Build the walls higher, boys

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I was astonished to read this morning, a little brain storm between Don Park and Dave Winer, to have ‘refereed conversation’, i.e. a conversation between two people on their weblogs, given a special category, which is then aggregated and captured into a weblog and managed by a third person. Or I should say ‘refereed’ by a third person.

Dave Winer’s idea runs as follows:

Suppose there’s an issue, say Choice vs Life (to pick something heavy) and you’ve got two people who like each other enough to be willing to have a refereed online back and forth. So there are three people, one on each side of an issue, and the third making sure that there are no personal attacks. The discussion takes place only between the two people, for two months, two years, two decades, two lifetimes, however long it takes, however long both have something to say. (Of course people can comment on the discussion on their own blogs, on mail lists, radio shows, where ever.) A document with three authors that’s constantly being revised. Sure you can take vacations, maybe a month or a year at a time, as-needed. This would be different from a mail list, or a blog, or anything else. A deliberate respectful discussion, more about the respect and exposure of issues, than about settling the unsettleable. An interesting idea?

We have come so far in this medium to do what we can to open the doors on conversations, to enable the technology to allow people to join in based on interest, only to turn around to purposely pursue a path that guarantees to shut most of this down.

Mike Sanders in comments loved the idea, writing:

It’s a great idea and I hope you focus some of your seemingly endless energy to show how well it could work. Maybe you could get it going by picking three high profile bloggers to take on one side of an issue and three relatively unknowns to take on the other and have three high profilers moderate. I think this would give it a nice dose of drama (ie big guy vs little guy).

Here are some possible topics/bloggers: Rich Interface Apps vs Web Apps (Scoble vs whomever) Foreign Policy – Preemptive or Protective (Daily Kos or Atrios vs whomever) Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution (Eric Alterman vs whomever) Limitations of Blogging (Dave Winer vs whomever) Limits of Indecency (Jeff Jarvis vs whomever) Truisms/Fallacies of Cluetrain (Doc Searls vs whomever)

I wrote at Mr. Winer’s weblog the following comment:

What you’re proposing is to increase the voice of the elite, while simultaneously shutting down the voice of the dissident.

Mike Sanders, look at what you’re doing? You’re promoting those who don’t need more voice. Why?

Do we need to hear yet more opinions from Jarvis and Scoble and Winer and Kos? Why even have weblogs? We’ll just install random link generators to these gentleman, and call it quits.

Are you all so afraid that fresh voices will take away some, even a tiny bit of your audience?

As for moderated conversations, I responded in Don Parks’ weblog on this.

To be fair, Mike did recommend that on the other side of the ‘fence’ there be relative ‘unknowns’ — but why can’t there be unknowns on both sides? Why do we keep returning to these men, again and again. Are we so dazzled by the light of their linkage?

Don wrote about the idea:

Very cool. Dave’s blog-based debates can be implemented using a new type of blog category: Conversation Category. The idea is for a small number of people to share a single blog category and converse over a long period of time through their blogs.

A conversation aggregator subscribes to the category feed of all the participants and merge them into a single feed and publishes a mini-website dedicated to the conversation. The ‘referree’ of the debate or the conversation moderator gets editorial rights over the merged feed and the mini-website.

There, I responded with:

What you’re doing is taking what we’ve achieved in weblogging, and then limiting the number of participants (which smacks of elitism) and allowing an outside person to constrain the conversation even further (which smacks of censorship and control) and then wrapping it up with a syndication bow (we’re assuming RSS 2.0) and calling it new technology.

Are you and Tim adults? Can you manage the hypertext link? Are you willing to turn off comments on those posts to eliminate distraction? Guess what — you’re all set to have a conversation in weblogging. And if you need examples of how to do it, I can point out about a couple of thousand.

Whatever happened to people monitoring and being responsible for their own behavior? To allowing fresh voices into a conversation? To keeping the barriers to participation low?

What’s even sadder is the number of techs who have jumped on, specifically talking about this implementation or that, not even really paying attention to the social ramifications–somewhat like the scientists who pursue research regardless of the consequences, just to see if they can make it happen.

Here at this site, we kept the Kitchen door open. We’re using basic weblogging technology. We want fresh voices, and diverse views.

Shame on us for doing this all wrong.

There is precedence for a formalized match between webloggers, refereed by other individuals.

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