Brian's rules of order: CivicEvolution

Brian Sullivan believes that motivated groups of people can accomplish great things if they're only given the tools that encourage them to communicate well. So he's building an interesting wiki-like product, CivicEvolution, that will embody, and enforce, his rules of order.

CivicEvolution, still in development, is designed for political committees, nonprofits, and small collectives like neighborhood groups and teams. Fundamentally it's a wiki, but unlike most first-generation wikis, it offers a great deal of structure. (This is an important trend in wikis, which I'll be covering more soon.)

For example, on a CivicEvolution page, anybody can make a proposal, and all proposals are on a special part of a project page. Users can then endorse these proposals. When a proposal is endorsed by multiple people, its highlighting changes and it moves up in the section. If there are a number of proposals in a project, this feature makes it easier for people to see which way the group is leaning.

Brian's rules of order are enforced in other ways, too: If a user group on a topic gets too big, it can automatically split into chapters, which can then elect spokespeople to the group at large. In other words, Brian can encode representative government into his wiki.

Some of the features of CivicEvolution transcend Brian's ideals. For instance, a CivicEvolution project site loads into the browser in one big chunk when a user first visits it, and clicking on links causes data to pop into a project page immediately, reducing the user's penalty for exploring a topic or a discussion -- they don't have to wait for page loads, and they're less likely to get lost. That's an easy technological improvement for anyone to digest.

Brian says, "I want to get out of the technology and into the social engineering aspect." While I am sure there are groups and people who will feel at home in Brian's wiki utopia, I'm not so sure there's enough flexibility for the social makeup of all the groups Brian would like to serve. It's easier to engineer Web servers than group dynamics.