In my job, I often hear the sentence “technology is not the problem”. I disagree. We mostly say it because we don’t understand technology well enough to detect its limits – it’s a kind of black box.
In the Crossroad project, we are looking at future applications and technologies for collaborative governance and policy making. In this process, a few ideas came to me.
My argument is that all the collaborative tools that we have now, from idea-rating to mash-up and debating tools, work well only at small scale.
We all have problems in leveraging participation: yet we would not be able to deal with large-scale participation.
Most of Obama administration initiatives are very basic in terms of functionalities and performance (ideascale, gModerator, Innovation Jam…). They rely on strong human effort, which is difficult to scale up. And the scalable tools, like quantitative ratings and e-petitions, are very easily manipulated.
Basically, we don’t have the tools for mass conversation and collaboration, so it’s actually good that few people participate!
A few examples:
– the Global Pulse 2010 used IBM Innovation Jam, which as far as I can see is a large-scale forum with sophisticated human-analysis capacities and methodologies, but basic technology (only robust enough to handle thousands of participants
– the Google Moderator tool used by the White House uses basic ratings systems and is prone to hijacking, as the marijuana debate proved
– the recent Commencement Challenge allowed citizens to vote for the best essay and video
– any form of Google Mash-up works well only with small numbers, as we realized when setting up the debate space for the Amsterdam Declaration
– using ideascale or uservoice, as we did in the Open Declaration, people only read and comment on the top proposal, or come out with a new proposal of their own. Free text search is provided by Uservoice, but it’s a very rough method. Nobody reads all the proposals before posting and voting.
– PatientOpinion deals with high human-intensive processing of comments, one by one.
Obviously, I am not criticizing the initiatives. They are great. But “technology isn’t there”.
So my question is: what would be future transparency tech? what applications can we envisage 10 years from now? What basic tools need to be developed? Is RDFa the most futuristic thing we can come out with? Is there anything after things like digress.it, developed within the US e-Rulemaking research programme?
For me, most relevant research field are:
– collaborative filtering
– reputation-management systems
– visual analytics
– natural language processing