogs for quoted articles and ranks them according to the number of weblog references. Technorati[23] tracks weblogs linking to other weblogs and ranks weblogs by how many other weblogs link to them.

In addition to linking to articles between weblogs, bloggers link to each other in what are called blogrolls. Blogrolls are lists of the favorite weblogs of the blogger. Services such as bloggrolling.com[24] help bloggers manage their blogrolls and see who is blogrolling them. Services such as blogstreet[25] provide a method of viewing the "neighborhood" of a blogger by following the links and doing an analysis of the links from those links.

The Power Law


Clay Shirky argues that weblogs are exhibiting a sort of order now because the community is still small, and that as the community increases in size, the order that is being exhibited will fragment, as it did for such online communities in the past as Usenet news groups, mailing lists and bulletin boards. In his paper, "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality,"[27] he shows that an analysis of inbound links for weblogs shows a standard power law distribution. The power law distribution is a distribution where the value of any unit is 1/n of its ranking. The second place weblog has 1/2 of the inbound links of the top ranking weblog, the third place weblog having 1/3 of the inbound links and so on.

This power law distribution can be counter-intuitive. At the beginning of the World Wide Web, people hoped that ease of setting up a web page would dramatically increase the number of people publishing their thoughts, and that this would lead to diversity and a decentralized system. What happened instead was that portals and search engines ended up with much of the traffic and an attention economy[28] was created, one in which the scarce resource was attention. Attention translated into traffic to a site. People go to portals first to help them find what they are looking for. Then, they go to the mega commerce and news sites, which provide high quality information and products. Very few people end up on the smaller sites. This attention economy created a value in traffic, which is purchased from more popular sites in the form of banner advertisements and links. This business is the primary form of income for most search engines and portal sites today.

Shirky argues that the top ranking weblogs will eventually become mass media and the weblogs on the tail end of the curve will have difficulty gaining any attention and will look more like local conversations with friends. He explains that it will continue to get harder to displace the high-ranking sites, and his power law distribution data of weblogs supports his claims.

Many bloggers reacted negatively to Shirky's analysis. Despite the power law in the portal space, many of the high-ranking sites were not well known. I argued that there were many local maximums and that a two dimensional power law analysis did not capture the more interesting aspects of the weblogs.[29]

Mayfield's Ecosystem


Ross Mayfield proposed another way to understand the political economy of weblogs. Mayfield points out that not all links have equal value. He explains that there are three different types of networks developing among weblogs.

The first one, the political network, follows the power law and is similar to a representative democracy where weblogs receive links from thousands of other weblogs, and these links represent something akin to voting. The weblogs, which are on the top of this power curve, have a great deal of influence.

The second network is the social network. The social networks are the traditional weblog form. The Law of 150 is a theory that people can maintain an average of 150 personal relationships. The Law of 150 is a bell shaped distribution where some weblogs receive more attention than others, but the distribution represents quite fairly the quality of the weblogs.

The third network is the creative network. The creative network is a flat network of a production-oriented network of close associates with deep trust and dense inter-linking. It is said that 12 people is the optimum number of people for holding a dinner conversation or a tight team.

The Strength of Weak Ties

In "The Strength of Weak Ties" Mark Granovetter [31] describes the value of weak ties in networks. Strong ties are tight ties inside of small groups such as families or academic departments. Weak ties are ties between people, which link these small communities. Granovetter does a study of job hunting and shows that people are more likely to find jobs through their weak ties than their strong ties.

The strength of weak ties is illustrated in the Milgram famous six degrees of separation experiment.

In 1967, Milgram, a Harvard Social Psychologist, sent approximately 300 letters to randomly selected people in Omaha, Nebraska with the instruction to get the letter to a single "target" person in Boston using only personal contacts.

Milgram gave each "sender" the name, location, and occupation of the target. If the sender did not know the target, which was likely, they could send the letter to someone who they thought would be "closer" to the target. This started a chain of senders sending the letters to friends and associates who they thought would move the letter closer to the target.

60 letters reached their targets and the average number of senders to reach the target was six.

Six degrees of separation shows how powerful weak ties are and how the numerous strong tie communities are connected together with a relatively small number of weak ties.

It is the ability of weblogs to operate at all three of Mayfield's clusters that make them so powerful. A single weblog and even a single entry in a weblog can have an operational purpose, a social purpose and an impact on the political network.

Many bloggers begin their weblogs to communicate with their strong tie peers. They will mostly link to and communicate within their small group. At some point they will discover some piece of information or point of view which resonates with the next level, the social level. Their social acquaintances will pick up those entries that they find may be interesting to others in their social network. In this way, a small group focusing on a very local area can occasionally provide input that triggers a weak tie connection carrying the piece of information to the next level. If the piece of information resonates with increasingly more weblogs, the attention to the source will quickly increase, since the information will travel with a link back to the source and the source will be able to continue to participate in the conversation, since it will be aware of all of the links to the piece of information.

