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A BootstrapConstitution is a minimal constitution (for online communities) that allows to start a decision process that's driven by voting members. Once the process is started it can change the BootstrapConstitution to any desired (temporary or final) constitution, it may even drop the constitution.

The process needs

  1. an initial voting member list (VML) and rules how to change it.
  2. rules for the decision making process (DMP).

founder system

I1: the voting member list (VML) contains the founder
D1: decisions need a majority of the VML :-)
R1: voting members have to respect the decisions of the VML :-)
V1: a valid veto must be backed by 1 user :-)
L1: Removal from the VML is possible by a decision without a veto ... this is a resignation!!!

founder-trusted members


L2: the founder may invite people to the VML

trusted members


L3: any voting member may invite people to the VML.
L4: any voting member may veto a VML invitation.

See InviteOnly?

universal suffrage

removes I1, L1.


I1: The VML contains everyone.

Possible Additional Rules

T1: The rules that affect the VML or the DMP are called the constitution
D2: decisions that affect the constitution need consensus.
D3: decisions that don't affect the the constitution need majorities.
D4: because of D3 the DMP must be a formal process with a defined processing time range (minimum to allow normal participation, maximum to end voting)
I2: All users who got the AwardRitual are invited to the VML
I3: All users with a homepage and a contribution during the last NN days are invited to the VML
V1: A valid veto must be backed by floor(sqrt(VML count)) users.
R2: A member shouldn't act to damage other members, the community or its reputation
L5: violation R1 or R2 may lead to (decision, veto) a removal from VML.


T ... Terms
I ... Initial VML
L ... List changing rules
D ... Decision making rules
V ... Veto rules

A ... AbbreviationsAreEvil. ;) --ss

This is just to show, how a set of very simple and formal rules might form an initial BootstrapConstitution from which a community may start. -- HelmutLeitner

Sunir resigns - a paradox?

Sunir resigning actually creates a paradoxical situation (empty VML) that may be resolved by something like I2 or I3.

Sunir resigning isn't paradoxical, because meatball doesn't have a BootstrapConstitution.

The "founder system" can be regarded a "default bootstrap constitution", for it just interprets the typical BenevolentDictator / GodKing situation. Of course it is paradoxical (even if there is no agreement on a BootstrapConstitution) because there is always one who has the key to a system, who has the power to change the script or to turn the lights off. -- HelmutLeitner

One can distinguish physical power from legal power under a specific set of rules. It is possible for someone to have the physical power to turn off the lights, while not having the legal power under some set of rules to turn off the lights.

Yes, that's possible. But in our case - Sunir resigning - both powers are in one hand. The interesting power is the legal one, of course. -- HelmutLeitner

Various people have the physical power to kill the server, and Sunir is just one of them.

[ed: Sunir un-resigned, but this section is left as it is a valid criticism of the action.]

Critical remarks regarding Universal Suffrage

Universal Suffrage leads into logical problems with online communities:

so you can't build on this a constitutional system that has a high probability to work. If you want universal suffrage, you need to define a much more complex parliamentary system and you need to create an executive power. Or you assign the founder a unique veto-right, in case anything goes wrong (That's in fact what ClayShirky describes as a fall-back).

Please note, that there is not a single case (example) of a real world community in human history that uses Universal Suffrage for its general decision making. Such a system is IMHO pure ideologically motivated fantasy. -- HelmutLeitner

Yes, but a crucial problem with universal suffrage before the internet was the simple impossibility of the necessary communication. I assert that most people didn't seriously look at ways to solve the other problems before, because they knew the communication problem would still make it unworkable. More importantly, you couldn't easily do small-scale incremental experiments on various decision-making methods.

Now that the communications problem has been solved (or at least, might be possible to solve), give it a few hundred years and see what happens.

On the other hand, although I think "who knows what might happen", practically & right now, I am in favor of the other mechanisms you describe (parliamentary systems & fallback mechanisms involving the founder or a founding cabal). (for groups which need to make decisions, that is; I'm not sure that wikis do). -- BayleShanks

Regards people respecting the rules: this is an issue for any rule-making process. You can never ensure R1. It is not even unusual for GodKings to make rules and then ignore them. R1 is just a rule saying "you must obey the rules".

D1 and V1 (the complete consensus requirements) are equivalent, and not impractical when used with universal suffrage, if your "universe" is small enough. -- MartinHarper

Ok, I changed D1 to be more adaptable and to avoid the equivalence. -- HelmutLeitner

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1244327,00.html has some discussion on differences between various real world democracies.

See also: Wiki:NomicGame


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