Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Smartocracy -- Eureka! (Identity Mashup Conference Day 3)

So I have to make an online confession. And in particular this is for Brad DeGraf, whom Dennis and I have now known for years, who has been a real fellow traveller on our adventures with GlobalGiving. The confession is that I was invited to join Smartocracy in its beta phase a couple of months ago, and I could not make head or tails out of it. And I was interested in understanding it--stuff that has to do with wisdom of crowds, etc. is of intense interest to me, both professionally and personally.

And when Brad announced at our Identify Mashup conference that Smartocracy would be used to figure out what the next question was, I groaned internally because there were so many things going on, and I had little faith I would be able to sort this out in the midst of all the hubbub. And I think of myself as being a relatively good lay person with technology and figuring out how stuff works.

But it worked--for me, I mean. [And there's another post I want to make about "things working for me" where I'll go into this, since it also has something to do with the conference. Will post link as I publish the next post.] And maybe it was because the implementation was different than the beta test, but here's how it worked for me, and what was neat about it.

Brad created identities for everyone at the conference, so they were preloaded into the system. He put up some random (and some not so random) questions to vote on, and explained that we had 10 proxies to hand out. The proxy was where I got stuck the first time--I couldn't figure out whether by giving my vote away, I was losing my one vote (which I think I was reluctant to give up because I'm a Japanese national and absentee voting in Japan is very difficult [and I don't follow Japanese politics closely enough to cast a responsible vote even if it was easy], I've grown up never having voted in any government elections anywhere). This time, the list of people to whom I could give proxies to was clear, and the fact that I could enhance their vote by giving them proxies was also clear. Suddenly, this became like "awards" I could give out.

And if it had not been in the context of a conference, if it had been strictly virtual, I would have ended up giving proxies to people I knew. Which would have been fine, but kind of boring. Because this was a conference, I could give proxies to people I thought had said thoughtful things at the conference. It was a bit like kudos, and fun at that. I got to let them know I thought their vote was worth more, and in some cases I got to reconnect with people I hadn't met in a long time, like Jan Hauser.

And how this links back to GlobalGiving. We've been thinking of different ways we could decentralize the vetting of organizations and project leaders. Currently we do that ourselves, and through project sponsor partners, with whom we have signed legal agreements covering how this is done. How could we broaden that without compromising quality? Well, maybe Smartocracy is a way for us to organically develop a network of trusted partners who can be given specific proxy weights by people who know them well who in turn, could nominate worthwhile organizations. Or another such group could undertake to review the credentials of project orgs that want in. Either way, the smart crowd will be a lot "deeper" and "broader" than any of our direct contacts.

Very cool idea.

1 comment:

giovani said...

Amazing, this is what we are doing here in italy, but as of now we're beta testing it within a political organization. We have a short demo at

Hope to hear your thoughts about it :) cheers, giovani.