introduction to crabgrass
SOFTWARE FOR DIRECT DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL ORGANIZING
Social movements have grown more adept at using the web to communicate publicly. However, we could still use a lot of help in communicating amongst ourselves. In particular, we need the ability to communicate securely; the ability to make decisions between groups and networks that are geographically disbursed; and the ability to have a decision process that is easy to understand, transparent, and directly democratic.
The social networking phenomenon holds much promise, but it is clear that the revolution will not be hosted by myspace. We are building a web application currently called Crabgrass with these main goals:
- Democratic decision-making: Our primary focus is to facilitate directly democratic decision making for groups and networks. This means easy tools for polling, voting and achieving consensus. Since different situations call for different tools, we plan to support up-down-polls, rate-many-polls, vote-for-one, ranked-voting, formal-consensus, informal-consensus, and different forms of modified consensus.
- Group relationships: In social networking, the focus is on the individual and their relationship to other individuals. In organizing networks, the questions are very different. The application will make it clear how groups are related to one another and what human roles and responsibilities people have within a group. Rather than social networking, you could call it social organizing.
- Security and privacy: Activists are spooked -- as well they should be – and, unfortunately, it still requires a high degree of tech savvy in order to communicate securely. By keeping communication enclosed on a single, high-security server and by making it clear who the authorized audience is for a particular message, we can achieve a very high degree of privacy and ease of use.
- Messaging platform: Dialog is the lifeblood of democratic organizations, but it is very difficult with current tools to track particular discussion threads. By using a closed system and well-defined domain space, we are confident we can combine the better elements of email, chat/im, and bulletin boards. The goal is a single system that allows users to read just what they want, to communicate in real time, and to have many views into their message space
- Ease of use: Even the coolest features in the world are totally useless if people don't use them. The sites that people actually use tend to be clean, simple, and attractive. At each step, our first priority must usability.
There are three core components to this project.
- Democracy in Action Resource Center (DARC): A reference library of democratic systems and structures.
- Crabgrass: free software written in rails.
- Fusenetwork (name likely to change): A secure instance of the software most likely to be hosted by riseup.net.
Our plan is to develop the project in these phases:
- Phase 1: We will start with running code by developing a simple social software combined with a simple decision-making tool that is actually useful and usable. Users will be able to associate into groups. Groups will have discussion boards and a few decision making tools: surveys, polls, rate many vote, and vote for one. Concurrently there will be an associated reference library of democratic systems and structures that will later be integrated into the site in the form of help bubbles and pop ups. Phase I implementation will be used by a handful of test groups. Desires of these groups will drive phase 2 development, so the next phase will most likely change.
- Phase 2: Start building a messaging platform that includes private messages and the ability to watch certain discussions. Add networks to the user model. Refine the decision tools and make them work in both a group and network context. Add more formal and complex elements to the consensus tools.
- Phase 3: Extend the model of groups, members, and networks. Add the idea of working groups and committees, formalize the relationships between groups, and add the ability to define specific roles within an organization. Integrate the application with a reference library of democratic systems and structures. Extend the message interface so that discussions can be real time chats, branch or thread, get tagged, and can be viewed through a live 'inbox' like window that gets updated as new messages come in.
- Phase 4: Eventually, it would be nice to add tools that address the basic tasks repeated over and over by most organizations: scheduling meetings, tracking tasks, sharing documents. There is a danger of getting too much like groupware, so we will only work on these once the system is being actively used and if we can cleanly integrate these tools with the existing interface. This is not the focus, and these functions can be obtained by other means.
This is a not for profit project. It’s a labor of love being undertaken in an effort to create a tool that we believe can streamline democratic processes and increase transparency and unity in social justice groups.
The initial development crew consists of a programmer, Elijah Saxon, from the riseup collective; a designer and project manager, Daniel Scott, formerly of NYC indymedia; and a consultant on democratic process, Brooke Lehman, from the Institute for Social Ecology. We are looking for more people to collaborate with and to actively join the project. We have some initial resources to compensate additional programmers and plan to aggressively fund raise in the near future. It is our hope that we will be able to write grants using the name and reputation of organizations that choose to join the project.