The evolution of democracy

Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote at Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia’ in Madrid, 2016.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with both local activism and methods of mass communication and collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with creating knowledge repositories, tying that information to things that were happening in the news and creating action based on that information. News without action is just voyeurism and action without information creates a very easily manipulated public, so I was trying to bring the two together in one place. In 2012 I concentrated more social media collaboration and I wrote a first book called Binding Chaos about all the problems I had seen while working with Wikileaks, Occupy, Anonymous, M15 and many other mass movements in recent years. We all seemed to be coming up against the same issues with hierarchy, direct democracy, consensus and collaboration. As I kept working on various projects it became apparent that we as societies had been butting heads for millenia on these same issues which really come down to trying to create a balance between autonomy, diversity and society, which is the title of my next book. And along the way I have been thinking of what tools we would require to help us achieve this balance, and the primary one I have been working on is a universal database and trust network called Getgee.

So today what I would like to talk about are some ideas from Binding Chaos and a little bit from Autonomy, Diversity, Society which will hopefully help when we are thinking about creating products for mass communication and mass collaboration. The focus is on creating a balance between personal autonomy of those doing the work, diversity of ideas and solutions and allowing the participation of the whole society.


How many people here have heard of a technological singularity? A technological singularity is something IT people and science fiction writers have liked to talk about for years. The idea is that we will reach a point, or have already reached a point, where technology is beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself, in a Skynet sort of world. It’s funny, people have been talking about this for years, but not many have noticed or acknowledged that we have instead reached a completely different type of singularity which is a societal singularity. We have reached a point where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them. If you go back in history, crafts people could know everything there is to know about their jobs and people could know everything that went on in their villages but this is just not true any more. And even our villages and neighbourhoods are not autonomous, they are all connected now at some level with all the other communities in the whole world, even uncontacted tribes.

We need to collaborate with others not only to develop tools but even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components if we are building a product. As programmers we have been used to working as an ecosystem like this for years, we always have to incorporate other people’s work and their bugs into our own, but this has spread to almost every aspect of public life. And this is one of the biggest challenges in creating tools for democracy. We can’t have real direct democracy or self governance any more because none of us can understand every aspect of everything. We need to rely on collaboration instead and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than we have used in the past. We need more than simple referendums and voting to govern ourselves this way. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and we need to coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.

There are two main areas to talk about which are idea based collaboration and action based collaboration. The challenge in a societal singularity is how to allow all people to participate and communicate but still be able to filter signal from noise and how to allow people democratic choice but still retain worker autonomy.

First of all, let’s look at mass action based collaboration.

For action based tasks, the model that has become almost ubiquitous is the competitive hierarchical model. Most of us are all too familiar with this model. The typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of an organization, government body, or an official person and the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead of the action. The hierarchy creates what I call personality based systems, as opposed to idea or action based systems. A new idea in a personality based system remains completely bound to the owner until it is legally transferred to another owner. All contributors work for the owner, not the idea, and you have to wait on one specific person for approval or direction at each level so there are bottle necks everywhere.

Most workers do not enjoy hierarchical systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work, they just become an instrument under somebody else’s direction. The orders come from the top down and so there is very little diversity of ideas and we lose all the talent and ideas downstream. Because it is a closed system, collaboration between people does not happen unless they are hired by the same project. Competition is the opposite of mass collaboration. It’s really people working against each other, not together. So there is no autonomy, no diversity and no society.

The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. Cooperative groups try to replace the top down hierarchy with a group consensus driven system which allows diversity of opinion at the top.

This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is extremely slow. It is still a personality based system. An idea in a cooperative must be approved by the entire group, both on initiation and at each stage of development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and a power struggle can derail the whole project.

It can be dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are very justly resented by those doing the actual work. Cooperatives frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group. These methods may not produce the best results, particularly in large groups, as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. The feeling of the workers at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions, the workers still have no personal autonomy.

Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself. So we have a society, at least within the group, but not without, but we still have no autonomy and because of the need to reach consensus there is also no diversity of product.

This isn’t in any way to say that cooperative and consensus driven systems are bad. They are actually the most comfortable way of working in small groups who know each other and have similar styles and share a goal, but they are very difficult to scale. As soon as you have a very large group of people with opposing viewpoints and personalities that don’t mesh, it is very difficult to get anything done.


I use stigmergy to describe a method of action based collaboration that is suitable for mass movements. I didn’t make up this awful word by the way, it is lifted from biology where it describes indirect communication and collaboration among ants and termites and various other creatures. In human movements, it allows diversity of methods and autonomy for workers while still putting the ultimate authority of choice with the whole society, to try to achieve that balance we talked of earlier. It is neither competitive nor cooperative. It is action based collaboration instead of personality based.

A system is stigmergic if

– it follows one goal

– it is completely transparent

– it is open to everyone to participate, at least within the user group

– the output is free for anyone to use and improve on

Stigmergy gives people autonomy over their own work. With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. So no one needs permission, like they would in a competitive system, or consensus like they would in a cooperative, to initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea. If an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest and the interest attracted will be from people willing to contribute so those with more involvement in the idea will automatically have greater influence through their contributions.

There are no official authorities but the power of the user group still exists in the ability to accept or reject the work.

Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection. Drastically innovative ideas almost never receive instant mainstream acceptance so leaving control of work to group consensus only cripples innovation. When we allow anyone to contribute we also have a great diversity of talent and people can step up to further the goal in ways the originator never imagined.

So here we have full autonomy and diversity but the entire society still has the ultimate choice.


Where is stigmergy? We have always had stigmergy in our social lives and it has been behind most mass movements that have had any success. You can see it wherever groups of diverse people who do not belong to any formal organization or have any formal communication with each other are all working together to carry out a goal.

If you look at something like the civil rights movement in the United States, that is a multi-generational movement of so many people and so many different methods and everyone who has contributed, whether they are groups or individuals, has decided for themselves how they can be most effective. If this stigmergy chart was for that movement, that big group can be the Million Man March, the square is Malcolm X and his followers, the heart can be MLK, and between them all by themselves is Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks, none of them had to communicate or come to consensus but they are all trying for the same goal and are more or less aware of each other’s activity. The US still hasn’t reached that goal so they go through periods of great upheaval followed by periods of more calm working, depending on whether an event sparks more action or something blocks progress for a while.

A stigmergic movement will continue as long as the goal is not reached and people still share it, even if it dies down or goes dormant for a bit. That is the advantage to an idea based system over a personality based one, you can’t kill an idea.

Or another stigmergic idea is freedom of information. This has everyone from the free software movement, creative commons and similar open copyright groups, Sci-Hub which liberates scientific papers, other filesharing sites, Wikipedia, even the Internet itself in its original inception might be considered a node in that stigmergic movement.

What keeps these movements from burning out, like so many do in the massive assemblies, is the fact that they are not spending all their energy communicating except in small groups and they are following one clear idea.

It is not often you find one organization or group that is purely stigmergic, but Anonymous is one. This is why they say they are not an organization or group. They usually say they are an idea, but they aren’t really one idea either, they are a method of mass collaboration and the method is stigmergy. That method allows everyone to follow whatever ideas they choose, in groups or individually with perfect autonomy. Anonymous never tries to reach consensus. Anonymous is not unanimous. And there is no organization you can order to do something, Anonymous is also not your personal army. You have to just put an idea out and see who follows it.

It may seem difficult to figure out how stigmergy can be used in a corporate setting where everything is set up around organizations and official people, but it helps if we remember that each of those organizations, no matter how they are organized internally, can be a node under a stigmergic idea. I am often asked if Wikipedia is a good example of stigmergy and no, it is not. Wikipedia is a cooperative. You may contribute work without asking anyone but your work can be thrown out and you can be locked out of contributing, or the topic locked, and there is a definite personality based hierarchy and a need to reach consensus around one final product. There is no diversity of product tolerated and there isn’t any real autonomy either.

But Wikipedia is still one of many nodes under the idea of Freedom of information because what they produce is completely free for anyone else to use or modify. I said earlier that Anonymous was stigmergic but Anonymous very frequently works with other people like news or human rights organizations or other hacking collectives such as Redhack who are themselves internally communist. It doesn’t matter what the internal organization of each node is as long as they are all following the same idea and their work is available for everyone else to use.

So the same methods can be used for corporate work. The key is for corporate style organizations to recognize what stigmergic ecosystem they are a part of and follow the guidelines to make their work contribute smoothly to that idea. One place where stigmergic development has really taken off is in the IT industry because free software has meant that the output is available for everyone to use and improve or modify. If we look at one stigmergic idea: We need better web development tools. If we had left this to Google, and Google had been acting like their competitive corporate selves, we would have just had the Angular framework, and progress would be Angular 2.0. And we do have Angular 2.0, but we also have Facebook’s React, Ember and many others. As long as the user group has not reached consensus over what tools we want for full stack development we have many contributors creating different frameworks for us.

When we start to reach wide consensus in some area, like yes, we don’t want any more black and purple websites with green sparkles and the vast majority of us are going to create websites that are very uniform, we start to see more and more conformity around standards like Twitter’s bootstrap styles but as soon as someone has a very divergent idea that people find interesting again, like Google’s material design, many people will start hacking on it and trying to create different solutions again. The same periodic upheavals of innovation and change are apparent here as in the social movements driven by stigmergy. In this case HTML5 and ES6 stimulated a rush in web development tools in general.

Of course this example of corporate stigmergy has some major issues., first in who is getting paid and who is not. Google employees are and free software programmers frequently are not. And even with free software, when you have players like Facebook and Google and Twitter it is going to be a bit hard for anyone without their development team budget and user groups to compete so it is not a level playing field for all to participate, but as long as the code is commons property we can have consensus without monopoly which is a huge improvement. It is starting to approach stigmergic organization, just from the addition of this one change, of software that is free for anyone to use or modify. You can see this especially as you move away from the big corporations to the later development add ons, in all the diverse people writing packages and tools for React and Angular and the other frameworks.

This is better than academia and science manage. They are supposed to be stigmergic as well, the idea in science and academia is that everyone is supposed to publish and build off each others findings, but because they do not have open source and permissive copyright or even access, their work is frequently corporate IP property, and they don’t allow or reward outside contributions, they are very far from stigmergic and their progress is not nearly what it could be. If we look back at the principles of stigmergic organization, the last three of four points do not apply to science and academia so they both need to change if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all. Which brings us to my next point which is about idea based collaboration.