In this way, the positive feedback system of weblogs is able to identify information important at the political level by passing information across the weak ties.

Noise in the system is suppressed, and signal amplified. Primarily the 12 peers read the operational chatter at Mayfield's creative network layer. The social network layer scans the weblogs of their 150 friends and passes the significant information up to the political networks. The political networks have a variety of local maxima and which represent yet another layer. Because of the six degrees phenomenon, it requires very few links before a globally significant item has made it to the top of the power curve.

An interesting example of the local maxima is the network of pro-war weblogs conducting a cross-weblog debate with the anti-war weblogs. Each local maximum represents the aggregate of a network of weblogs of each opinion finally linking to each other at the maximums in a heated cross-weblog debate with relatively low noise and a high quality critical debate.[32]

The brain and excitatory networks

Peter Kaminski makes the following observation.

For a couple years now, I've been working on the hypothesis that the process that governs the way our brains think, described by William Calvin as the "emergent properties of recurrent excitatory networks in the superficial layers of cerebral cortex," scales up in self-similar fashion to the way people work together in groups, and groups of groups -- an ultimately, up to direct democracy.[33]

Calvin's theory is that the cerebral cortex is made up of columns of neurons, which are tightly interlinked. These columns resonate to certain types of input. When they get excited, they excite neighboring columns. If the neighboring columns also resonate to the same pattern, they also excite their neighbors. In this way, the surface of the cerebral cortex acts as a voting space, each column of neurons being excited by a variety of different patterns (ideas) choosing to resonate with a certain one and then exciting their neighbors. When a significant number of the columns begin to resonate to the same pattern, the thought becomes an understanding. There are inputs into various columns from the sensory organs and output to other organs which act based on the understanding.

Calvin's model of how we think shows that the brain uses emergence and the strength of weak ties and a neighbor excitation model for resolving thoughts. The structure of the brain is very similar to Mayfield's ecosystem. One of the keys is that the columns only excite their neighbors. This self-limiting factor is also one of the factors that Johnson describes in creating the emergent behavior of ants. Weblogs are also limited by the ability of individuals to read only a limited number of weblog entries per day and the tendency to read not primarily the weblogs with a high political ranking but the creative and social weblogs of interest. This dampening feedback is essential in maintaining the volume of interaction in the important zone of maximum emergence between completely random noise and completely useless order.


Another very important aspect of understanding the relationship between the components of the network and the nature of emergent behavior in human networks is the issue of trust.

Francis Fukuyama in his book Trust, says that it was the nations that were able to create a layer of trust larger than the family unit and smaller than the nation, which were able to build large and scalable organizations. In Germany, it was the guilds, in Japan it was the iyemoto (feudal families which allowed new members) and in the US it was a variety of religious groups.

Toshio Yamagishi[34] distinguishes between assurance and trust.[35] Yamagishi argues that in a closed society, people do not trust each other's trust-worthiness, but rather are assured that people will behave because of the inability for the individual to escape from the community and the fear of punishment. In open communities where people are free to come and go, trust and trust-worthiness are essential in creating collaborative organizations. Yamagishi provides data showing that closed societies such as Japan have a lower percentage of people who trust others than open societies such as the United States where trust between individuals is necessary.

Yamagishi has conducted an experiment using an electronic market where participants buy and sell items from each other and the participants are able to lie about the quality of the items that they sell. In the closed market scenario where participants' reputation were tracked and they were unable to change their identities, the quality of the transactions were naturally high. In a completely anonymous system, the quality was low. When participants were allowed to change their identities and only negative reputation was tracked, the quality started high but diminished over time. When the participants were allowed to change their identities and only positive reputation was tracked, the quality started low but increased over time and approached the quality of transactions in the closed network.[36]

As networks become more open and complex, the closed networks which rely on the ability to punish members and the ability to exclude unknown participants becomes extremely limiting. The dynamic open networks, which rely on the ability for members to trust each other and identify trust-worthiness through positive reputation management, are scalable and flexible. Links between weblogs, the ability to view the history of individuals through their weblogs and the persistence of the entries enhances greatly the ability to track positive reputation. Another factor in maintaining a high level of trust is to create an ethics of trust-worthiness. Trust-worthiness comes from self-esteem, which involves motivation through trusting oneself rather than motivation through fear and shame.[37]

The toolmakers

After the Internet bubble a great number of talented programmers and architects were no longer focused on building components for large projects, which were often doomed by the basic top-down nature of hastily built business plans concerned more with investor appeal than anything else. These talented programmers and architects are now more focused on smaller projects to build the tools and design the architecture for themselves instead of imagined customers in imagined markets for investors imagining valuations and exits. These toolmakers are using the tools to communicate, discuss and design the infrastructure. They are sharing information, setting standards, and collaborating on compatibility. The community of toolmakers for weblogs and associated technology is a vibrant community, similar to the Internet Engineering Task Force during the early days of the Internet, when independent programmers were first allowed to write networking software and enter the domain previously controlled by the large hardware companies and telecommunications firms. The weblog developer community is developing tools for itself, but is beginning to have a significant impact on mass media, politics, old-school business networking, and Hollywood studios, and gives hope that we may discover a way to scale the weblog network in a way that will allow bloggers to play an increasingly important role in society.

