Week 259: office work, publicity, copyright and liquid feedback

Briefly written notes for last week. It was one of the first proper weeks at the office for which I am grateful. German administration remains a challenging affair as my blog post and quoted Times article also testify.

Today's office

We put a small Tumblr called “Ramen Hunter” online on which we document our peripatetic consumptions of the Japanese manna called ramen.

Also the news that I will be speaking at NEXT Berlin on a topic near to my heart “Love in Times of Gamification”. Not only is that turning out to become a huge and important subtopic within gaming, it is also going to be a lot of fun. The Dutch newspaper NRC featured an article (link for subscribers) about the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference in which I am also quoted talking about Hack de Overheid and Apps for Amsterdam.

Another German copyright issue arose because Open Köln republished a series of government documents on their own website. I wrote up the chain of events and the chilling effects that are bound to follow.

Four people on stage rehashing the Zeit article I read this morning about startups in Berlin

I went to an event called Zukunftgespräche about the future of creative and innovative work in the city. That was mostly a disappointment with commonplaces being trodden over and Zeit articles being quoted near verbatim. It seems these kind of events in Germany are too institutional and manage to invite exactly the wrong people1.

Die Macht in Netz

The rest of the week was spent hauling my library to the office, writing up some proposals and Skype-ing with the homefront. I also submitted our research initiatives from Open State to Virtueel Platform. And I could finish off the week having a beer at Soundcloud Rebase which turns out to be a pretty good way to end a week.

Looking for parts

On Sunday I read up on the Liquid Democracy software platform used by the Pirate Party to decide upon their points of view (read a good Spiegel overview here: “Web Platform Makes Professor Most Powerful Pirate”).

Technologically I have quite some issues with the implementation which is brilliant at places and patchwork on others2, but those are mostly besides. It works and it does what it needs to do. The main Pirate Party implementation lives here: https://lqfb.piratenpartei.de/ and is publicly browsable. A cursory glance reveals a lot of interesting things.

First and foremost, it is interesting and essential to build a web native application for the processes of politics. Most parties if they would start anew today would not end up at this exact point, but this is obvious if like the Pirates your pedigree is digitally native. Being able to participate in a more accessible and equally footed arena, without having to go to party congresses is something other parties should learn from and the open democratic process is reminiscent of the Occupy general assemblies. Even more importantly, codifying the democratic process in software and opening that up for evolution by means of open source contributions, looks like the the future of political systems in the digital age.

More worrisome are the non-digital points of view proposed on the platform. Besides a proposal for Open Government Data being approved3 there are also proposals for a base income for everybody and many other wish-list utopian social measures. None of those seem to be predicated on fiscal solvency. Many of the measures rely on more government to improve society. That is oddly reminiscent of the modeling paradox: a better model does not guarantee better outcomes. The same with government, the current government here is not very small but already rather dysfunctional.

The free for all democracy of Liquid Feedback might easily lead to a California-like situation where proposition after proposition has lifted taxes so far that it has bankrupted the state. This is the biggest risk with general assembly and other referendum type decision making processes. It is too easy to demand everything if there are no consequences attached to it. Thankfully the Pirate Party will never hold a majority in German government because if they did, they would probably bankrupt the nation within a week.

  1. I thought panels in the Netherlands were horrible, but it seems totally new depths are reachable.
  2. Back button breaking javascript on the site, a backend patched together using PL/pgSQL and a CMS in Lua.
  3. Demanding the  horrible horrible RDF which we could do without.

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