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About a universal debate tool

Imagine a magical universal debate tool, that would allow people to exchange ideas and opinions (= memes ?) in a self-organising, productive way.

Imagine you could search the net for :

Imagine you could get :

"Warning : according to your profile, you probably won't understand jack shit about the following page."

This is an idea I have always been interested in, and I've often wondered why it hasn't had that much attention. After some search I found that it has been tackled before by a few people ... mainly :

The [Common Forum project] is more or less a materialisation of these ideas. The problem is that it seems to be a top-down project that doesn't care about emergence or for the fact that what it's trying (or what it tried) to make is more likely to emerge by itself out of what already exists on the net. The site is interesting, a lot of thought has been put into that project.

Another project that covers similar goals is [TOOL : The Open Opinion Layer], which to me seems less ambitious and closer to getting somewhere. (I found out about this one on Seb's OpenMind?) It's less about developing a killer app that will replace the internet and more about simply defining standards and suchlike.

Another direction I've looked is, of course, the SemanticWeb, which is likely to make an interesting and very potent debate tool. Maybe we will simply have a debate tool when enough RDF (ResourceDescriptionFramework) will have been injected in our usual tools : google, bulletin boards, blogs ... wikis ? (how would RDF work with Wikis ?)

[Meaning Map] looks like a pretty interesting way to do that, I didn't tried it in depth but it seemed quite promising, though it's maybe more about classifying ideas than about arguing forwards and backwards ... anybody else tried it ?

Some things that would probably be needed to be formalized (-> RDF for these ?)

I could make this more formal, more complete (how do you say troll in RDF ? ), but I wonder how useful it would be ...

Assumptions and prerequisites

A useful thing would be able to define assumptions a text/article/opinion is built on. This wouldn't have to be defined in the text, it could come from the exterior ("aha ! but your article is under the assumption that thisnthat, which is far from being proved !")

For example this page is probably based on the assumption that emergence/cooperative work will work better than top-down design (probably the point about the Bazaar and the Cathedral). And that it's good to have a free market of Ideas, and probably a few others I forgot or don't know about.

But it can also be about prerequisites. A page could assume you know something about quantum mechanics (and thus talk about Hilbert Spaces and bosons and I-don't-know what without an afterthought), or that you don't (and thus provide extensive explanations about everything).

Individual profiles

This sort of thing would probably require people to have profiles and to express opinions on a variety of subjects. ("profile" in the wide sense can be someone's home page/blog), or the profile as used on bulletin boards, in a more conventional sense.

Instinctively, a system which asks everybody to openly give their opinions has a slight smell of totalitarianism, or surveillance. What if an employer can look up the profiles of people he is hiring ?

But on the other hand it can be described as "if you want to be heard you have to take a public stand". The issue of anonymity is raised ...

Imagine you have a good machine-readable profile so that a computer can carve up a text so that it only corresponds to what you want, dropping out extensive explanations and adding complementary material when needed, or even finding examples you can relate to. (on the scale of an individual text, this is probably Utopia ... but for a group of inter-related web-pages, or something like that ...)


Such a system should allow a system of peer-review to emerge. Just by saying you approve of something, find it interesting, don't agree with it but find it intelligent or say it changed your way of seeing things can lead to interesting high-scale results.

And by stating your opinions, you can more or less decide who are your peers, whose opinions you care about, etc. Different systems of reputations would therefore coexist.

Scientific research

This is close to the question of improving scientific research by facilitating search of research documents, increasing their availability and formalizing cross-references (quotations, mainly).

If one could formalize, for every research paper, what assumptions it is built on, what it supports and what it opposes, research in general will probably be helped.

This seems to be the purpose of [the CiteSeer project].

Using the Due Process of the scientific community to produce "courts of truth" (fact forums) has been [explored in "Engines Of Creation"]. It doesn't mention the internet, but contains some interesting insights on this topic.

See also:

Open questions

Here is [an attempt to use a Wiki for constructing proofs by chains of arguments], each page containing either a "fact" or "allegations", which rely on other allegations or facts.