We have stigmergy for action based collaboration which follows an idea, but what if we want to collaborate on ideas themselves, to build knowledge and find some most reliable facts? If we look at the 2010-2011 movements, like M15 and later Occupy and all the rest, they were fine with action based collaboration, especially when they used stigmergy, but they really struggled when it came to idea based collaboration, like setting goals. This is kind of important since without the ideas, you don’t have the action. Stigmergy follows ideas and information, so management of the ideas and information here is as important as management of personalities is in competitive or cooperative systems. If you think of this in a governance context, we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas.

To see what happens when an idea loses its clarity, or its idea has been co-opted, look at feminism. The civil rights movement in the US retained its clarity because it has set specific goals in each cycle whether that is to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it had a clear goal and was a stigmergic mass movement but second wave feminism allowed itself to become a noun instead of an action, its goals became very loose and because there wasn’t a clear goal it was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. A noun is not a stigmergic goal, a noun is an organization, so when feminism became a noun it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven, organization which became completely divided, as is typical, these types of organizations do not scale.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. That initial kernel that makes up the idea looks simple but it is everything. But finding the information we need for conviction in our goals is not easy.

If we think of a large population creating a knowledge repository stigmergicly, we have a picture of a bunch of ants sifting and sorting information and putting the best in a pile. And that’s probably how we thought we were going too do things on Twitter. But that’s not how expert knowledge, like the kind we have in a singularity, works and it’s why a bunch of people in a horizontal group can’t just do that. Especially a personality dominated horizontal group like Occupy or any direct democracy that starts from the premise of all voices and opinions being equal. This goes back to the idea behind a societal singularity, we can’t all be experts at everything and we don’t want to be either. We don’t have the time and we may not have the interest. We can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them, it’s impossible and it’s not fun either. We need to find a better solution.


I love this chart because it illustrates exactly why we need concentric circles in a democracy. This space between innovation and acceptance is where demagogues and gate keepers lie in wait to control information before it reaches the public. Like little trolls under the bridge. This is why we need knowledge bridges to replace the gatekeepers because most ideas can’t make it across this chasm on their own.

If you think of recent examples of elite working groups whose ideas were rejected by the wider society, like Brexit in the UK or the peace deal in Colombia, it was because of a failure of the working group to establish effective knowledge bridges between them and the public. The public did not see their viewpoints being heard and responded to and they did not see or understand or trust the decision making process, which gave demagogues on the outside of the process the ability to derail the acceptance of their recommendations. The people had information that was too difficult to audit themselves, and they had no faith in the people offering solutions. People in the UK said repeatedly they were sick of being lied to by the media and experts.

When people lose faith in those who are supposed to be their experts, like politicians, or those who are supposed to be their knowledge bridges like the media, they lose faith in any stigmergic goal these people present and they will block it, as I said earlier. The information from the opposition in both cases was certainly no better, nobody was offering a fully developed and audited plan for an alternative peace deal or a detailed plan to exit the EU, but even very poorly supported information and hyperbole is sufficient to overturn an idea that the public doesn’t trust. We can see this also in most elections, there are just demagogues and hyperbole on both sides, there is no process of reconciling any issues with the public or providing information people can rely on. In fact, the goal seems to be to deliberately confuse and immobilize the public and then just give them a binary vote in the hope they vote against the establishment which has lost so much trust. This is why both sides seem to only be interested in painting the other as the most corrupt establishment.

[On May 8 2017, former US Director of National intelligence James Clapper suggested the solution to the misinformation of the US 2016 election was to further fund USAID and spread more misinformation against US enemies. Those are exactly the actions that caused people to lose faith in information emanating from the US in the first place.]

You may have seen a lot of people blaming this current state of low information on social media and they are partially right but corporate media certainly doesn’t get a free pass either. Most of the tools we have to communicate simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most retweets and the most readers, but not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be so an age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. If we need some specialized level of knowledge to explain something like Brexit or a peace deal or the issues in an election, or if we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. And really this is what direct democracy, representative and liquid democracy do, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing.

We have tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where their opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by those users qualified to understand them to allow diversity of ideas and prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. But if we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information. This is what we have now. We don’t maintain the necessary balance between autonomy, diversity and society unless this quiet place to talk remains a fully associated part of the wider group. So to avoid a hierarchy and leave control with the entire user group, I use a structure I call concentric circles.


Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only, authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If this little drop receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre and you will find this happens increasingly if users lose trust, they will realize they need to start auditing this circle.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, which is where government initiatives like Brexit and the Colombia peace deal have failed. Ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. And, concerns and arguments from the user group should be carried back to the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. So the epistemic community can work without noise but still receive ongoing feedback from the users and acceptance is a process, not just a binary vote after the fact.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source communities.

In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that’s how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read, possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. Which means you can only be attacked by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. You can’t be attacked just by a demagogue and rhetoric, you can only be opposed by another working solution so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. Which means we need the final most important point for concentric circles – the information is free for anyone to use or modify.

Imagine if HTML and Javascript were corporate products that were not available to the public to use, like Bill Gates wanted programming languages to be back in the day. We would not be talking about web development frameworks as a stigmergic system. They would be just one proprietary product delivered by one corporation, probably Microsoft. The fact that we won this fight against Bill Gates and those like him is the single biggest reason that programming and IT have progressed so incredibly far and quickly and the reason IT is the best place to look for corporate examples of stigmergy. Just imagine if we had this same freedom to use the end products of other industries, like pharmaceuticals for instance which Bill Gates is currently pushing oppressive IP laws for.

Intellectual property in a stigmergic system is like an ant that finds food but doesn’t leave any pheromones to tell the other ants. Or worse, actually blocks the other ants and that idea is so ridiculous I can’t even think of a stigmergic example of it. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to stigmergy which is to say it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and democracy.


So what we have been looking for here are methods of collaboration that bring us a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. We want to allow the maximum amount of autonomy to those doing the work so we can include all of their ideas and abilities. We want to allow as many diverse solutions as people are inspired to try for each problem. And then we want to allow the entire user group to easily make an informed choice of which solution is best for them as is their right in a democracy. So our methods are stigmergy, which we use for mass action and concentric circles which we use to audit, teach and amplify information.

The best part of stigmergic work and transparent concentric circles for knowledge is our work doesn’t get wasted. When you come to an event like this with a specific project, it is easy to feel as though you are in a competition where you are only associated with one project and your success or failure is tied to that one project and the group around it. But even if you organize your own team in a completely different form, if you follow these principles you will still be contributing to progress as a node in a stigmergic idea. For this two weeks the idea is: Let’s develop better tools for democracy. If you follow these principles, if other people are free to contribute to your project and you to theirs, if you add what you learn to the epistemic community of ideas and act as a knowledge bridge to those learning and most of all if your code is open and free, you will still be part of the community around this idea contributing to the goal we are all working towards. You will be part of the ecosystem.

Q and A not translated.

Mastodon, Getgee and the decentralized data movement

From Diaspora and GNU Social to Cimba and Mastodon, increasingly sophisticated alternatives keep offering to move the public off of the data harvesting platforms that manipulate people and sell their personal data. No one should be gifting their innermost thoughts to states and corporations. Personal data is used to coerce public opinion and advance the interests of undemocratic entities who have only maximum profit for their shareholders as a guiding principle. No one should risk storing their personal data on a platform that sees their data as ‘the new oil’.

The problem is, the people aren’t moving. The reason they aren’t moving is the new alternatives aren’t offering what they need.

What do we need?

Our greatest need is for a collaborative information commons, for open journalism, for open science, and just for fun. We need a place where the data is not personal data but it is not corporate data either. We need a place where the application software is decoupled from the data but the data is all still linked.

While secure communication and ownership of personal data is important, mass communication and mass collaboration are required to change the world. People risk their lives to tweet because they want to be heard. More, they want their stories to be a part of the permanent record, not lost in a stream of transient white noise. If we have a data commons, we can have the participatory governance, research and global collaboration so many of us dreamed of, free of corporate ownership or interference.

With a universal data commons we can:

  • collaborate effectively and intelligently and solve the problems we are facing with far greater speed and accuracy.
  • all be much better informed and be able to easily see the original sources of our information.
  • easily see all related information on a subject from all perspectives.
  • replace transient and context-free news with continually growing and evolving knowledge repositories.
  • allow epistemic communities to work in peace within circles that match their own expertise and still maintain full transparency and participation by anyone interested.
  • bypass NGOs and funding platforms and provide aid to each other directly, and receive feedback directly, through our trust networks.
  • establish our own direct trade between communities.
  • use our own trust network to filter and fact check information for us instead of relying on third parties.
  • offer products and services to others and be easily found without centralized platforms.
  • rely on recommendations for products and services through our own trust networks.

With a universal data commons we can have far more understanding and well informed collaboration around the world. We need this.

Who is still on Twitter?

Reality Show Twitter, Instagram, etc

Twitter is a personality focused, broadcast platform for public data. Broadcast social media is largely a reality show, where microcelebrities vie with real celebrities for the next mainstream media article based on a tweet. No one on Reality Twitter wants to hide their light in personal online data storage (pods). Those not involved in the reality show are already on Slack, Gitter, sub-reddits, image boards, forums, irc, federated microblogging sites and secure group chats. The (sometimes paid) actors on social media reality shows will stay on the corporate broadcast platforms, along with their audiences and the media who report their tweets, until someone creates a decoupled, personality focused, broadcast platform.*

Research Twitter, reddit, etc

Yes, people are on social media to socialize, which is why the term was coined. But the term was also a demeaning dismissive, used by authoritative journalists and researchers who wanted to imply that all the public was interested in was socializing. Social media was meant to infer its users were not professional, even as all the professionals grudgingly moved onto it. The blue checks were meant to separate the real from the riff raff. In recent years, social media has become the unpaid backbone of research, journalism and governance. Social media alternatives are not addressing the unacknowledged part of social media, the collaborative media and research which the centralized platforms let us participate in and the open epistemic communities they let us listen to and learn from. Research Twitter will stay on Twitter until someone creates a decoupled, information focused, broadcast platform* that meets their needs. Like G.

What is wrong with what we have?

To quote Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, there are three primary problems facing web users today:

1)   We’ve lost control of our personal data
2)   It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web
3)   Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

1) We have actually lost control of both personal and public data and in both cases we need to decouple application software from the data to regain control. In the case of private data we need to retain personal ownership and control of it and in the case of public data we need to create a universal data commons free from state or corporate control. We must have a clear distinction between public data and private data because the objectives are in complete opposition to each other. Since people don’t like using separate applications (based on the number of nude selfies posted in Twitter dm’s) we should make the transition from one environment to the other as seamless as possible for them.

