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Debating Internet Strategies

Obviously, the Internet is becoming a major political force. The Howard Dean campaign, the organizing of mass protests against the Iraq war, and of course the mandatory blogs and wikis that candidates and parties now employ, all suggest that there is probably no going back on the trend towards Internet use in politics.

As a Green Party, with a list of values to live up to, there are some constraints on how we do net politics. For instance, social justice demands that we not place an elite group of people in charge of policy debate, or at least, not more so than could access a call-in radio show or letters to the editor page. We should be very careful to balance any policy-altering channels provided by the Internet, with good old fashioned community group outreach, and extensions like mark up and mail back printed platforms. Nonviolence and ecological wisdom demand that we pay special attention to the ecological load we place on Earth by using new technologies: a recent United Nations University study found that "e-waste" had become such a major problem, that one large processor chip could generate just as much ecological damage at the points of extraction as could an average *car*. It is simply wrong to assert that using computers reduces overall ecological load: this requires analysis like anything else. If someone can do something with simple pencils and newsprint without acquiring a computer, then, that's likely the best way.

There are many other constraints that apply to any net based advertising effort, including in politics. For one thing, branding requires consistent naming and use of terms. It's become essential to register jimharris, votejimharris, .ca, .net, .org, and any candidate that wishes to avoid seeing negative campaigners controlling these, had better take care to register every possible variation well in advance, and keep them up year to year. If someone runs for many offices, it might well be ideal to advertise URIs like http://en.candidatename.ca/for_Mayor(external link) and also register domains like candidatenameformayor (again in .ca, .net and .org variants, though it's also useful to register and redirect the .com name, just to make sure).

Party web use has other constraints. In particular, without absolutely consistent permanent URIs, published documents and wikis are more or less worthless. Large public wikis like Wikipedia.org succeed by having a simple standard wiki URI so that no one has to type in bizarre strings. I know for instance that

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/nature's_services(external link)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/nature's_services"(external link) class="wiki wikinew">?

is the English (en.) article on "nature's services". I can refer to [ nature's services ] and all Wikipedia users know what I mean by that. Adopting software like mediawiki makes it easy for those who already work on Wikipedia's webs. (the wiki you are reading this in is tikiwiki - which has its own incompatible format which very few people know how to use, and has never caught on as the de facto standard of mediawiki/Wikipedia has).

Most web services fail due to inconsistent use of language and terminology and failing to include enough links that keep people interested - a so-called "sticky site". This is a problem with the pages themselves, not the software. However, the software makes it much worse by, for instance, putting no links on the nested titles (something like "Green Party of Canada - PolicyLand : Web Team" should certainly be live as a link). Where software doesn't do this automatically, it is usually possible to modify it (if it's software libre? ), or set defaults to hide the pointless titling.

Participation is key:

- Contact lists must be obvious and roles of each contact clear. Ideally there'd be a form that would ask about the matter and automatically direct email correctly with a CC to the person filling out the form to ensure followup - a ticket system - this is actually something tikiwiki does well.

- Get issue critic?s actually editing pages and many problems will go away.

- Provide wiki user? and talk page facilities so that comments specific to a user or a page can be segmented - "comment" isn't a good system - mediawiki doesn't use it.

- Provide watchlist and recent changes facilities - these are indispensible, and rightfully central in the mediawiki model.

Participation is discouraged if people perceive the process as being technocratic; Completely meaningless nonsense words like "team", "plan", "site", "transition", "permissions", "features", "upgrades", "ActionApps", and worst: "content", should never be visible to the public. All of these words smack of a top-down administratively-controlled-and-non-democratically run power structure which is rooted in technology not ecology. Not the image Greens foster.

For agenda handling, consider a time-driven issue-elaboration-and-decision-structure. See
http://meta.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIPAESA(external link)http://meta.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIPAESA"(external link) class="wiki wikinew">?

See http://ouranswer.org(external link)http://ouranswer.org"(external link) class="wiki wikinew">? http://disinfopedia.org(external link)http://disinfopedia.org"(external link) class="wiki wikinew">? for some examples of wikis that do a good job on relatively difficult and controversial political material.


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