Where are we today?

It was announced today that Google[38], one of the most popular search engines, was to acquire the most popular weblog engine, Blogger[39]. There are several million weblogs on the Internet. However, the tools are still difficult to use for many people and most people still do not know about weblogs. Weblogs are still primarily an American phenomenon, although the trend is growing rapidly in other countries.

Every day new tools, features and styles of weblogging are invented, announced and discussed. A variety of new developments are on the horizon.

One of the aspects of weblogging that has increased their value over traditional web pages is the frequency and speed of the discussion. Recently, we have begun to organize "Happenings"[40] which involve a live voice conference, a chat room for parallel conversation and moderating the voice conference and a Wiki[41] (A Wiki is a tool that provides an ability for a number of people to create and edit common web pages very easily.) to provide a space to collaborate. Weblogs by nature are approximately as fast as email, but instant messenger, chat and voice provide another faster and more personal level of communication as the speed of an issue increases to "escape velocity."

With more wireless mobile devices, mobile weblogging, or "moblogging"[42] is beginning to increase in popularity. People are posting photos and text from mobile phones and other mobile devices. As location information becomes available to the mobile devices, moblogging will be a way to annotate the real world, allowing people to leave information in locations or search for information about specific locations. Although moblogging has privacy issues, its ability to contribute to Steve Mann's vision of sousveillance is significant.

All of these new developments are components, which are being tied together with open standards and a community of active architects and programmers. A dialog, tools and a process to manage this dialog are emerging.

This paper was written using this process. A variety of people where engaged in conversations on weblogs about democracy, weblog tools, critical debate, the war, privacy and other issues discussed in the paper. As these ideas began to link to each other across the weblogs, a group of people resonated with the idea of emergent democracy. I asked people to join me in a telephone call and we had an initial voice conference call of about twelve people where we identified some of the primary issues. Ross Mayfield called it a "happening."

We scheduled another call, which included 20 people and many of the people from the first call provided tools to support the happening, including a Wiki, a trackback weblog[43], which tracked entries in different weblogs about emergent democracy, a chat, and a free conference call bridge[44]. The second happening was able to move the discussion to the next level of order where I was able to organize some of the thoughts into the first draft of this paper.

I posted the draft of this paper on my weblog[45] and received a great number of comments and corrections, which sparked another email dialog about related topics. Much of this feedback has been integrated into this version of the paper, which is my version of a dialog that a community of us are having on the Internet and could not have been written without this community or the tools.[46]


The world needs emergent democracy more than ever. The issues are too complex for representative governments to understand. Representatives of sovereign nations negotiating with each other in global dialog are also very limited in their ability to solve global issues. The monolithic media and their increasingly simplistic representation of the world can not provide the competition of ideas necessary to reach consensus. Emergent democracy has the potential to solve many of the problems we face in the exceedingly complex world at both the national and global scale. The community of toolmakers will build the tools necessary for an emergent democracy if the people support the effort and resist those who try to stifle this effort and destroy the commons.

We must make spectrum open and available to the people, resist increasing control of intellectual property, and resist the implementation of architectures that are not inclusive and open. We must encourage everyone to think for themselves, question authority and participate actively in the emerging weblog culture as a builder, a writer, a voter and a human being with a point of view, active in their local community and concerned about the world.

[1] Rheingold, Howard. (1993) Virtual Community. Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/

[2] Rheingold, Howard. (2001) MIT Press. 2001 Edition of The Virtual Community. Chapter 11, "Rethinking Virtual Communities," pp 323-

[3] The United States Department of State. What is Democracy? - Defining Democracy. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm

[4] Lessig, Lawrence. (2002). The Future of Ideas. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/future/

[5] For more information see: Frankston, Reed, and Friends. The Intellectual Property Meme. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.satn.org/archive/2003_01_26_archive.html - 90254497

[6] Davis, Simon. http://wearcam.org/envirotech/simon_davies_opposition_to_id_card_schemes.htm

[7] Mann, Steve. "Sousveillance, not just surveillance, in response to terrorism". Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://www.chairetmetal.com/cm06/mann-complet.htm

Shachtman, Noah. "Blogs Make the Headlines". Wired News. Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,56978,00.html

[9] Ito, Joichi. (2002). Rebuilding Modern Politics: Can the System Fix Itself? Joi Ito's Web. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://joi.ito.com/archives/2002/09/23/rebuilding_modern_politics_can_the_system_fix_itself.html

[10] Hock, Dee. (1999). Leader-Follower. Future Positive. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://futurepositive.synearth.net/stories/storyReader$173

[11] Ito, Joichi. (2003). Leadership in an emergent democracy. Joi Ito's Web. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/02/16/leadership_in_an_emergent_democracy.html

[12] Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence. Emergence.org. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://emergence.org/Emergence/Whyemergence.html

[13] Johnson, Steven. (2001). Scribner.  Emergence.

