OPPORTUNITIES AND IDEAS
E-Democracy.Org is looking for a
few good geeks. As an all-volunteer 100% citizen-based effort, we
will expand and improve our use of technology based on your interests and
our technology committee today.
us know what challenges you would like to help us meet.
Help us with our identified needs
or bring your bright idea to life through our organization and our thousands
of active e-citizens. Our committee is open to e-participation from individuals,
students, universities, non-profits, companies and governments anywhere
in the world.
donations designated to support our technology developments will be
used to secure services on sites like rentacoder.com.
However, we expect most of our efforts will remain fundamentally volunteer-based.
As we enter our second decade, we
are starting to outline our long-term technology vision along side our
Our Technology Base
In July 2003, we moved from a FTP-only
HTML/CGI environment to a virtual server running in the LAMP (Linux, Apache,
MYSQL, PHP environment). Our server comes with CPanel
This provides a pretty nifty web-administration interface and pre-installed
We run our high volume local
community "mnforum.org" e-mail discussion lists using Mailman
on a separate server through an arrangement with MAPNP.
We can host smaller Mailman lists on our "e-democracy.org" virtual server,
but we do have bandwidth limitations.
This is our laundry list of tools
we would like to install/adapt for our general use in the near future.
Some of these tools come with CPanel, but they may need to be adapted/updated.
Others tools must be installed from scratch. All of these tools need
to work from our server and integrate into the look and feel of our site
without advertising beyond courtesy credits.
A. Tell a Friend/E-mail this Page
A script that would allow site visitors to invite others to visit major
sections of our web site. We'd like the option to tailor/update the
messages for each of our forums and major site sections. E-mail this
page might be used on other pages, but is not as important pre-CMS.
B. Link Out Tracker - We'd
like to learn which links are most popular in our US
Election 2004 site. We will use this to create a ranked list of the
most popular election 2004 web sites. We are aware of AXS,
but want know if there are PHP-based or other aggregate statistic tools
that would better integrate with our available tools. We do not want
to slow down the link following experience significantly. We would
also like to have AWStats
installed on top of the simple statistic tools we already use.
C. Link Checker - We need
a link checker installed on our site to test the validity of the links
on select sections/pages of our site (most of our old election links are
dead from 1996, 1998, etc., but we leave those pages up for archival purposes).
A tool that would send weekly error reports to select volunteers would
be ideal and ensure distributed link updating among our volunteers.
D. Wiki/Volunteer Group Tools
- We need a simple document editing system for more internal drafting of
our new forum rules and training documents. We might also use such
tools to complement real-time teleconference-based Board and volunteer
meetings. If an online groupware application supports a password protected
place we can use use as a work zone and chapter/forum training center for
volunteers that would be useful, but extensive development should wait
for our future CMS.
E. Site Navigation - Site Map
- It may take us some time before we adopt a comprehensive content management
system with a site redesign. Until then, we would like to clean up
our current flat HTML site and add navigation links on the left column
of most pages (perhaps something like we have on our home page).
We also need to create a simple site map page.
F. Civic Calendar System -
While this would become part of our tool kit for local chapters, we would
like to experiment with a web-based event calendar that could be used by
our local forum participants to share event announcements now. We
would like produce a weekly event listing that would automatically generate
a text-only e-mail to the appropriate community e-mail list. Our
server does come with a version of WebCalendar.
G. Public Discussion Forums Database
and Web Page - We want to build a database of local and political online
discussions around the world - while they are extremely rare we are interested
in helping people find city-wide forum like our own. We need a web-based
system to allow forum hosts/volunteers to enter quality information about
their e-mail lists, web forums, and newsgroups. We'd use a set of fields
from the proposed Open
Groups directory standard - geography in particular. The initial output
from the database will be a flat HTML file with links to active forums.
This data would eventually be integrated into the Citizen
Net proposal below. We currently have manual pages of links to
Political Discussions and links to other Minnesota
H. Mailman Tweaks - We are
running Mailman 2.1 at mnforum.org (or
will be soon) and e-democracy.org. We would like to following tweaks/abilities:
1) Web-based form on our main site
that accepts e-mail from any page on our site and then ports it over to
the sign-up page on mnforum.org where Mailman requests a password/account.
