Democratic Innovation on Postwaves


Adam Cronkright writes:

This is Adam Cronkright, cofounder of Democracy In Practice, an organization that has been experimenting with random selection of representatives in student governments in Bolivia for the past two years. Independently from Democracy In Practice, I’m putting out a call for contributors and readers of Equality by Lot to participate in and help beta test a new online platform that randomly distributes decision-making/moderating power and responsibility among its users.

I’ve been doing some beta testing for a website called Postwaves. The site is inspired by the Wisdom of Crowds (popularized by James Surowiechi) and uses sortition to share moderator responsibilities evenly among all the members of a forum. That is, each post gets randomly and anonymously sent out to a small portion of forum users who vote independently and anonymously on whether the post is relevant to the large group (NOT on whether or not they agree with the post). If it receives a certain threshold (say 50% of those randomly asked to assess it find that it is relevant) it get’s made public on the forum. So in essence, they are testing a sortition-based, scalable way for online groups to moderate themselves horizontally. The idea is to more effectively filter out noise (i.e. irrelevant content) and allow the best content to be most visible regardless of who posted it (celebrity vs. normal person) or whether the first person(s) that read it gave it a thumbs up or a thumbs down (which can have a disproportionate effect on the opinions of those that follow).

Moti, the founder of Postwaves, was at the By the People Democracy Conference at ASU in early December and he has explained that their plan is to charge for-profit businesses to use the site, but always keep Postwaves free for public groups and private non-profits and grassroots community groups. Postwaves is still early in its development and lacking some of the features that it will have in the future, but their team needs more users to allow them to effectively test the beta version. It seems like the contributors and readers of Equality by Lot would be a great crowd to help them beta test and provide feedback. It also seems like something our community – which so adamantly promotes the expanded use and development of random selection/sortition – would be interested in and should support.

More information about Postwaves can be found on their website.

I’ve created a group called “Democratic Innovation” that we all can contribute links and posts to forum-style (unlike Equality by Lot which fills the blog niche). I was thinking that in this group we could post original content and links to articles/media relevant to democratic innovation around the world as well as suggestions on how to improve the democratic/moderator side of Postwaves. In another group that already exists, called “Postwaves Suggestions,” we could post feedback about the usability and visual appeal of the website (i.e. more tech related stuff). But once people join the group we can decide together if we want it to have a different name/focus and approach it in a different way.

People can sign up via Twitter, Email, or LinkedIn on this page.

They have a video to help people sign up and join a group on this page.

I’m going to start posting there and hope to see others posting and moderating there as well. Also welcome any comments.



4 Responses

  1. I was trying to find postwaves reviews. Your article is the closest thing to it. I frequently get contacted by people on twitter asking me to add to one postwaves group or another. Honestly, I don’t have time to add yet another social media outlet to my slate. After these months have gone by since you first wrote your story, is postwaves worth it? It is working as expected? Thanks!


  2. I too want to know if it’s worth joining postwaves? It does not look rewarding to be honest.


  3. For my part, the answer is that I don’t know. Presumably Adam gave it a try.


  4. Sorry, I’m pretty late on this reply (didn’t know there were comments to this post!

    Anyways, I really like the idea of postwaves, but in practice I found it lacking. I haven’t used it in probably a year (so they may have made changes that I’m not noticing as I quickly jump back into their site), but I felt it has the following limitations:

    Lack of transparency – it is difficult to know (and impossible to adjust) the specifics of the decision-making process in your group, even if you started the group. They say that each post gets reviewed by 20 random group members (again, a concept I support), but what if your group only has 20 members? Or 10? And my understanding is that only the person who started the group can see how many members it has (although I started a group and it is still not clear how many members (nor active members) it has. So it is difficult to know how the process is working and whether or not the group is large enough for this jury-style moderation to even be practical.

    Problems for small groups – it would seem that Postwaves doesn’t offer much until your group reaches a certain critical mass. This is a problem for most types of online forums and social networks, but I think it is particularly problematic for Postwaves because Postwaves is based on this scalable moderation process. Again, it would be nice to have a transparent and tinkerable set of moderation rules that a small fledgling group can see and experiment with, so that they don’t wonder what the hell is going on when there are only 5 people in the group and feel like it is not worth their time to stick out the many months until there are 50. And if you finally get to 50, what if everyone in the group agrees that it would be better to randomly select 5 members to moderate each post instead of 20? There is no option for this. Maybe it’s just because I’m really into process, but I find it limiting.

    No actual voting system – likewise, it would be great if there were more than one type of post that you could make. Here I’m especially thinking about posting a vote for the group, perhaps about changing moderation rules or changing the focus of the group. You can achieve this in a really unofficial and round-about way, but it would be nice if you could post a poll of sorts and that randomly selected jury would vote for or against the suggested change to the group. Tie and the decision goes another randomly selected group.

    Post ‘voting’ system is unclear/misleading – as I pointed out to the Postwaves team a long time ago, I find the voting system misleading. The idea (as they explained it to me) is that randomly selected group members vote on whether or not a post is RELEVANT to the group, not whether or not they agree with that particular post (here we are talking regular posts, not votes on group rules). There may be posts I disagree with but I feel should be seen (and possibly discussed) by the whole group. But this has never been clear when you are asked to vote on a post. So I would assume most people vote for posts they like and vote against posts they don’t like. Which seems like a breakdown.

    I should be clear that I stopped using Postwaves mostly for lack of time and also because our group just didn’t seem big enough or interesting enough to continue. You might have a different experience. I appreciate what they are trying to do, but I really wish they would consider making a WordPress plugin that would allow people on already-established forums all over the internet to use jury-style moderation, instead of trying to get everyone to sign up and use their site. There are tons of forums out there that already have 100s of members, and they would probably be really keen on this, but they aren’t going to shut down and all sign up to Postwaves.

    Just my 2 cents.



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