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July 7, 2006

The wiki-fication of politics, local style

Posted by David Postman at 7:30 AM

My column in The Times this morning is about a new wiki-based campaign and political site started by Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia.

Coincidentally to this week's unveiling of Wales' Campaigns Wikia a local wiki-based political site goes live today, moreperfect.org.

Started by two Seattle political activists, more perfect wants to do a lot of what Wales hopes to see from Campaigns Wikia. It is a place for people to collaborate on politics and public policy. To help people understand what this is all about more perfect encourages people to experiment by rewriting the state or U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the state's Priorities of Government.

The site was developed by political consultant Timothy Killian and transportation activist Chad Maglaque. I've known Killian for years through his work on medical marijuana initiatives and other campaigns. He says it was the failure of the first pot initiative that led to the new site.

"In 1997, when the first Medical Marijuana initiative failed, my brother Rob and I sat down to pen new language for a new initiative. After we'd written a simple draft, we took what I've come to learn is an unusual step: we sent our draft language out to those groups who had opposed our previous effort. We asked for their feedback.

"To our surprise, they actually vetted our text, giving us valuable feedback on what they did and did not like in our initiative. We didn't use all of their suggestions, but we used enough to make better law, and to increase our chances of passing the initiative, which we did in 1998."

For these new collaborative political sites to work people will have to set aside ideological differences at least enough to be able to keep talking to each other. I think these things naturally tend toward liberals, as well, and it seems harder to imagine conservatives jumping in.

Wales doesn't think that's going to be a problem. He labels himself something of a libertarian and says that is an ideology that runs deep in the internet political world. Blogs, the last big internet invention adopted by mainstream campaigns, do best when they are ideological.

Wales said blogs are most often ideological because it usually represents an individual voice "and I think to get noticed you have to say stuff that gets people excited."

He and Killian think the wiki world is different and can foster collaboration among political foes in even the most divisive issues. And they think big, as Killian said:

"I think the process of using a wiki forces a level of collaboration that is previously unknown in all of human history. This application of technology can change the way we think about politics, and the way we interact with each other."

UPDATE: Another approach has also sprung up from local roots. wikiGop and wikiDemocrats divide the partisans up between two different sites. Both are beta sites created by Wetpaint, a Seattle company.

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