The decentralized social media platforms on offer solve the problem of control over personal data in theory, but in reality most of them just create multiple little pods, each with their own tyrannical or benevolent admins, like subreddits or irc channels. They also make your data impossible to delete if they are linked to other pods.

2) and 3) are both problems facing the broadcast of public data which decentralized microblogging sites do not address in any way. Both of these issues require an application agnostic universal data commons like G. The hypernodes, constellations and galaxies in G allow all information in the data commons to be linked together and sourced, meeting item #3, transparency and understanding. G uses trust networks (which are not the same as social networks) to allow collaborative access and the optional filtering of information by the users themselves instead of by application software and search engines. These trust networks allow us to filter out astroturfing and set our own trust metrics (item #2, combating misinformation).

My own primary issues facing web users are:

1) Noise from celebrities and astroturfing drowns out the information we need the most.
2) Corporate and state control allow photoshopping of information they want suppressed and amplification of what they want heard.
3) Thought bubbles encourage consensus around one truth instead of allowing multiple viewpoints.

The answers to my issues are also provided by G:

1) We need an information focused platform instead of all the personality focused options we have.
2) We need to decouple application software from our public data and protect our data in a commons that is free from state or corporate influence.
3) We need a data commons which allows us to link multiple points of view at the data level.

Decentralized microblogging sites address none of these points either. For social peace, these pods of like-minded affinity groups may be a relief, but for information and research, they are a mistake. The only thing worse than a sealed well of information is a closed thought bubble of uniform opinion. A Wikipedia that was not all linked together would not be the resource we know and love. In fact it is frustrating that Wikipedia is separated by language, opposing opinions are lost to consensus and Wikipedia guidelines prevent gathering information by other guidelines.

* How can I tell if a new platform will take off? A checklist

What don’t we have yet?

People don’t move from the big microblogging platforms to the decentralized microblogging platforms because they are addressing technical issues and ignoring the personal ones. While a microblogging instance, a sub-reddit and an irc channel are all technically very different, they all feel very alike and will attract the same users. Their users do not have control of the data, but it isn’t really public either. They aren’t the right choice for private messaging, but neither are they the best choice for public broadcasting. They are personality focused and hopeless for information gathering but they are not a good celebrity vehicle either. They are decentralized by server (theoretically) but they are not decoupled from software.

The failure to replace the existing platforms is partly the failure to differentiate between public and personal data, between messaging and broadcast platforms, between personality and information focus and between decentralized platforms and decoupled data. Here is a little check list for the next time a ‘new social media’ is on offer. Is it adding something we need?

Public data: The goal is freedom from censorship or other deletion or modification. Most applications use p2p with or without blockchain, or censorship resilient platforms. We already have resilient publishing with p2p and blockchain (we could use more where appropriate but it isn’t a universal god like many believe).

Personal data: The goal is security against dissemination. Ideally, keep it off the Internet. If that is not possible, encrypt it and keep it under your control and easily deleted. Most people use secure chat apps (like those with otr). Secure data receives more funding and attention than any other technology and is fairly state of the art.

Personal messaging: The goal is to know who you are talking to. Most efforts for security already incorporate identity validation and most people currently use Facebook, Snapchat or other platforms that verify users and let you add and block them. This is the application that should be replaced by open source software alternatives using friend to friend architecture, like Retroshare, which have already existed for many years.

Broadcasting: The goal is wide dissemination. Most people use the platforms with the largest audience, like Twitter or public Facebook/Instagram pages or Youtube or mainstream media. Broadcasting is at the mercy of corporate and state control and needs solutions which decouple the data from application software. (See What Can G Be Used For?)

Personality focused: The goal is promotion of personalities (or brands). Most use large public platforms, like the above, which provide verification checks and audience/followers. Social media is almost universally personality focused, but there are opportunities for less central control and hierarchy.  (Again in What Can G Be Used For?)

Information focused: The goal is research and dissemination of information. This has very limited options available. At best we can use Wikipedia, media and specialized research platforms. There is a huge need for information centred solutions.

Decentralized platforms: The goal is to escape dependency on one server or platform. Data is spread across multiple servers or no servers (and so it is hard or impossible to delete). Use Diaspora, GNU-social, Mastodon, Retroshare, Secushare, Cimba …. Platform agnostic or decentralized options have been around for years.

Decoupled data: The goal is freedom from corporate ownership of data, freedom from software dependency, data reusability and versatility of use. Data is separated from application software and is agnostic to what applications are used to access it. Use a universal database like G. Application agnostic data is far more rare than platform agnostic applications.

We need an information focused, broadcasting platform with application agnostic data. This is what we don’t have. This is what G is.


More information:

Getgee synopsis:

Getgee transcript of talk:

Transcript from talk about Getgee


The short version of this talk is that we don’t need to rewrite any of the existing social media applications that are out  there like Twitter, or Facebook, or Google or any of the rest of them. The reason I’d like you all to remember that one thing is because it seems like every week for the last many years, I receive an invitation to the beta site of the next social media platform that is going to replace the existing big platforms, or a new search engine. So much money and time and code. And I know a lot of you probably use alternative social media, but none of these alternatives have come within hailing distance of Twitter or Facebook or any of the existing platforms. And they are never going to. And the reason they are never going to is because none of them address the reasons why all of the big platforms are in service to the highest bidder instead of us, why they were tempted to become evil and what gave them the ability to become evil.

So what I’d like to do today is go over what I feel are the main problems preventing us from having productive collaborative tools on the Internet and reliable knowledge repositories and then I’d like to suggest how we can resolve those problems once and for all.

The biggest problems I can see to collaboration on the Internet can all come under one of three headings which are noise, thought bubbles and truth dictatorships. So noise …


This is not the most illustrative slide I could have used, I chose this of course so I can show you all that for all the years Klout had this Top Influencers feature, I was either the second or third influencer to the man who is currently the Prime Minister of Canada. Right behind Justin Beiber. I can guarantee you if I had any real influence over this man, many of his policies would be very different. And I’m pretty sure Justin Beiber doesn’t have much influence over him either.

But on social media as it is today, this picture, this perception of influence, can translate into real influence. To the point that the former Prime Minister of Canada actually had a very hyped photo op with Justin Beiber because the perception is that Justin Beiber’s influence is so great that he can amplify the Prime Minister of Canada.

The reason for that is we are governed by ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power and in order to benefit from these ponzi schemes, we need to enable and support them. No one has ever become wealthy by being of assistance to someone trying to survive in the streets. No one has ever become a millionaire by raising a baby. If you want to acquire wealth, you need to be of service to the wealthy so they can distribute that wealth down to you. And in order to gain influence, you need to promote and agree with and amplify those with greater influence so they can raise you up. And just as crypto-currencies did nothing to change this algorithm online, social media did nothing to change the ponzi scheme of celebrity. All either of them did is reproduce the same algorithm with all of the physical barriers lifted, so we have the same ponzi schemes but now the results are instant, we have overnight crypto currency millionaires and instant social media celebrities. We need algorithms which reward us for being of service to those who need it most and we have algorithms that reward us for being of service to those who need it least.

The reason these ponzi schemes are preventing us from having useful collaboration is because not only is celebrity not real influence, the two are mutually exclusive.

What celebrity means is you are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. You already appeal to the widest audience. It means you have no thoughts in opposition to acceptable mainstream opinion, celebrities reflect the opinions we all already know and agree with. You are not a voice that is seldom heard, by definition, and you definitely don’t speak at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand. Celebrity is Donald Trump. Someone who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be. Celebrities are the status quo so amplifying celebrities is just creating more noise for the status quo, and making it harder to find anything innovative or understand anything challenging.

So it is counter intuitive to think celebrities can influence us to move in a new direction. If we want to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that expand our Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or require some elite level of knowledge to explain some breakthrough of the kind we require to solve the problems in front of us today, amplifying celebrities is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.

The other noise the Internet has brought us is astroturfing.


A few years ago if you said something was astroturfing, people would look at you like you needed a tinfoil hat, but now this has become so mainstream most states brag about their cyber warfare and their cyber armies. This is all that is. It is propaganda designed to drown out all information the states and corporations who pay for it don’t want you to see. For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time on social media, this is what it looks like. Every time this man was in the news, for years, the Internet would be hit on all forums, on article comments and on social media by these bot armies. These ones have avatars of horses and dogs, sometimes they have eggs or the canadian flag, but they all do the same thing which is fill all the forums with aggressive and unintelligible comments that just serve to tie this person to certain keywords, in this case terrorism.

Astroturfing is really annoying. It can be intimidating or frightening, some of it is really aggressive. It contributes a great deal to all the noise we have to wade through looking for signal. It is frustrating, you never know if you are talking to a real person or wasting your time with a bot, and it is very chilling to online conversation. It has made Twitter especially almost unusable for rational conversation.

The next problem is probably the most disappointing to those of us who were around when the Internet became a thing.

Thought bubbles

The most exciting thing for most of us I think in the early days of the Internet or even bbs’s, the most exciting thing was being able to connect with people who you never dreamed you would ever be able to connect to. And I don’t just mean people across the world, we have google translate so now we can understand them, but people with perspectives that you would never dream you would be able to have a conversation with, much less find empathy and common ground, but if you talked to them long enough you began to find that you do have common ground and you begin to understand their viewpoint a little more even if you don’t agree with it. You can begin to make some accommodations and sometimes we even change each others opinions online.

But it turns out this only happens until a forum reaches a certain size. Once a forum has reached a certain size and the people there have spent enough years with each other and discussed enough topics and reached some consensus around many topics, what happens is they start to create their own culture and develop their own ideas of what are acceptable viewpoints, and their own ideas that it is taboo to hold just like all cultures do. And then what happens when an opposing viewpoint comes into these forums is they are pushed out and shunned till they go off and create their own little thought bubbles of people who agree with them. And just as they weren’t allowed to participate in the main forums, they push out everyone who disagrees with them. And they bring all the supporting documentation that supports only their ideas. Then Facebook and Google see what they are interested in and feed them even more information in support of their views. So they begin to see only one viewpoint ever and they live in this little purified thought bubble where only their thoughts exist, just like the main larger forum is also now living in a purified thought bubble, but this thought bubble is created in opposition to the thought in the main bubble. So it is like a little cancer there. It is like an auto-immune disease that the wider society is usually not even aware it has or it doesn’t take them seriously until you get someone like an Elliot Rodger who comes out and kills a bunch of people they have been taught to hate.

Then when that does happen, the wider society does not typically come out and say, Oh, we have alienated all of these people, how did that happen and what can we do to re-establish communication and reach some common ground? What usually happens is the smaller group is vilified even more and shunned even harder so they become even more alienated and it creates an even deeper divide.

