Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

From left to right: John Vasconcellos, Brian Murphy, Mitch Saunders, Susan Hoffman
California State Senator John Vasconcellos is an old friend and my mentor on many issues. He helped make self-esteem an important part of modern politics and is currently working on the Politics of Trust. When I am trying to think of new things, I often go to him for advice. I assumed he would know something about democracy so I sent him my emergent democracy paper and asked him for his thoughts.

He invited a few of his friends, Mitch Saunders, Brian Murphy and Susan Hoffman to join us in a brainstorming session of emergent democracy.

The discussion was quite fascinating. We started talking about the republic and representative democracy. It was pointed out (sorry, I took notes, but not always about who said what....) that the republic was not formed for the sake of efficiency but out of a more elitist attitude that certain people were more fit to govern and that it would be impossible for an uneducated mob to rule. In that sense, it really wasn't just a more efficient democracy. I asked John what he thought about the current representative democracy and he said, "not functioning well, but functioning barely". He said the people are "so busy, distracted and spoiled". I agreed with them that a direct democracy in our current environment was not feasible, but that maybe our thoughts on emergent democracy might, in the short term, be a great tool for supporting a the "not functioning well, but functioning barely" representative democracy that we have today.

I think we all agreed that weblogs could support change through a competition of ideas. It was mentioned maybe we should also think a bit about the formation of ideas as well.

I expressed a point that Antoin made earlier about the dissemination of ideas only being half of the problem and that execution was key. We talked about leadership. Mitch is a leadership consultant/coach, having coached some of the most impressive people I know of. We talked about trust and self-esteem and how to activate people into becoming more active citizens and how to grow good leaders. I talked about Liz Fine who wrote that the web opened her eyes and that she has become addicted to research and questioning what is put in front of her. I explained how that "conversational" nature of weblogs was a key element of activation. Once activated, I think many people can grow to become leaders so that we don't have to rely so much on professional politicians whose power spans generations and where politics is more about power for the sake of power and less about "representation."

We talked about the target for the paper. John suggested that the paper should target, me, the toolmakers and then the outside. I talked a bit about how many of the problems with the Net today is because the toolmakers didn't have a vision that included some of the problems that would come up such as spam, security and privacy. I said that I would like to engage the toolmakers to think about democracy as the tools are developed and that the Net can so easily cause harm and the architecture of the tools can have an effect on the future of democracy. We agreed that the next version of the paper should probably present more of a balanced view including the risks of emergence and the Net such as emergent terrorism or dumb mobs and explore how tools might encourage good over bad.


(Note: this is a re-post of a response to an earlier blog entry. I am re-posting because this entry seems more fitting for the comment.)


How are you? I'm Frank Ruscica, and I have been following with interest your efforts re: emergent democracy.

Maybe I can help.

In your post, you wrote:

"Maybe emergent democracy enables the people to force an issue when it become important enough to engage the public to rise up."

IMHO, turbocharging maturation of the global lifelong learning and career services (LLCS) industry is such an issue. Here's why:

A big part of winning the war on terrorism is convincing potential terrorist recruits and supporters that their interests are being served by America and her allies. People are at their most convinced when they are psychologically addicted. Psychological addiction takes shape in the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is fired by the prospects of professional success, romance and laughs (PSRL). Increasing PSRL will be the consuming focus of all credibly sustainable providers of lifelong learning and career services (LLCS). In particular, these providers will race to develop and fund their own student loan programs, as most customers will need financing in order to consume their initial bundle of LLCS, and will be drawn to the LLCS provider offering the best loan package. These loan programs will, in time, democratize access to LLCS -- and hence, expand prospects of PSRL to all potential terrorist recruits and supporters.

(Happily, you don't have to take just my word for the PSRL-LLCS connection. Not long ago, my business plan for an LLCS provider was circulated internally at Microsoft. I subsequently received the following e-mail from Randy Hinrichs, Manager of Microsoft Research's Learning Sciences and Technology Group:

"Frank, you are a good man. Have you thought about joining this team? Your only alternative, of course, is venture capital. But their usual models require getting rid of the 'originator' within the first eighteen months. With Netscape it took a little longer, but you get the idea.")

I have posted an updated version of my business plan here. If you have occasion to take a look, and come away agreeing that turbocharging LLCS is a goal worth pursuing via emergent democracy, let me know and we can puzzle over a next step.