2) Tools that automatically convert
incoming list messages from HTML into text-only messages that also strips
3) Tools that automatically send
specialized messages to bounced posts outside of our quantifiable limits
- two a day per person currently (we would want to be able to set this
number per list), KB size (exists in Mailman), lines of quoted text without
breaks, and ideally allow us to create an additional limit on the number
of total posts delivered in any one calendar week from the same e-mail
address. Limiting posting volume, in a content neutral way, is the
cornerstone of our successful efforts to promote civility and slow the
escalation of conflicts. (We have 900 members on our Minneapolis
Issues Forum, an amazingly large list considering its political/community
4) Any spam filtering tools with
auto-replies that would instruct a legitimate sender to resend their message
a certain way (perhaps via a web form if they can't get through with a
certain post or have consistently malformed e-mail headers. We need
to be able to dump non-legitimate mail automatically due to the list manager
time now required to weed through attempted non-member spam postings for
member messages caught for some reason.
5) Automatic generation of list statistics
so members can get an idea each week of aggregate posting trends. (Our
goal is to encourage extremely frequent posters to self-limit their contributions.)
Election 2004 Needs
A. Election Web Site Submission
System - A special submission form for 2004 election sites. Our goal
is to make candidate web sites easier to find and election directory web
sites more complete by distributing submissions to major partner sites.
Partner sites would both promote the use of the form and access data sub-sets
for download of relevant submissions prompted by e-mail notifications.
The system should include the ability to be notified about candidates by
state, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, President or by theme (news, satire, etc.)
for non-candidate sponsored web sites.
An advanced version of this system
would automatically submit such information to the Open Directory, Yahoo,
Zeal, Google, and other top search engines. In
2002 for Minnesota-only, we e-mailed the text results of each submission
to an internal e-list. We could also download the data in tab-delimited
B. RSS Feed Presentation and Headline
Scraping Tools - We plan to present headline links to new and frequently
changing presidential candidate information on a single "Campaign Today"
page. This will be designed as a major complement to our Presidential
Launch Pad - our goal is to save people the time it takes to stay/get
informed. We would create a non-partisan/multi-candidate RSS feed
for other sites to carry if our headline scraping works well. We
are aware of the MyHeadlines
tool and its template-based
C. MyBallot.Net Involvement
- Volunteer David Stein leads work on this MYSQL/PHP-based tool. MyBallot
encourages citizens to generate a personalized list of candidates on their
ballot, their polling place location, and the results page provides pre-set
Google searches for more information on candidates and issues. Opportunities
include efforts to gather/convert data from your area for use of this tool
in your county/state/nation and the promotion of national/global
standards for government elections-related data (see post
1 and post
2 for more information). Such standards would help ballot look-up
systems (Publius, SmartVoter,
government systems) expand the number of citizens served with this vital
3. eWeb - Usable
e-mail web archives, future equitable discussion platform
We seek a fundamentally equitable
online discussion system that allows citizens to participate via their
preferred medium - e-mail or web on a completely equal basis. Full participation
must be possible in an integrated fashion via both mediums. Web-only would
be allowed for auxiliary functions like a member directory or personalized
setting pages for multi-forum keyword tracking.
Our dedicated eWeb
project page details our ideas for this project.
4. Content Management
System - Site Redesign
We will develop a full project requirements
document and process to prioritizes the elements of a comprehensive, data-base
driven, web-enabled distributed publishing, personalized, and interactive
environment for E-Democracy.Org. This will involve a full site redesign.
us know if you would like to join our review of content
management systems (another
source). We lean toward a comprehensive open source solution rather
than a piecemeal approach.
Chapter Technology Platform
E-Democracy.Org seeks to help active
citizens who would like to build an effective public
issues forum in their community any where in the world. Think local
"Chapters" based on the service club model of Rotary or Lions clubs.
We envision a set of tools for local
use that help volunteers maintain local civic links, event calendars, a
platform for web-centric online events (real-time Q and A interviews with
local officials or policy experts or asynchronous consultation events that
last two weeks or so) and a distributed fund raising and accounting system.
While local Chapters could have their
own web sites, our goal is to provide the functionality most chapters would
require and establish a vibrant reciprocal technology development community
within E-Democracy.Org. Useful tools built or adapted for any one
Chapter would become available to all Chapters.