We have always had sectarianism, of course, sectarianism has been with the world for a very long time, but it used to be something that happened more between you and people ‘over there’, people you never saw or communicated with. Now thanks to the Internet we can never communicate with people we live right next door to and the sectarianism is more and more within our own societies. And yes, a lot of it was always there as classism, sexism, racism and other bigotry that was just painted over and the thought bubbles are useful to be able to be heard and explore things you can’t in wider society, but there reaches a point where the divergent viewpoints need to come together and seek resolution and that is where we are failing.

Also this is not all happening organically, definitely it is also something that is being helped along by the same type of people who brought us astroturfing, there are people on the internet who are there to promote division, and profiting from it. But whether it is organic or manufactured it is a problem we need to address.

This next slide I always feel should be Wikipedia’s landing page.

One truth

These are what I call truth dictatorships. This is where you have group of people and they all have to come to consensus, they all have to agree, and what they are looking for is the truth. So they all have to fight about which is the truthiest truth, and once they have lined up all their truthy truths they have to rank them all in order of importance. These truth dictatorships are of course great at promoting the status quo, and celebrity ponzi schemes, they create thought bubbles, but they have a special added feature I call photoshopping. Photoshopping is where you take every story and you just erase everything that doesn’t suit your world view by saying it’s not the most relevant part of the story. Wikipedia is great at this, you can spend weeks clicking through that site and never find anyone that is not a caucasian man. I used to say women didn’t need anonymity, we all come with built in proxy routing, everything we say is routed through the nearest man. But actually there are many parts of society that could say that.

But here is an unusual example.


Here is a person who is running for president of the United States, for the second time. But there is nothing on her Google blurb to indicate that. That wouldn’t be at all unusual if she was from anywhere else in the world, but if there is one group of people at the pinnacle of the celebrity ponzi scheme it is the US. Their never ending spectacle of an election is impossible to escape on any media but especially on Google.


Here is what Google shows for every candidate from the two main parties, and this is his first run and he did not even get the nomination of his party. But there is a huge amount of information on all of his policies on every topic, it is really obvious that he is running for the presidency. This is what you get for the candidates from either of the two main parties but not any third party candidates.

But Google is just a search engine. It is obvious they got their blurb from Wikipedia, they probably got the policy information from another third party site, so this isn’t really fair. Google can’t help what it finds on the Internet. So let’s just ask them.

Google, who is running for president of the United States?


And they flat out lie. We can’t blame this on anyone else, this is Google’s answer and they flat out lie. We didn’t ask who are the candidates from the two main parties, we asked who is running, end of, and they photoshopped out everyone else.

And if you like we can click that article below from the New York Times with the same heading to see how mainstream media does


And we get the same thing. Photoshopped again.

So this is where social media would really shine. When you can’t trust the big corporations like Google and NYT, we can rely on each other to keep ourselves informed, that’s why social media was so exciting.

So let’s look at this same candidate on Twitter.


Those of you who don’t follow a lot of people from the US on Twitter probably don’t see what’s strange about this, but Twitter has this thing called blue checks. What Twitter says a blue check means is it means that you are really important. It means you are a real person, and you are an extremely important person. What it actually means is you are from the US and you are probably a caucasian man. For years, no African heads of state had blue checks and most don’t even now. Outside of the US it is very difficult to get a blue check. But within the US, the most tenuous connection to politics, to tech, to journalism, to Twitter’s frat boy parties … the most random people have blue checks.

So you can see how this would be really confusing if you lived in the US and you wanted to know who you can vote for in your federal election. This person says she’s a third party candidate, but she can’t be a very serious candidate because she doesn’t even have a blue check and even the neighbour boy down the street has one.

And that’s what photoshopping is. If she doesn’t exist, you can’t vote for her.

So, noise, thought bubbles and truth dictatorships.

The problem here is not with the software, it is the way the web was designed. Just like crypto-currency did not change the algorithm that creates ponzi schemes of wealth and social media did not change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of celebrity, the web did not change the ponzi schemes of information and it was not designed to. The web was created to mirror academia. Isolated pages of information citing other isolated pages of information. It was never designed for mass collaboration. We hear so much about walled gardens, but the Internet is a series of sealed wells. Even if we have access to everything on the surface, we do not have access to the information in the wells that is feeding all the life on the surface. And to add insult to injury, we created everything in those wells.


Look at these logos for a minute. And think about the amount of money each of these logos represents. The last I checked, alibaba was worth 65 billion. Uber is worth 60 billion. Airbnb is over 25 billion. And what do these corporations do? In every case, these corporations are a page that seals a well of user created information. The only service they provide is web hosting. Yes, I know they have written a lot of front end software and many of them have released a lot of great software to the open source community and that’s great, but that is not where the value is. If it was we wouldn’t be getting it for free. The value is in what the users created, our data.

And think about the control these corporations exercises over all of our data, which is our work, our networks. From monitoring our shopping habits to Facebook deciding to what mood we are in or whether we vote.

There is no point in creating another Twitter, another Facebook, another Google, another thought bubble with its own sealed well that doesn’t address any of these problems.

This control of user information is what created the fertile ground for corruption in the first place. Control corrupts. Absolute control corrupts absolutely.

We have free software. We are working on free networks. We need free databases.

So if we were to release all these 100s or 1000s of billions of dollars worth of value and put it back into the global commons and return control to the people who created this data, how would we do that? How would we create a universal global commons database that we were all free to use in any way we like?


So given that we want to deal with a database, here is a little 2 button app that does everything we ever do with databases. We can search, or we can log in and create, update and delete. And there are five entity types that I think will allow us to do everything we do in any of those applications. 

What these entities are is stripped down atomic objects that we can use to create larger meaning from. If you look at me as an object, any attributes you were to identify are very subjectively important. I used to say my official documentation decided the most important things about me were my name, date of birth and gender and they could just as easily have used my eye colour but now my official documentation does not require gender and it does require an iris scan so I guess someone agreed with me. But almost anything you can say is very subjectively important and changeable, so these are extremely stripped down entities. A person node is only an optional start and end date, usually correlating to date of birth and date of death, and a name. And we can all agree on just a name as a base data node we can all link to, right?

Of course not. 


How many of you remember what happened on Wikipedia when Chelsea changed her name from Bradley Manning to Chelsea Manning? If you missed this you really should look it up. It is the most perfect illustration of why we can’t have nice things in truth dictatorships. It was amazing, days of war waged over, who is the official authority for Chelsea’s name? Does she get to decide what her name is, or is her government the authority we should listen to? Or maybe we should rely on the journalists who write about her to decide. Was she more relevant when she was called Chelsea or when she was called Bradley, and should we use that to decide what her name should be? This is why we can’t have nice things in co-operative dictatorships.

The answer is really easy, Wikipedia.


These are two temporal realities of the same object. This is a hypernode. She was Bradley, now she’s Chelsea. It doesn’t matter which you choose, no one is going to argue with you, and your work will still appear associated with this same object.

These are temporal realities, she was Bradley, now she’s Chelsea, but there are also other kinds of realities.


Here is a perceptive reality. Las Malvinas, The Falklands, or if you are the UN and you just don’t want to get into it, they are still the same islands and whichever you choose, your work will still appear. Or if you like, you can call them The Penguin Rocks. Go for it, create a new reality, call them The Penguin Rocks, nobody cares, you don’t have to ask permission and no one is going to stop you, they will still be linked to the same rocks in the middle of the ocean.

But this brings us to a problem. How are people to know that The Penguin Rocks are not a name that serious people call these islands? There are couple of ways we can get around that. First, we can let them say they are joking, put a little fiction toggle on that reality and anyone can choose to filter it out. And the second is we use trust networks. We don’t have likes, we don’t have stars, or hearts or friends or followers, we have trust networks. A trust network is exactly like it sounds, people whose judgement we rely on. If you filter your search results within 2 or 3 degrees of your trust network and these Penguin Rocks don’t show up, it’s a good chance they are spam or astroturfing or trolls. So as long as you keep your trust network clean we are back to a place where we can actually work with the Internet again and we can filter out all those people who have made collaborating on the Internet impossible for all these years.

So we have three reality types, we have temporal, perceptive, and linguistic which is just like it sounds. And we have 5 entity types. And the reason we have these different reality and entity types by the way is because they have slightly different attributes so we can do things like attach geotags to events and organizations and map them or string temporal realities along in a timeline. So that’s nice. But it’s still not terribly useful or meaningful. There’s still not much we can do with this as an application. We have a global commons of data, we can all pull from it, that’s nice but in order to actually pull any meaning from it, if you look at me again as an object, there is very little you can say about me without relating me to another data object. I did this for this organization, I was this to this person, I did that at that event.

Usually these types of relationships are part of a schema that is part of the application developed by programmers. If this is ebay there is a programmer somewhere saying this is a buyer, this is a seller, this is a product and so on. But these things do not have to be coded by programmers and in fact they shouldn’t be. Programmers don’t know how users are going to use their data. People are always going off and doing peculiar things with the data and then programmers have to change the schema and it is usually difficult. So we can just allow users to create category trees like this to map all possible categories for each of the 5 entity types and every relationship between them.


This is beyond the ability or the interest of the average user, to create a schema for all these relationships, but it is not beyond the ability of a data analyst with knowledge of the sector. This is like blog themes, a blog platform gives you the ability to create blogs but if nice people create themes for it they provide more versatility and usability for a greater number of use cases. So if data analysts create category trees, users can pull them in to use in their own work.

If you remember the little 2 button app I showed you earlier, there were three places you could create. One was the Universe which had all the data nodes in the global commons, but there were also constellations and galaxies. A constellation is your own autonomous space where you can work by yourself or add editors or open it up to however many degrees of your trust network. In a constellation, you can take data nodes out of the data commons, use a category tree that some nice person has made and map all your data.

Here is a database most of you are probably familiar with. It’s called and it’s great.


This is really nice, someone has written a little d3 front end and they let you embed this graph in your work or share it on social media or export the data. But it’s still a sealed well. If you want to add any data to it, or add any front end functionality, you have to go through littlesis. Or export the data to your own sealed well and not collaborate with them at all. If this was on G, that little 2 button app we saw earlier, anyone could use the exact same category schema and create data in the exact same format as this. If you tapped on one of these nodes you would see everyone else’s work associated with it, even if they used entirely different category trees or had completely different ideas of what was important. Imagine if this was the Panama Papers data. ICIJ could have just created a constellation and added them all as editors and just mapped the data as they found it for us all to see. Then we could create our same constellations around the same data nodes so they could see oh, that person was also involved in this corporation, we should run a search on everyone else in that corporation as well. And even if they still hoarded all of the data, we could share information from the beginning and it would have been so much faster and more productive. And we would have the data in a usable format. They actually did use linkurious to map it all, we could have had all that in a global commons for us all to build from instead of these unusable wall of text articles everywhere.