[14] Jacobs, Jane. (1961). Random House, Inc. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

[15] Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://www.smallpieces.com/

[16] "Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a simple, very flexible text format derived from SGML ( ISO 8879 ). Originally designed to meet the challenges of large-scale electronic publishing, XML is also playing an increasingly important role in the exchange of a wide variety of data on the Web and elsewhere." Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.w3.org/XML/ - intro

[17] "RSS is a Web content syndication format. Its name is an acronym for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is dialect of XML. All RSS files must conform to the XML 1.0 specification, as published on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) website. At the top level, a RSS document is a <rss> element, with a mandatory attribute called version that specifies the version of RSS that the document conforms to." Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://backend.userland.com/rss

[18] Radio Userland is a full weblog package including an RSS news aggregator. http://radio.userland.com/

[19] http://www.feedreader.com/

[20] http://ranchero.com/software/netnewswire/

[21] http://www.weblogs.com/

[22] http://blogdex.media.mit.edu/

[23] http://www.technorati.com/

[24] http://www.blogrolling.com/

[25] http://www.blogstreet.com/

[26] "433 weblogs arranged in rank order by number of inbound links. The data is drawn from N.Z Bear's 2002 work on the blogosphere ecosystem. The current version of this project can now be found at http://www.myelin.co.nz/ecosystem/". Shirky, Clay. (2003). Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Clay Shirky's Writings About the Intenet. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html

[27] Shirky, Clay. (2003). Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Clay Shirky's Writings About the Intenet. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html

[28] Goldhaber, Michael. (1997) "The Attention Economy and the Net". First Monday. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue2_4/goldhaber/

[29] Ito, Joichi. (2003). Are 2D power law graphs the way to look at weblogs? Joi Ito's Web. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/02/10/are_2d_power_law_graphs_the_way_to_look_at_weblogs.html

[30] Mayfield, Ross. (2003) "An Ecosystem of Networks". Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://radio.weblogs.com/0114726/2003/02/12.html

[31] Granovetter, Mark. (1973). "The Strength of Weak Ties." American Journal of Sociology, 78 (May): 1360-1380

[32] http://www.nowarblog.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi?__mode=view&entry_id=703

[33] Kaminski, Peter. (2003) Self-similar Scaling and Properties of Recurrent Excitatory Networks. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://www.istori.com/log/archives/00000237.html

[34] http://lynx.let.hokudai.ac.jp/members/yamagishi/english.htm

[35] Yamagishi, Toshio. (1999) Tokyo: Chuo Koron Shinsha. From assurance based society to trust based society: Where is the Japanese system heading? (In Japanese)

[36] Yamagishi, Toshio and Matsuda, Masafumi. (2002) "Improving the Lemons Market with a Reputation System: An Experimental Study of Internet Auctioning". Retrieved February 18, 2003, from http://joi.ito.com/archives/papers/Yamagishi_ASQ1.pdf

[37] Vasconcellos, John. University of California Press. The Social Importance of Self-Esteem.

[38] http://www.google.com/

[39] http://www.blogger.com/

[40] http://radio.weblogs.com/0114726/2003/02/15.html - a291

[41] See PortlandPatternRepository for an example of a Wiki. Retrieved February 16, 2003, from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki

[42] http://radio.weblogs.com/0114939/outlines/moblog.html

[43] http://topicexchange.com/t/emergent_democracy/

[44] http://www.freeconference.com/Home.asp

[45] http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/02/16/emergent_democracy_paper_draft.html

[46] Special thanks to all of the people who participated in the happening, sent me suggests and commented on my weblog regarding this paper. These people include: Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield, Pete Kaminski, Gen Kanai, Liz Lawley, SŽbastien Paquet, Flemming Funch, Adina Levin, Edward Vielmetti, Greg Elin, Stuart Henshall, Jon Lebkowsky, Florian Brody, Mitch Ratcliffe, Kevin Marks, George Por, Dan Gillmor, Allan Karl Weblog, Rich Persaud , George Dafermos, Steve Mann, Karl-Friedrich Lenz , Toph, Chris Case and Howard Rheingold. Please let me know if I've missed anyone.