Transparancy in politics

I recently came across this website that is dedicated to fact checking on political statements in the USA. If you listen to the candidates for US president it is often very hard to know if they are talking the truth, bending the truth in their direction or lying outright. Interesting to see that this website (and there are several other ones like this one) are increasing the transparancy a lot. It is shocking to see how much “distorted truths” are being told by these politicians.
The power of sites like these is that it will be getting harder and harder to stretch the truth once very white lie is monitored..


Civil ServantsI came across this article in the paper on Saturday about the fact that civil servants are adding and changing information on Wikipedia during working hours. Some time ago I blogged about the Wikiscanner and of course one can see more and more how important transparency is. There have been numerous cases where with the help of the wikiscanner people have been found out while trying to create their own truth …
However, the question is how are we going to deal with this transparency. Of course ciivil servants also use the Wikipedia during working hours and of course they sometimes also change information. Just like people in companies and people at home. Wherever we are we still remain individual human beings. One of the effects of Web 2.0 is that the different roles we have are more and more blending together. At all times of the day we are private person, employee, citizen, husband and father and can switch easily between all these roles.
Somehow we have to learn how to deal with this transparency. The fact that information came from a computer within a public department has nothing to do with the department. By locking the access to Wikipedia only image may be gained but civil servant will lose access to important information. We have to accept the fact that also aberrations are visible.
Before they existed also and we knew they did, now we can see they do.

black swans

Black SwanBill sent me this article that describes how voters have a systematic bias regarding some economic effects. The article questions the fact that voters in general have a bias for anti-market, anti-foreign, anti-efficiency loss of work and a pessimistic outlook. This systematic bias of course would lead to bad decisions since the errors do not even out. The stupidity of the crowds.
Though I think part of the bias is not completely false due the following reasons:
Not all companies are rational too. Look at some of the big mergers in the world where the merger is probably more driven by the ego of the winning CEO than by economical motives. Most large mergers fail

  • Not all market are markets where demand and supply have a more or less balanced power. Once one side creates a invincible power and becomes a monopoly the market stops. Look at Microsoft or the cartel of energy companies in the Netherlands. Health is also an example where it is very hard to impossible to establish a fair market because it involves your health…
  • Markets are driven by the opportunity to get ahead, to gain more money than the guy next to you (or more women, more free time, whatever makes you tick). But the amount extra that you can gain is not linear connected to the increase of wealth it gives to society at large. Therefore a redistribution of wealth for the automated weaving factory to compensate Ludd for the loss of his job can be done at little cost to the economy.

But still, there certainly is a tendency to underestimate the power of the unexpected. I recently have read a book called the Black Swan. A black swan is something that can not be predicted (expect the unexpected). The analogy is based on the fact that before Australia was discovered everybody (except the Aboriginals) thought that all swans are white. But the discoverers found to their amazement that in Australia there is a swan like bird that is black. In general people are not prepared for completely unexpected things to happen.
It is a bit like being a turkey. Everyday you get a nice meal so after some time you expect the future to be like all the previous days, however conspiracy driven turkey you are. So Christmas really comes as a surprise.
Crowds are often are bad at taking these unexpected events into consideration. But these unexpected events often create big changes in society. Of all the technology that is of major importance 20 years from now we only see about 50%. The other 50% we can not take into account since it does not yet show on our radar screen.
For the design of iCrowds this has big implications. On the one hand it shows that there is a limit to the intelligence of crowds and on the other hand how information sharing across the network is important.
A community of turkeys may find out that some of their cousins are mysteriously disappearing and will expect the unexpected …


First have a look at the video:

The way I see it the idea behind this video is that until now images have been used for a lot of bad reasons. Their message on their website is:

So ask yourself this. If you had the entire world’s attention for just a few minutes, what story would you tell? Perhaps you think the world looks at you, your country and your culture… and just doesn’t understand. Then do something about it. Make a film and upload it here You never know. It could end up bringing millions of people that bit closer together.

The least you can say is that they are used to influence a lot of people at the same time. As they say: “images of the many have been in the hands of the few”. How extraordinary it would be to look through the eyes of other people around the world. Not the people in control of the big cameras but ordinary people like you in me. And in a way we can if you look at the video somebody makes when he wants to make a statement. Not through his eyes but through his lens.Have a look at their website. Somehow I like the idea a lot. One last quote which struck a chord with me:

Movies can’t change the world. But the people who watch them can.