And you could add any front end functionality you want.


Usually in an app you just have the programmers and the users. But once we decouple the database and the trust networks we’ve got the core programmers for the database, the data analysts who create the category trees, the researchers and journalists who map everything in constellations, and then the users can take those constellations and add their own meaning and functionality. Suppose you were a taxi driver. You could create a constellation of all your local taxi drivers, and then someone else could gather all the constellations of all the taxi drivers and have a global database of taxi drivers. Novel new idea. We just took 60 billion dollars worth of value from Uber. Or you could filter that database down to just your region and within one degree of trust and you can download that galaxy onto your phone and add a little bit of front end software that adds functionality for you like paying your taxi driver.

Or if you are a politician, suppose you are a pirate politician and you have a blog, but you also belong to the pirate party of Germany and an international galaxy someone has created of all the environmental groups from all the pirate constellations. Now you can add blogs at every level, or loomio decision making software, or schedules or whatever you like.

Because now that we have split out the databases and trust networks, all those unicorn corporations we saw earlier are reduced to their real value which is bits of front end software that provide some collaborative tool or whatever it is they do.

And now users have their choice back. If any of that software starts antagonizing its users, they can just get rid of it and use something else and they will not lose all the work and the networks they have spent years building up. And they can choose the functionality they want. They don’t have to go through facebook for everything whether they are logged in or not, they can have a little stripped down read only app on their phone and a giant application on their laptop because it is not one product now it is an ecosystem, anything can be replaced without destroying the whole. And it doesn’t matter what application you use, you can still collaborate with everyone else because that happens at the data level.

So we have a way to filter out astroturfing and spam. We don’t have celebrity ponzi schemes now because it is all about the people doing the work. We can isolate ourselves but we can’t create community thought bubbles, everyone has control of their own information. We have diversity of opinion and we allow for different realities. And we can let our own trust networks decide what we want to be shown and not leave it up to Facebook and Google.

Right now I’m rewriting this in React and Meteor 1.3. If anyone wnts to help, money is welcome, pull requests are welcome.

Getgee: Tools for self-governance Part 1



The Getgee project

G is a universal database and trust network which can be used for the most popular software applications today.

Technology corporations have lately become incredibly wealthy and powerful by controlling and exploiting access to the information we all create. These corporations abuse the control they exercise over all of our data, our work and our networks, because they can and because it is profitable for them to do so. From monitoring our shopping and browsing habits to manipulating what mood we are in or whether we vote, these corporations are replacing our traditional governance and media structures with corporate dictatorships that have no social interest and exist to provide maximum profit for shareholders. Their users tolerate this abusive relationship because they don’t want to lose all the years worth of data or the networks of contacts they have created.

In past years, a great deal of money, time and code have been spent in trying to address the problems with the existing platforms by replacing them with duplicate alternatives but the problems outlined in this document are not the fault of any particular software. They are a fault in the way the web was designed. The web was never designed for mass collaboration. It was created to mirror academia, to have isolated pages of information citing isolated pages of information. The Internet now is primarily databases, not pages of information, so the result is an Internet constructed as a series of pages controlling access to sealed wells of information. Even if we have access to every page on the Internet, we never have full access to the sealed wells, collaboration across them is difficult to impossible, and the data in them is controlled by corporations and used in ways we did not consent to. To add insult to injury, we created all the information in those sealed wells.

There is no point in creating another Twitter, another Facebook, another Google, another thought bubble with its own sealed well that doesn’t address any of the root problems that allowed these platforms to disregard the wishes of their users. The corporate control of user information is what created the fertile ground for corruption in the first place.

Control corrupts. Absolute control corrupts absolutely.*

A universal database and trust network will return control of our data to the users who created it while still allowing for mass collaboration. If any application software starts antagonizing its users, they can just get rid of it and use something else without losing all the work and networks they have spent years building up. They can also choose the functionality they want. The structure is an ecosystem, anything can be replaced without destroying the whole.

This project needs both funding and more expertise to help provide resilient hosting and ongoing development. Contact me at

Sealed wells of user created information

In every case, the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate value represented by the logos below comes from a page that seals a well of user created information. The only service these platforms provide is web hosting. They have written a lot of front end software and many of them have released a lot of great software to the open source community but that is not where the value is. If it was, we wouldn’t be getting it for free. The value in all cases is the user generated data they control access to.

G decouples the databases and trust networks so a person could replace the functionality of any of applications below and still retain all of their data and contacts under a different front end. This reduces the value of nearly all the unicorn corporations in existence right now to just a piece of application software that provides some functionality on top of the user controlled data. G reduces the corporate control to control over only their own software product, not user data. It also allows collaboration at the data level so collaborators do not have to agree on a single piece of application software and that can be left to individual choice.

We have free software. We are working on free networks. We need free databases.


Problems with existing online and social media

Political manipulation

The current role of propaganda, particularly online, in social manipulation is discussed in more detail here.

Examples of this type of coercion have been seen recently in the automated twelve hour Twitter trend of an English hashtag in support of the Brazil coup and a massive (and also English) astroturf campaign in support of a 2014 attempted coup in Venezuela. The purpose of these campaigns is to give the appearance of widespread grassroots support for coups which subvert democracy and skew outside perception. Foreign governments can then quickly accept the new corporate friendly presidents as was seen in the Paraguay coup of 2012, accepted by both Canada (Rio Tinto et al) and the U.S. (Monsanto et al) within hours.

Another example of online manipulation to influence election outcomes in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela is described by current Colombian prisoner Andrés Sepúlveda in a recent article in Bloomberg. The techniques described in the article are very familiar to online activists and are used by states and corporations globally. In an election as long as the US, even 4chan has the opportunity to manipulate and increase sectarianism to their heart’s content. Election manipulation goes beyond influencing opinion and also tracks and predicts individual voting preferences, a far more dangerous subversion of democracy.

Corporate manipulation

Every form of open and hidden advertising designed to manipulate the public is practiced by these platforms, including hiding information which corporations want hidden and gathering personal data for advertisers.


Astroturfing is propaganda designed to simulate grass roots movements and drown out all information the states and corporations who pay for it don’t want seen. Astroturfing can be intimidating or frightening as some of it is very aggressive and threatening. It is frustrating, as you never know if you are talking to a real person or wasting your time with a bot. It contributes a great deal to all the noise we have to wade through looking for information, and it is very chilling to online conversation. It has made social media, especially Twitter, almost unusable for dialogue.

Celebrity ponzi schemes

We are governed by ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power and in order to benefit from these ponzi schemes, we need to enable and support them. No one has ever become wealthy by being of assistance to someone trying to survive in the streets. No one has ever become a millionaire by raising a baby. If you want to acquire wealth, you need to be of service to the wealthy so they can distribute that wealth down to you. In order to gain influence, you need to promote and amplify those with greater influence so they can raise you up.

Crypto-currencies did nothing to change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of wealth and social media did nothing to change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of celebrity. All either of them did is reproduce the same algorithm with all of the physical barriers lifted, so now the results are instant, we have overnight crypto currency millionaires and instant social media celebrities. We need algorithms which reward us for amplifying and being of service to those who need it most and we have algorithms that reward us for amplifying and being of service to those who need it least.

Celebrity ponzi schemes are particularly harmful because not only is celebrity not real influence, the two are mutually exclusive. Celebrities are those riding the peak of the wave of mainstream opinion. They have no thoughts in opposition to acceptable mainstream opinion. They are not voices that are seldom heard, by definition. They definitely don’t speak at a level of elite expertise. Celebrities are people like Donald Trump, someone who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more people who can understand and agree with their message, the wider their appeal will be. It is counter intuitive to think celebrities can influence us to move in a new direction. If we want to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that expand our Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or require some elite level of knowledge to explain some breakthrough of the kind we require to solve the problems in front of us today, or challenge our current opinions by presenting opposing thought, amplifying celebrities is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. Celebrity amplification is creating noise which drowns out the thoughts we need to hear and keeps us stuck in the same place.

Thought bubbles

Once online forums reach a certain size and age and the members have reached some consensus around many topics, they start to create their own culture and develop their own ideas of what are acceptable viewpoints and what ideas are taboo, like all cultures do. At that point, any opposing viewpoints are pushed out and shunned till they go off and create their own little thought bubbles of people who agree with them. Just as they weren’t allowed to participate in the main forums, the smaller thought bubbles also typically push out everyone who disagrees with them and collect resources that support only their ideas. When Facebook and Google see what each group are interested in, they feed them even more information in support of their existing views so each side begins to live in purified thought bubbles where only their thoughts exist.

While affinity groups are very beneficial, and small thought bubbles can be useful for formulating viewpoints in opposition to those held by wider society, without transparency, communication and reconciliation between thought bubbles these online forums are contributing increasingly to intolerance and sectarianism within our societies. This division is also being helped along by the same people who brought us astroturfing, some people profit greatly from our division and are fostering it online.

Truth dictatorships

Truth dictatorships are co-operative groups which all have to come to consensus over ‘the truth’ or ‘facts’. First they all fight about which truth is the most truthy, then they rank them all in order of importance, then they present the result as authoritative fact. Truth dictatorships are great at promoting the status quo and celebrity ponzi schemes, they are themselves thought bubbles, and they have a special added feature I call photoshopping. Photoshopping is where those writing history erase everything that doesn’t suit their world view by saying it’s not the most relevant part of the story. Wikipedia is a great example of this. You can spend weeks clicking Wikipedia links and never find anyone that is not a caucasian man as Wikipedia editors have decided that caucasian men are the only relevant parts of every story.

 getgeeG replaces the traditional stand alone app structure with an ecosystem of five layers. The database and the trust networks are the base layer, data analysts create category trees for the relationships in different applications, researchers and journalists map relationships between data objects in constellations, and users search, join and filter those constellations into read only galaxies. The final layer is the application software that provides some collaborative tool or other functionality.


With G, we filter out astroturfing and spam using trust networks. We don’t have celebrity ponzi schemes because the structure promotes the people contributing work instead. We can isolate ourselves but we can’t create community thought bubbles because everyone has control of their own information filters. We have diversity of opinion and we allow for different realities. We let our own trust networks decide what is important to show us instead of leaving it up to Facebook and Google.