See ViewPoint for some similar but less ambitious ideas. My view is that there will probably be two types of contributors to such a system: "writers" and "editors". (Some people could fit into both categories.) Writers will mainly add text without worrying about the system tools or details like categorization. (For instance, someone might write about "religious views on genetic experimentation".) Editors will then take the text and manipulate it so that it works with various tools like a debate browser. (For example, they might add keywords like "religion" and "biological research".)

I think the biggest failing of many similar projects is that they expect all users to be editors. If a tool requires people to understand RDF or SemanticWeb concepts, most people will not use it. (Even the minimal wiki mark-up is confusing to many people who are used to just filling in a comment box.) I think the key is to make it easy to contribute while allowing expert editors to add value later. (This is the main reason I work on wikis--they are excellent at this if the community can avoid or resolve conflicts.) --CliffordAdams

But aren't editors more useful than writers ? The whole web can be seen as a giant slushpile : newspapers, blogs, wikis, bulletin boards, online books, etc. To me, wanting to turn users into editors isn't a drawback, it's the point of the whole thing.

Plus, the difference between a writer and an editor isn't always that clear : nowadays a lot of content contains references to other content elsewhere (and that is especially the case with Wiki !), not used for indexing but integrated in the contents. The web is already changing writers, now they have the additional possibility to add urls in their texts, and the habit is spreading. And to me, writing that way is not something that fits easily within the ViewPoint paradigm. (but then, I didn't inquire fully into ViewPoint and am sure some of these issues have been addressed - I'll have to look more deeply into ViewPoint)

I wouldn't rely on expert editors to add value later ... add it now ! power to the writers ! Blogs seem to prove everybody wants to be an editor, to me the key is in in trying to keep the technology the same from the user's point of view, while aligning the standards behind it around stuff like RDF (yeah it sounds a bit confused ...) Oh and this page isn't as much destined on promoting a particular system (though it does keep many of the prejudices of it's original author - I hope that'll wash away), but on the attraction of having a debate tool, and from what direction will it emerge ? (to me it's a bit of a call for resonance from similar memes) --EmileKroeger

I'd say: it takes far more skill to be an editor than one thinks when one first tries. Some people write in a way that grips and informs. Others don't. I'd put myself in the latter category. I may occasionally have good ideas. It's much rarer that I present them well. -- ChrisPurcell

I'd propose that there is a need for a user interface (the tool) as well as the mark-up language to capture opinions, issues, evidence, and a description of the user.

Some tools already exist for facilitating discussions, though I haven't seen to many that attempt to capture the formal processes that people use to facilitate "real-world" negotiations. The Semantic web (really RDF), may be a foundation for building a language to capture issues, positions, and evidence in a standard format that could be read/written by many tools. It sounds like there are several discussions on how use RDF to capture opinion/discussion data, but this process is only beginning.

One tool in this area that I find fascinating is [Meaning Map]

-- DavidMarks?

Perhaps simple CollaborativeCriticism wikis would answer the questions. For instance Google:CollaborativeCriticism+Pope, Google:CollaborativeCriticism+Hegel, and Google:CollaborativeCriticism+Einstein+Theory might be simple enough for most purposes. Assuming of course that CollaborativeCriticism becomes a unique, descriptive term that open research communities use to analyze and debate an issue or body of work.

I'd leave off the idea that the profile decides whether the user knows enough to understand, and let the user hunt up his own introductory material, or expect the criticism to point to it itself.

Thanks for the list of related projects! --DavidForrest

Have you looked at Compendium? http://www.compendiuminstitute.org/ It provides an interesting array of functions for dialog mapping. I especially like the way that you can collapse any number of nodes into one, maintaining the internal structure, and then expand them out again when you need them. Also, each node has its own url, so you can build really big maps and link to the point that you want from an external site.

The license is quasi-open source, and the Compendium Institute says that it will become fully open source at some point. I don't know what the delay is.


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