When I have an appointment at an organisation that is very security conscious (e.g. Police, Thales, the home office and others) I normally have to show an official ID like driver license or passport. In normal life we all feel comfortable doing this when there is a reason for this security. And we see it as a normal task of the government to provide us with the means to identify ourselves in a way that creates a fair amount trust that we are who we say we are.In digital life there is a serious lack of trustworthy identification. At the moment I am developing a project that deals with organising prevention, care and cure bottom up. Not starting with the specialists but with the people in the local districts. Helping people organise this in their own district can help to strengthen the social fabric of our society. Through helping people to help each other and through a stronger say from the civilians living in these areas in what is important. For them and for the district. This is especially important in areas with problems like the Ella Vogelaar wijken in Rotterdam.
For some services you definitely need to know who the person is that is asking questions. For example in the case that a person wishes to view his medical info. Not from a big brother perspective but from the perspective of the user who does not want his information abused.
Yesterday I had a discussion with the EDBR in Rotterdam and this issue surfaced also here. The risk is that all organisations dealing with these areas are creating services that are going to develop their own identification, resulting in numerous ID’s and passwords. This makes the service less easy to use but also lowers the security dramatically because people will start to use easy passwords and such.
In real life we as well as the government feels it is logical that he government organises and operates a secure and trustworthy mechanism to proof identities. Why is it than that in the electronic domain the government hesitates so much. Several government administrators have been sent away due to problems with physical passports. But in the electronic domain, that is becoming more and more vital, the government leaves us in the cold. There is the service DigiD but the government is very hesitant to have this used by private companies (including hospitals).
Ensuring trustworthy identification is an important task of the government, in real life as well as in the electronic domain. For many initiatives that are using Internet to enhance the lives of civilians (us) and companies delivering services to these civilians it would be a big step forward when there is a trustworthy and easy to use identification service available for all.
Like a passport.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Does Wikipedia work or doesn’t it? That is the question.There is a lot of discussion on what the quality of Wikipedia is and how we should use it. An interesting point of view is the comparison with Open Source software. I think there are two quite important distinctions how Wikipedia and the Open Source movement handle the way they organize their processes.
Wikipedia is for the most part anarchy. Anybody can simply put some information in and correct whatever is there. Even when Einstein would have written the part about relativity than john doe can easily “improve” upon it. On pages where this leads to numerous changes (who the hell does this Einstein guy thinks he is by changing what I, John Doe, have shown to the world…) the adopt a feudalist approach where some people (the Aristocracy) have received special administrator powers by Jimmy Wales (the King, Wikipedia: c’est moi).
Open Source has adopted a much more open approach to this. Also here you find the few who are at the inner circle with special powers but they are promoted there by the group based on their merit. In software it is pretty easy to see if something works or not (most of the time). Either it crashes or it works. Either the function works or it does not. That makes it much easier to spot the talent and quality of developers compared to the quality of the contributors to Wikipedia. And of course: Linus Torvalds is no emperor. No, Linus is God and above us all. Considering the ubiquitousness of Linux at least he knows what we all are doing.
My conclusion is: you definitely need some sort of structure to make these things work. And the risk of structures, organisation and hierarchy’s is that they are easily abused.
But does this not like a lot like real (physical) life. The Romans already understood this: “who will guard the guards” (as you clever readers already understood from the title. I had to look it up on the Internet …).
We already have a history in mechanisms for this kind of situation for more than 3000 years since the forum in Athens and it is called democracy (OK, there where times when it did not work…).
In a democracy we elect people to rule our country. We elect people to make the laws and to enforce the laws. We appoint people that judge others within the context of that law. Reality is a big social network. And you know, when we are not satisfied with the ones that rule we send them away during election time.
The mechanisms in social software should not be that different from our democratic rules: we elect people in whom we trust that they will govern rightly. Some rules will be hard to change (the constitution or the way we vote for administrator) and others will be easy to change (parking fines or the mechanism how a recommendation is calculated), depending on how important they are for the foundation of the community. And regularly we will have the opportunity vote or run for administrator ourselves.
In order to make this work we should not just look at Machiavelli but also to Montesquieu who wrote about how to design the checks and balances to prevent the Machiavellian Kings.