G is accessed through a two button app that does everything we ever do with databases. We can search, or we can log in and create, update and delete. The places we can create are Universe, Constellations, Galaxies and Metaverse. G allows users to add plug in applications to provide any functionality they like at the User, Constellation or Galaxy levels and it allows users to add other users, Constellations or Galaxies to their trust networks.

Everything can be created with a fiction toggle and fiction can be filtered out of search results. Search results can also be filtered within specified degrees of a trust network and editors can be added explicitly or within degrees of trust.



Universe is a global commons database containing the base units we can all link to in all of our work. There are five entity types that will allow us to do everything we do in any of the applications shown previously: person, organization, event, thing and idea. There are also media entities that can be linked as the sources for each object or relationship in Constellations (like hypertext but in a graph database).

Almost any attribute of these universal objects is subjectively important and changeable, so they have very few attributes associated with them in Universe. Since even the bare minimum attributes we include are still subjective and changeable, each data object is a hypernode that can contain multiple linked realities. It does not matter which reality is used, all will appear associated with the same data object. Reality types are temporal (Bradley Manning and Chelsea Manning are two temporal realities of the same person), perceptive (Islas Malvinas and The Falklands are two perceptive realities of the same islands) and linguistic.

The reason we have three different reality types and five entity types is because they have slightly different attributes so we can do things like attach geotags to events and organizations and map them or string temporal realities in a timeline.

Category trees / Metaverse

Within Universe we have a global commons of data which we can all use, but these objects are not very useful or meaningful on their own. In order to create any meaning from a data object, we usually have to relate them to another data object. For example, a person contributed to an organization, had a relationship to another person, or participated in an event.

Usually these types of relationships are part of schemas included in applications developed by programmers. For instance, in Ebay, there is code defining buyers, sellers, products and so on. These relationships do not have to be coded by programmers and in fact they shouldn’t be. Programmers don’t know how users are going to use their data. Users are always doing unexpected things with data and then programmers have to change the schemas and it is usually difficult. We can give users the ability to create category trees to map all possible categories for each of the five entity types and every relationship between them to allow for diverse use cases.

Creating category trees is beyond the ability or the interest of the average user but it is not beyond the ability of a data analyst with knowledge of the sector. This is like blog themes: a blog platform gives you the ability to create blogs but if people create themes for it they provide more versatility and usability for a greater number of use cases. When data analysts create category trees, other users can pull them in to use in their own work.


A constellation is an autonomous space where each user can work by themselves or add editors or open editing up within selected degrees of their trust network. Constellations map relationships between data nodes from the Universe data commons using category trees. Media nodes can be linked to nodes and relationships as source references (like hypertext but in a graph database). Currency transaction receipts can be added to currency transfer relationships in the same way.

Constellation graphs can be embedded in other work, shared on social media, exported or added to galaxies. If you tap on any of the nodes used, all constellations associated with that node are displayed, even if they used entirely different category trees. Any front end functionality can be added on top of the constellation data.


Galaxies are a space where constellations can be combined and filtered to create a data collection tailored for a specific purpose. The data in galaxies cannot be modified by galaxy editors, it is updated as the constellations are edited. Galaxy data collections can have front end functionality added just as constellations can.

Galaxies help avoid monopolies. Even if one constellation becomes the dominant site for a particular use case, galaxies can always be created to combine constellations and prevent shutting out smaller sites from greater traffic. Galaxies will probably be more used than large constellations in any case as the filtered data is faster and more useful for any regional or similarly categorized data.

Front end applications

Application software can add any functionality to the data without controlling access to the data. While certain application software may impose its own restrictions, for instance US flight or hotel booking software may exclude Cuba, Cuba data will still be in the database and accessible by any other application software.

Users can choose the functionality they want. They don’t have to go through one app for everything, they can have a little stripped down, read only app on their phone and a giant application on their laptop. They can collaborate on the data level with people using entirely different software.

Use cases


The future of journalism is discussed in more detail here.

Instead of repetitive news, cut and pasted across all media outlets, G allows news to be added to a permanent knowledge repository. Transient news streams can be replaced with knowledge that builds over time while still allowing the new additions to be highlighted. It encourages deeper research over trivial updates and recognizes the original sources of a story as there is no need for endless duplicate sources. It also enables more fluid collaboration between journalists while retaining autonomy and individual recognition for contribution.

Galaxies and front end applications can allow news to be displayed with different contexts. For instance instead of mapping conflicts always by state, it is possible to view them mapped over resource corporation activity or any other data to look for other possible relevant links.


Data can be easily uploaded into source media nodes and relationships mapped to be used as a resource for all researchers and journalists, not just a selected few. The Panama Papers could have been added to a constellation with editing permissions given to all the journalists involved. Any outside person could create and link different constellations containing other data, such as other corporations a person was involved in, making the process much faster and more productive. We would also then have the data in a permanently usable format, in a global commons for us all to build from instead of unusable wall of text articles everywhere and a private linkurious database for selected journalists.

Uber, Airbnb, Ebay, Alibaba et al

The buyer / seller / product relationships for all commerce sites can be specified in a commerce category tree and documentation for financial exchanges can be linked as a source media node. Rather than relying on easily manipulated site reviews and trust algorithms, we can rely on our own personal trust networks for filtering. Both sides of a transaction are far more likely to behave responsibly if there is a personal trust network linking them. Local or specialized merchants can create constellations to link each other together in a trust network as well, adding another local layer of accountability, local control over industry and the ability to allow regional diversity for local laws or customs.

While anyone can create a global galaxy of all the constellations for a particular industry, similar to Uber, Airbnb, Ebay or Alibaba, the fact that anyone can do it removes exclusive control from the galaxy creators. Without control over the data, galaxies are simply a tool for end users, allowing them to filter and sort data across multiple constellations. The software applications become simply that, applications which input selected data from galaxies or constellations and provide some front end functionality such as paying a taxi driver or buying a product.

Transparent and fluid organization

Organizations can use constellations and galaxies both for transparency and for dynamic reorganization for specific tasks. Political parties are currently organized by region. A party can create constellations for each region and galaxies at national or international levels, leaving the ability to add or remove members from positions at the constellation level but still allowing collaboration at higher levels. A party can also be instantly reorganized by galaxies to allow collaboration across non-regional affinity groups. For instance, a German Pirate Party member in an environmental working group can belong to both a local and an international Pirate Party galaxy and also an international Pirate Environmental group. Better yet, they could belong to regional and international Clean Water and similar galaxies with no party affiliation. The benefit to these galaxies is the responsible person can change at the constellation level and the change will be instantly reflected in all associated galaxies. The data in every galaxy can be used in collaborative apps such as Loomio decision making and other transparent tools which allow the group to work without outside noise but completely transparently to the public.

Direct aid

Instead of donors having to rely on bloated, political and frequently corrupt NGOs, charities and non-profits, they can establish trust networks to deliver aid directly to those who need it. Through trust networks, donors can monitor results directly from those receiving aid so those providing aid can focus on their work on the ground instead of spending their money and time on advertising and photo ops.

Direct trade

Direct trade relationships can be established between communities, bypassing the political and corporate control over trade and encouraging public education and engagement over current trade and duty laws.

Funding platforms

Using a trust network adds a needed dimension to make fundraising easier and provide more references for donors.

Science and research

Instead of a closed circle of academia in which paper citations can be reflections of power and reciprocity instead of knowledge, Idea nodes can be set up around any topic and all contributions heard.

Governance and law

Principles of a society such as constitutions and bills of rights can have every definition and option listed with the historic or potential consequences of each definition and option easily accessible. For instance a principle such as The right to life has little or no meaning without defining the start and end dates of life, whether the right of one includes the duty of all others in the society to ensure it and many other aspects. This clarification makes each point far easier for every member of society to understand and agree on and then ensure that all law in that society flows naturally from the root principles. For instance if the right to life also includes the duty of each member of society to do what they can to ensure the life of another, then homelessness and extreme poverty cannot be tolerated by that society. This is discussed more completely in Binding Chaos, chapters, Natural and negotiated rights and Beyond nation states.

Once these principles are clearly defined, it is possible for every state or other society to accept or reject principles along with their specifications and the results can be easily accessible for all. It could also be possible to then use these accepted principles to choose association, for instance refuse trade with a corporation that refuses to accept certain environmental practices.

Technical specifications

G is written using Meteor 1.3 with a front end in React. It will probably follow the Mantra specification in the future. Most technical documentation will be on Github and Trello.

About me

I was raised in one of the most isolated and impoverished communities in Canada’s north. It was largely self governing with an economy based on social approval, not trade. I have spent most of my life working on anti-poverty, human rights and community developed solutions, from free stores and free education to community gardens and social care in many diverse communities. I am a programmer and have organized online as well for most of my life.

From 2010 to 2012 I was the sole administrator and editor of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central. My objectives were to take the news focus off of men with guns, politicians and NGOs and amplify problems and solutions from the sources on the ground that were not being heard. My slogan for the site was News, Analysis, Action as I also wanted to encourage those reading leaks from Wikileaks, the Palestine Papers, etc. to move past passive news voyeurism and organize solutions. I participated in, promoted or reported on most of the major social movements of 2010-11 from their first initiations. In 2012 I focused on all forms of social media organizing, especially how states and corporations were using social media to manipulate public opinion and action and how to best combat their techniques.

Most of my work can be found on Wikileaks servers, Anonymous videos and etherpad manifestos worldwide. My signed work (book, articles) is linked to the GeorgieBC blog and GeorgieBC social media. Work related to G can be found on Github and on the website


Where is this database hosted?

Since this is an extremely complex database that will need a lot of work to optimize, I will set it up initially as a simple server application. After it is optimized and we know it can scale, we can run parallel testing in decentralized solutions to see what works.

What is the organizational structure of G?

It doesn’t have one yet and that will depend in part on who contributes code and funding and where it is based. All aspects of the project must remain free for anyone to use, and without obligation to funders in conflict to the stated aims of a global commons database and trust network. Potential structures are non-profit, co-operative or foundation.

Is this the Global Square?

The Global Square was a project I tried to develop in 2011-12. My links with Wikileaks, Occupy and Anonymous brought a huge amount of international media at the point when I did not even have a fully formulated idea, resulting in a huge amount of attention from people who wanted to use the project for personal fame and fundraising. It brought no one who wanted to contribute code, funding or usable ideas of any kind. Also in 2011-12, no one understood how I wanted to organize or why, so I needed these years to explain and show people why we need this structure (and not just a direct democracy voting app or a forum of regional representatives, for example). So no, this is not the Global Square, it is G.

What does G stand for then?