Net - Global Directory of Local Links for Citizens
E-Democracy.Org is fundamentally
about citizens. We are about citizens coming together on the two-way
Internet within real democracies. We believe in local geography online.
We believe in building effective online discussions through our decade-tested
legal, forum management, and technology-based model.
How does a small yet, sustainable
volunteer-based organization scale beyond its core communities? It
shouldn't colonize. It shouldn't export. It shouldn't just
"build it" so they will come. Instead, we must assist authentic interest
among local active citizens who believe that our flexible model is the
best way for them to bring the "issues forum," a two-way online public
space, to their community.
To target our outreach, we need a
"Citizen Net." Something online that provides real value to local
citizens and democracies around the world. Something that provides
an opportunity for E-Democracy.Org to explain and demostrate our model,
then gathers and helps organize those interested citizens.
What might we see on the E-Democracy
website? Think the Roman Forum, the Greek Agora, the North American Town
Square, etc. - a virtual representation of a multi-purpose public space
surrounded by community institutions - government, education, the town
hall or assembly, the newspaper, the market, etc.. Our goal is create a
global database of local placenames (in multiple languages) and match them
to local links gathered from sources like the
Directory Project and other
Each placename would have simple
web page with reliable links around the edge to local community institutions
and external sites where extensive local links exist. In the middle
we will promote the two-way online public space by providing a sign-up
mechanism where local people can say, "Yes, I want to discuss local public
issues online in my community." Think Meetup
for a gathering local people interested in meeting online to discuss
multiple public topics. (We will also encourage people to sign-up
from our home page along with their geographic information.) If we
know of another vibrant two-way space that exists for that local community,
we would link to that as well. We could also build a "Speaker's Corner"
with links to local bloggers who are focused on local public issues.
Will this work? Aren't there
hundreds of ghost town .com sites that tried to build a page for thousands
of cities? What about the many independent community sites that already
maintain local links? Our idea will only work if it is simple, reliable,
and something that complements other authentically local sites. E-Democracy.Org
has one advantage that many sites don't - we've been on the web since 1994.
The search engines love us ... any new page we create seems to rank quite
high. However, we do know that if a local community page doesn't show up
in the top fifteen placename search results, then our "Net" system will
not work well in that community.
Our goal is to use this "Citizen
Net" to determine which communities have emerging interest. Then a new
technological back-end would support our extensive chapter/forum development
model. Once ten citizens in a community (by this we mean a local political
jurisdiction or a region in a rural area) sign-up, our system would automatically
e-mail this group and facilitate a connection among them via the web/e-mail
to discuss the creation of a forum. If forum leaders/builders do
not emerge (meaning that 10 of 10 want to simply participate, not lead
an effort), then the system would wait for an additional ten subscribers
and try again.
E-Democracy also has plans for a
forum development training program. We never open a forum without at least
100 initial participants (no matter the population base of a town), a local
forum manager, a forum charter tailored for the local community, and some
sort of provisional E-Democracy chapter. For the most part, individual
efforts are not sustainable and often viewed as politically biased.
While developing local chapters/forums
through traditional community organizing and service club expansion outreach
requirements will also be explored, we need the intelligence that allows
us to discover citizen interest and the ability to assist the formation
of local efforts in a more organic way.
Once a local forum/chapter is established,
the local page for a community would evolve into a value-added page maintained
by the local chapter. We will also promote involvement among local people
and political/community link gatherers in projects like the Open
etc. in order to contribute back to the community.
In the end, our expansion goals must
be reasonable. Let's just guess that there are 1,000,000 incorporated
local places in the world (the U.S. has about 20,000). If our model spreads
in our second decade to 0.1% of the world's cities/towns we'd have 1000
local issue forums hosted through E-Democracy and hopefully thousands of
similar city-wide forums inspired by our lessons that we can link to as
well. (We see a great opportunity to leverage the many "natural" neighborhood
and sub-city e-mail lists that are everywhere, but totally under the radar.)
We see no route to saving local democracy
in the information-age without scalable technology that supports effective
citizen-based, non-profit, non-partisan activity. Technology that
brings people together from across the political spectrum for open public
exchange in order to counter/complement the primarily one-way use of the
Internet by governments, the media, and political groups. By helping build
E-Democracy's technology base, you can help ensure that the two-way Internet
is built into local civic life around the world.