Privacy or piracy

Privacy is dead and I am afraid we are all to busy to attend the funeral. And face it, we don’t love her as much as we used to.
It is amazing how much information can be found on all of us. So much that it amazes me when I can not find digital traces of a person on the Internet. Recently I talked to a job applicant at Telematica Insituut. One of the things I always do before the interview is Google the person. Sometimes quite interesting information pops up that you can use in the interview. In general I feel this is good. It gives me much more insight in what a person really has done. When I googled this person, to my surprise, no info at all came up. It surprised me so much that during the Interview I made it a subject to talk about (after all, we did make him an offer…).
But there is also a down side to this. I am member of a committee guiding the research on privacy by the Rathenau instituut, an institute that does research on politically sensitive subjects in order to inform parliament and other politicians. During on of the discussions we had on a report that is recently published (you can find it here) somebody gave an example that made me think:

Suppose you are female. And you are three months pregnant. And you are looking for a job.
As as society we have arranged that a future employer is not allowed to ask if you are pregnant. Because this would put women in a disadvantaged position. After all, men can’t get pregnant. This is a delicate issue: the future employer, especially if it is a small company, can be seriously harmed this way. But as a society we feel that this solution is the best possible.

Next comes our wonderful world of social software. Buying and selling things (baby stuff), discussion on all kinds of fora (what to do when you are three months pregnant) and of course blogging (how happy you are). The more important these kind of fora are for us, the more chance there is that digital traces can be found. And that may Not Always Be A Good Thing. Of course, people can use other names but the more important these Internet based social structures are for our lives, the less room there will be for fake names (remember reputation?).
On the one hand I think that we will have to accept that the nature and importance of privacy has changed. More and more we will have to look in our digital mirror to see how the other people see us through the digital domain. I think many people already sometimes type in their own name in Google to see how the world sees us. I do! On the other hand we have to realize that, because of the different mechanisms on the Internet, we have to develop other measures to protect people in situations we have agreed to protect.
I do not believe in a ban on googling an applicant. Employers will do this anyhow and will take the information they have found in consideration. Making some sites not searchable is also not the answer since this would make them worthless. I do not have the answer but I do know that we, as people working on social software, will have to develop the answers in the coming years.

Citizen participtation

Yesterday we had a meeting for the political party I am active in (the PVDA in Arnhem). The subject was participation of citizens in the decisions the local government is taking. Often decisions effect the direct environment of the citizen itself.
It is amazing how little trust people can have in the capabilities of groups of people. Many feel that giving much responsibility to the people in an area to determine the way a reconstruction budget is spent is foolish since they can not agree or some people will only go for their own interest.
I think web 2.0 will be an interesting concept also in this environment. Giving enough participants in the discussion to create diversity this will give amazing results. Precondition is of course that the civil servants start with the idea that contributions from citizens can be valuable. At his moment they normally start to develop their plans and when they are ready they ask the citizens: ?do you like this?”. A better way would be to start the participation before the plan and collect all the good ideas in order to incorporate this into the plan. Social software gives us so much more possibilities to be open to ideas from many sides.
Social software can be a very powerful way to get people to participate in the discussion. Maybe we will start a trial to see the results in Arnhem?

Hello World!

This is my first entry in this blog. This is my first blog. Why am I joining the countless number of people that are blogging? Do you care? Should you?
For me this blog is a way of structuring my thinking about social software. I believe that social software (wiki’s, blogs, decision market) is changing our society in more ways than we can imagine. And I think that this change is a positive one where people can make a difference based on what they have to offer instead of the role they occupy. A world where all the intelligence available is used and where people are motivated to make their contribution because they are awarded for it.
In my work at the Telematica Instituut (a research institution between universities and business) I am involved in social software through a research project I am setting up called “The future workspace”. Also I am thinking about doing my thesis around this subject. Focus here is the use of social software in business environments. How can it be used and what conditions are needed to make it successful? Are the current organisations capable of implementing these flat structures or will the hierarchies win. That is why I call this thesis “From Pyramid to Pancake”.
iCrowds is the term that I use for crowds cooperating successfully together and thereby being more than just a bunch of individuals.
Well, do you care?