Whatever you like. I am just claiming this letter of the alphabet before a certain corporation decides to make it their intellectual property.

Everyone else is talking about privacy, you seem to be going the other way?

Private communication is not the biggest issue facing us on the Internet, social manipulation is. An organized public with reliable information can solve the majority of the problems of spying by removing spies from positions of power and creating regulations and laws in support of privacy. An isolated and confused public cannot organize solutions to anything.

There is also no such thing as privacy on the Internet. Anyone with enough money and motivation is perfectly capable of tracking all of your online activity across all platforms and displaying it in one graph. Their job is made much easier if you use the current corporate application software but they can do it in any case. A universal database allows you to choose your own front end software to make it much more difficult to track you and G allows you to use pseudonyms and multiple identities, something that is becoming more and more difficult with existing platforms. Since G leaves it to the user to filter spam using trust networks, we do not need the aggressive verification approaches of other platforms and we do not have any use for personal data either. Even though there is no privacy on the Internet, G is closer than what we have in existing collaborative platforms.

Why isn’t there an entity type for place?

Because place has different definitions. It either means location, which can be attached as geotags to events or organizations (the only times we want to reference that kind of place) or it means an organization, like a state or municipality or a thing like a house.


Thought bubble: A forum which is closed to outside thought or opposing opinions.

Sealed well: Databases which have access controlled by web pages.

Ponzi scheme: A pyramid scheme algorithm which requires those at the bottom to support those at the top in order to benefit. This type of scheme never benefits more than a few.

Astroturfing: Propaganda campaigns created to mimic grassroots movements.

Trust networks: A network of people whose knowledge and judgment we rely on to help us filter our data or to grant editing permissions. A filter of zero degrees of trust contains only items we ourselves explicitly trusted, one degree also contains anything trusted by those we trust, and so on. Four or five degrees of trust should bring all results that are not spam or astroturfing.

Photoshopping: Removing aspects of a story which the writer does not deem relevant or agree with and leaving only those which support the writer’s bias.

Truth dictatorships: Platforms which present one view of reality as a complete ‘truth’ or ‘fact’.

To keep in touch:

Mailing list:

Heather Marsh:

This project is based in part on the thoughts outlined in the book Binding Chaos and on GeorgieBC’s Blog.

* Yes, of course it is a reference to Lord Acton’s quote about power.

Good-bye Wikipedia, hello something else


Wikipedia was the first great, high profile success story of Internet mass collaboration and produced a well-loved reference used with obsessive frequency by an entire generation. But it is past time for us to build new forms of knowledge commons.

Wikipedia is a website, controlled by a foundation. It is the work of, theoretically, the entire Internet but it is not a global commons. One tiny group can, and did, blackout the entire site for a period specified by them. Wikipedia has survived so long by being hyper aware of and sensitive to their user community, it is highly doubtful they would ever become evil, but it is nevertheless centralized control of what ought to be a global commons. And centralized power always ends up doing things like this.

As an old node in the idea of free information, Wikipedia has a rigid hierarchy of tradition and established editors. Contributors with different ideas cannot just create what they wish and allow people to use it or not, as they can with blogs, tweets, pearltrees or other tools. Wikipedia does not play nicely with a decentralized Internet of information.

When Wikipedia was created, in 2001, it was a fascinating and liberating tool to work with. Now it is as archaic as a box of punched cards. We have made incredible progress in data mapping and modeling tools and we have software which makes graphically linking relationships intuitive and obvious. We also have tools that are designed for use on mobile phones and tablets, where most of the world is. We need to build to our new capabilities.

We also need new information in the repository. Wikipedia has been criticized often for their over representation of one tiny demographic of the world’s population. They have attempted to address their bias but it is very apparent that this is not working, neither women nor non-western men are very interested in editing Wikipedia.

The reason why is obvious, even if it escapes the Wikimedia Foundation board. The Wikipedia game is rigged against everyone but western men because it is a glorification and amplification of mainstream media. You cannot write a Wikipedia article unless you have mainstream media sources; news from mainstream media is considered the official verified version. Anyone who is not a western man must prove to many western men that they are newsworthy before they are included in Wikipedia. The entire Wikipedia repository is contaminated as a result.

A knowledge repository should rely on primary source material, interviews endorsed by all participants or affidavits. All of these types of material can be linked with no reliance on third party media. If citizen journalism is to replace corporate media it must not rely on corporate media to interpret data.

To be a stigmergic project instead of a cooperative one, each contributor must be free to work according to their own ideas and the power of the user group must be limited to acceptance or rejection of the final project for their own use only. This is simple in a structure like pearltrees where everyone creates their own pearls or pearltrees and others link to them or not as they see fit. It is simple in an RSS or Twitter feed where anyone can create their own list of voices to follow. It is impossible in Wikipedia.

Our right to communicate


The first right of any person in any society must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or for us to participate fully in a society. When your right to communicate is interrupted by those who would be your voice, your face or your representative, you are being subjected to the governance of another.

Horizontal governance does not mean no one gets a voice, it means everyone does. A person or group who attempts to suppress the voices of others is attempting to seize control. Official group channels are representative governance, regardless of consensus that may or may not lie behind them. A person who interprets another’s voice instead of amplifying it is assuming control over the originator.

People giving a foreign ‘face’ to a cause are standing between us. Media who pretend to write stories about groups whose voices are never heard but write almost universally through the lens of western men instead, are ensuring that all interpretations and solutions come from the same small segment of society. Wars are told from the point of view of arms dealers and politicians, disasters are interpreted by NGO’s, most issues are never covered at all. Official channels decide what will or will not be revealed and media are rewarded for their obedience by access to more official information.

New media in its current form has made this worse instead of better. Journalists write about those powerful in social media to have their stories amplified by the same people. The news – celebrity symbiosis has only escalated as writers vie for page views. We are at risk of having increasingly narrow news coverage as platforms like Twitter move to increase amplification of already powerful accounts and hide the less powerful opinions from view.

Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities outlined the pitfalls of celebrity replacing epistemic communities and the need for peer ranked value of expertise. It also discussed the potential scope of shunning, photoshopping and trolling to prevent all voices from being heard. As information and voice amplification become the new symbols of power, those who would assume control of society have moved to hoard voice amplification and control the message received by the public in new ways.

The pressure for marginalized groups to stay in their marginalized roles increases as does their opportunities to escape. While it was once possible to simply identify people in relation to a more powerful figure, as assistant, wife, staff, servant, serf, slave or other, the Internet provided the opportunity for all to have an equal voice free of relation to others. The backlash to this freedom has been violent.

Depending on the group, individual voices are told their message will receive greater amplification if it comes from another, the danger of speaking openly is so great they must be protected, their individual voices disrupt the harmony of consensus, or they are part of a collective and will be shunned if they dare speak with their own name. Most importantly, the free information beliefs of many groups which threaten power have been twisted to conflate credit theft with free information.

When you are told that the actions and thoughts you know were your own belong to the group or the cause and you will be punished for claiming your own voice or actions, you know you belong to a cult with a cult leader(s). Devoting all of your work to a brand that will be used to create a bloated central figure who will then be able to control the messages of everyone while dining out on ill-gotten celebrity and collecting brand donations is no different than passing all your money to the Unification Church. The cult leaders of the 1970’s demanded money; in the age of the internet they demand fame and information control. In the 1970’s anyone who did not sign all material goods over to a cult leader was called greedy and materialistic. Now anyone who does not assign all credit to the cult leader is called vain and fame-seeking. The irony and hypocrisy is seen in the multimillionaire cult leaders of the 1970’s or the internet and offline famous would-be cult leaders of today.

It is possibly pure coincidence that every movement today that threatens the powerful is taken over by those that seek to suppress individuals and control the messages which are heard. It is undeniable that as soon as those voices come under centralized control they have ceased to say anything that comes close to challenging authority. The lack of recognition for the real source of any work makes it possible for the opportunistic to claim credit and very quickly build a following with too much celebrity and power for anyone to challenge. In the case of an internet entity such as FBI informant Sabu, this can be disastrous for the gullible.

As discussed in Idea and action driven systems, it is frequently necessary or desirable for the origin of ideas or actions to be unknown. It is essential that ideas and actions branded as unknown origin remain that way and no one is ever allowed to assume credit for them either personally or under a group umbrella. It takes only the slightest glance through all past attempts at societal change to see where every group that subsumed individual credit to ‘the cause’ has ended up, from the Communist Party of China to every Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution that became the new tyrant.

To reiterate once more what was said in Idea and action driven systems, credit theft has absolutely nothing to do with free information. Credit for one’s work or ideas is the right of every person, the human dignity of societal recognition and belonging and an inherent part of their identity. There is no need to ever hide the origin of information unless the ultimate goal is to isolate them and suppress or twist their messages or use their work to glorify another.

To allow local governance and solutions, local voices must be the ones which formulate problems and create dialogue. When there is a need of emergency response of the world to local problems, we must have a way to immediately amplify local voices to a global volume. For this we do not need new media or any media at all. People who are currently faceless and voiceless do not need another to be their face and voice. We need a system where urgent local news can be collected and amplified globally when necessary, and where the people of the world decide which news is important, not official news channels or celebrity nodes.

A person who takes your idea and information to use and build upon is your collaborator, tester and colleague. A person who takes your credit or your voice is your enemy, a thief who steals your societal recognition and approval for themselves and would be your tyrant.

The problems with democracy

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

Around the world, people lamenting the demise of democracy, or fighting for the birth of ‘true’ democracy need to take a closer look. Democracy is a universally failed concept, not because we have not implemented it properly but because the ideas were flawed to begin with. Advocates of democracy as a system of governance usually hold that it will produce the greatest satisfaction among the governed by allowing the voices of all to be heard. If democracy was implemented in the way it is intended by any common definition to be implemented, the resulting society would not allow all voices to be heard and it could not be considered either fair or enlightened. ‘True’ democracy is at best only one step removed from ochlocracy or mob rule; in a society where the majority create the laws, the laws can always be changed to allow for the Salem witch trials, the current Guantanamo military commissions, or many other examples where mass panic allowed the revocation of years of law in order to persecute a minority.

There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.

Direct democracy

A pure direct democracy is a pure tyranny of the majority. When a majority rules, there is no need for compromise and a minority will have their needs unrepresented, resulting in governance by the majority, not governance by the people. As in all systems where groups hold the highest power, individual rights are always at risk.

A direct democracy is impossible in actuality as no one can have the time to participate in every decision concerning them, and certainly not to educate themselves to provide meaningful input in every decision. To make the best decisions, expertise is required on each topic. Direct democracy does not always provide the best solutions, it provides the most popular, the most expedient, or even the most advertised solutions, more frequently as the decision becomes more complex.