Frank Ruscica

The Opportunity Services Group :: Have Fun to Get Ready

Frank, I've read what you wrote--and a little of your web site--several times, and still my response is "huh?"

I can't find anything coherent in what you've written, and I honestly don't see any relationship between what you're talking about and what Joi's talking about. This seems a little too much like abusing the comments of a well-read blog in order to get "free advertising" for a bizarre business venture, complete with "reality TV show."

Meanwhile, Joi, the things you're talking about are exciting. I'm hoping there will be ways to fold some of this into the curriculum for our students, since we are essentially building a new crop of "toolmakers." I'd rather seed them with these ideas early rather than later.


Much of our "electronic democracy" discussion centers around processes of organizing, deliberation and decision-making.

However, in the US, an elected representative spends 80% of his or her time -- not deliberating, or organizing, or making laws -- but raising money.

Any proposal for new ways of doing things needs to take money into account.

Recently, I heard of a new system for online political organizing, which was essentially multi-level marketing. A central organization sends financial targets to regional organizations, which sends targets to local organizations, which raise money and feed the money back up the chain.

Are new proposed mechanisms of organizing cheaper that the methods we have now? If not then we're stuck in the oligopoly trap.

- Adina

So you and Vasco are buddies; that's not too surprising, and I'm sure you see eye-to-eye on any number of things. My ex-wife used to work for his California Leadership operation, initially headed by Mitch but later by Doug Stone because Mitch turned out not be a day-to-day leader. She used to bring home long, rambling e-mails Vasco sent the staff that were mainly real-time musings about this and that which made the staff go "What?"

Don't take anything he says too seriously, because Vasco has the well-deserved reputation in Sacramento for being something of a wack-job. The self-esteem thing turned out to be a load of bull - gang leaders have very high self-esteem, so there's no correlation between it and good behavior. Similarly, the Rogerian analysis and Maslovian hierarchy of needs that he believes so fervently in are great in the context of the hot-tubbing class, but they have very little relevance in the world of real life. He's also known as a vindictive little bastard who holds grudges forever, a very rare thing in Sacramento. Most pols, and John Burton is a good example, will blow up at you one minute and pat you on the back the next. Vasco isn't like that - say something he doesn't like, and you've got an enemy for life. I used to talk to him occasionally, but generally gave him a wide berth.

Still, he's an actual politician, and he has a point of view that's informed by 30 years in office, so that's a good start. Now why don't you talk to somebody else who has a more conventional understanding of politics before moving on to tool-making for unknown ends.

Putting ideas into action is definitely a gap in webspace. It's bothered me for a while that there are so many discussion boards where the discussion yields some good ideas in the form of, "Someone should just..." and then the idea atrophies.

Even here if these comments yield ideas it's up to someone like Joi pulling the idea from the public, putting it into Notetaker ( :) ), fiddling with it privately, and then re-presenting a public version of it for yet more discussion and ideas that may atrophy.

What would be better is for a discussion board or comments system to have an automatic way to summarize ideas and annotate action items as part of the actual system. Part of the view would be the unstructured discussion, part would be the identification of action items, and part would be the evolving summary (perhaps even with revision diffs) - all just as publicly viewable as the discussion itself.

This model will also become more popular as people's blog histories become so dense and lengthy that they'll wish for ways to recatalog and summarize groups of entries in ways other than reverse chronology.

Distilling these collections of unstructured musings down into pure ideas, concepts, and action items could be important components of identifying and sharing group wisdom, which is what it seems emergent democracy is about (at least in part).

Curt - Sounds like you're suggesting discussion boards will migrate to full-fledged project management applications (or at least that this might happen for workgroups), if I'm understanding you correctly?

In which case, would it make sense to take an existing system and toss the unneeded bits, rather than building something from the bottom-up?

Give me Notes on the Topic''Why direct democracy is not feasible in this present times"?

Joi, I suggest you look into the writings of Fernando Flores, et al. on trust in politics, business, etc: Building Trust & Disclosing New Worlds

You will find them interesting

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Joi Ito has been doing a lot of thinking about Emergent Democracy, and he's talking about translating ideas into action... Read More

As posted in comments to Joi Ito's blog... Much of our "electronic democracy" discussion focuses on processes of organizing, deliberation Read More