Direct democracy gives equal weight to all votes, the expert and the novice, the completely dependent and the unaffected. Expert opinion is overshadowed by volume, which negatively impacts the resulting decisions. Allowing votes by people unaffected by the issue at hand results in not just uninformed decisions but also persecution of minorities.

Direct democracy is very susceptible to a hidden oligarchy, as those at the bottom of the social classes have no time available to represent themselves or to study the issues being debated. Secret clubs, and block voting are difficult to combat and also do not lead to decisions of the most benefit to all.

At its most pure, direct democracy is mob rule, or governance by decree. This system will allow the mob to override the decisions of constitutions and law, and does not allow for a reliable and consistent social contract for all members of society. In this form it is hard to argue that direct democracy is even a system of governance at all. Governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just or fair governance under most definitions of the words. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract with a society, it is essential that they see and can rely on the constitution of the society they are contracting with.

Direct democracy is very popular currently as an alternative to the more widely attempted and therefore more obviously failed representative democracy. The Pirate Party uses liquid democracy as an idea to tie votes to expertise and incorporate some aspects of direct democracy within a representative system, but this is a recycled idea from historical democracy that was replaced for a reason. Before secret ballots and one vote per person became the norm, people were regularly intimidated out of their votes by tyrannical spouses, employers, or others in a position of power. Liquid democracy is not a new system, it is a return to a previously failed system. It allows both an accepted rule by demagogues and a fertile ground for corruption, vote buying, and intimidation. These are things that were fought and exorcised in earlier times, there is no logical reason to expect a different result from a system that has been tried. Women and minorities fought far too hard to overcome this system to allow it to return.

Representative democracy

Representative democracy evolved as a means to overcome some of the obvious flaws of direct democracy. Representative democracy has become a cripplingly paradoxical system which celebrates nouns over verbs and is far more concerned with representation of every conceivable group than the governing actions being taken, resulting in a system where individual rights are negotiable, bigotry is integral and action is carried forth with no debate. Representative democracy is designed not to care about individual rights but to care about what noun each person can identify with and how strong is the lobby group associated with that noun. Representative democracy is divisive, ineffectual and based on impossible principles.

There are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for representative democracy to function: groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups. These two ideas are fundamentally unsound. While these contradictions were required in earlier attempts at representative governance, the idea was always flawed and recognized as being flawed. As we have progressed to the point where we can eliminate these weaknesses, we have instead greatly increased their use and stopped questioning their appropriateness. Presently these two concepts contribute to fundamental paradoxes throughout the current system which can only be remedied by rejection of the underlying concepts.

A group is a collection of individuals united for a certain time and space by a specific idea, experience or other common bond. Individuals have the ability to associate, to exchange ideas, to agree, to cooperate, cohabit and in any other way to collaborate, but the group they form does not become an individual. It cannot logically be granted a voice, a vote, or political or legal power. It is only in a system governed by groups and one which does not respect individual rights that such power seems essential.

Any group of affiliated people is an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of its group members. Unlike individuals, who have the power to change their minds and allegiances at will, or to act outside their own best interests, an organization has a mandate to promote a specific idea and represent a specific group. If a group were to fail to promote its mandate and population above all others, the group would be acting contrary to its reason for existence. Systems of ‘checks and balances’ implemented to counteract power of representatives presupposes that none of the representatives are to be trusted and therefore how can they be trusted to check each other? The first goal of nation states is to defend their citizens against the ‘other’, an idea which has led, and will continue to lead, to divisive politics and human rights violations.

In a system where groups representing individuals is the norm, as in the current representative political systems, there is a chronic problem of ensuring representation of all minority groups and hearing their rights alongside other larger groups. The issue is not solved by having more and louder minority groups, in every conceivable combination, making futile attempts to ensure that every group has a seat at every table and designing amplification algorithms for their voices, it is solved by ridding ourselves of all groups speaking as individuals and letting every individual speak for themselves. If individual rights for everyone are put above any group consensus, are a given in every assembly, if they are applied equally without distinction of any kind, there is no need for any group to have further representation. The completely incongruous situation we have found ourselves in under the current system, where groups demand and sometimes obtain special ‘individual’ rights, would be unnecessary. No group can properly represent the diversity of its members, only the individuals can.

People in systems of corporatist groups are proud to identify themselves as members of various groups instead of by their own actions. Anyone proud to self identify as a member of a group is at best a bore, at worst group affiliation allows them to circumvent personal responsibility and demonize ‘outsiders’. A corporatist group has no place in a consensus based system which respects all of its individual participants equally and a group does not have the flexibility to accurately represent individuals. Group representation of individuals contributes to the infantilization of the individuals and allows them to relax and not educate themselves or take part in their own governance. They are frequently less interested in the topic than in the social aspect of being in solidarity with their peers. Groupthink is not only a waste of potentially valuable contributions, it can allow flawed initiatives to pass simply because no one wishes to raise an objection, either the people who wish to maintain their membership in a group or the people who are too intimidated to disagree with the group.

There is no occasion for group endorsements or condemnations of anything when the individuals have their own voices. Both condemnations and endorsements encourage what ought to be assemblies of individuals with equal voices to place undue importance on pleasing the individuals belonging to the opposing or endorsing group. Dissenting voices from the group are not represented, and individual nuance is lost.

Group affiliation behind individual voices allows listeners to reject ideas before hearing them. Labeling an idea as coming from The Left or The Right is enough for many people to refuse to listen to it at all; other equally irrelevant group affiliations result in equally damaging bigotry which prevents communication on any topic. In a system which is built on communication and consensus, such barriers are insupportable.

Corporatist groups are fundamental to all centralized and totalitarian government systems, and antithetical to all open and consensual governance. Corporatist groups produce the same effect locally as they do nationally and globally; the cells create the whole and it is a fundamental contradiction to expect corporatist groups to create a consensual system. It is impossible to reconcile corporatist thinking at any level with an open system of communication and governance.

A group may take an action together, may communicate, may assemble, may agree on points, but a group never has one mind, one personality, one set of values. A group is not an individual and must not be used to represent individual thought.

Conversely, there is never a need for an individual to act as a group. We no longer live in a world where one individual has to make a long arduous journey to appear in person to represent their town or region, we need to work to ensure there is no reason why individuals cannot represent themselves in any circumstance. If the members not speaking are not interested then they should not participate instead of lending excess weight to another voice. If they are interested but do not understand, the system needs to be changed to allow for ease of understanding, probably by use of concentric user groups. If individual voices cause too much noise, the system needs to be modified to provide a solution. Individual voices are to be treasured, not lost for expedience.

If an individual represents a group we must ask who will have the right to represent the group? What will they be allowed to say? What will the wording be? If any member of the group disagrees, if any word is not approved, then the person speaking for the group is no longer representing the group. That person is now speaking as an individual with words unfairly weighted by group affiliation and the individuals in the represented group who allowed this are equally guilty of misrepresenting themselves as being part of a voice they failed to approve. An individual speaking for a group is a dishonest mask for an unfairly weighted individual voice in almost every circumstance.

When individuals speak as groups we frequently do not even know who the individuals behind the groups are or what their individual opinions are. In many cases the group is just the voice of one individual, sometimes an individual who speaks, votes, exercises political and legal power and obtains money or other rewards through many different groups. The group names encourage the public to attach undue authority to an individual voice, to think they are donating time, money or effort to a cause for many which benefits only one individual, to fail to question the background or connections of an individual they do not see.

Corporatist groups tend to be very personality driven systems, where a charismatic leader is given authority not commensurate with any expertise or experience. Where the representative falls short in knowledge or experience, they then have the authority to hire the needed expertise; a perfectly fertile ground for corruption and cronyism as well as incompetence. The representatives are assumed to carry all of the attributes and values associated with the group and given trust and blame not earned by themselves. The task of representing others is impossible and perilous in actuality, so the job is rarely taken up by anyone except as an opportunity to further a personal agenda.

It is understood by all that groups and individuals are different entity types with different attributes. The idea that the two may have their attributes exchanged for expedience is no longer expedient. Corporatist groups contribute to an extraordinary degree to the most problematic aspects of the current system, starting with the ones illustrated here and escalating into legal corporate personhood and democratic dictatorships. In order to create a system without the same failings, these two concepts must be rejected as part of the design. Individuals must begin to communicate as ideas and actions, not nouns. Groups must be given only those attributes which are logical to them, such as the ability to assemble.

Voices, votes, legal and political power are natural rights of individuals not groups.

Hidden oligarchies

In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy and his logic tests well against any system that has been tried so far.

Representative democracy is the most dishonest oligarchy of all as it insists on the falsehood that the voice of its oligarchs are the voice of the people and the subsequent falsehood that their rule is rule by the people. Democracies have not eradicated oligarchy, they have driven it to secrecy, a state of affairs ironically most abhorrent in a democracy. Instead of confronting the problems inherent in an oligarchy, democracy denies it exists while practicing it openly. Oligarchy is not necessary, but it can only be overcome in a completely open and transparent system which allows the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all and recognizes and accommodates expertise and greater levels of knowledge (see Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities). Communism has failed for the same reasons, by denying and pretending to eradicate elitism instead of acknowledging it and using it to the advantage of society. Many advocates of both democracy and communism hold that their ideas have never been properly tried, but the refusal to recognize and control the causes of oligarchies is the reason the concepts behind both will never be implemented despite widespread attempts. These ideologies fail at the gate because of a fatal flaw; when a round peg does not fit in a square hole despite numerous attempts we do not say it has not been tried, we say it doesn’t work.

Representative democracies do not provide for expertise in governance as representatives are elected by land mass and time span, not system, and are usually elected for charisma, not expertise. Athenian sortition likewise made no attempt at combining expertise with authority. Subjects that the majority is unqualified to speak on are delegated to similarly unqualified political representatives, segregated from other representatives by land mass. These representatives appoint experts who obtain their positions by cronyism with the politician instead of expertise acknowledged by the entire interested population. The politicians and experts in the current system then provide for no meaningful feedback from users of the system, outside of occasional polls; these polls are conducted on test populations which another group have decided shall be considered representative of the population as a whole and used to provide input on only the questions the experts decide. There is no transparency of any meaningful kind that would allow users of the system to audit what the experts were doing.

We can do better than this. We can govern by user groups, respect individual rights and global commons, and collaborate using stigmergy and concentric groups. Where necessary, elite expertise can be contained and used through transparent epistemic communities and knowledge bridges while control remains with the user group.