Open Web Platforms, Local Activists and the US Coastguard: Next Generation Democracy

Next Generation Democracy - What the Open Source Revolution Means for Power Politics and Change ,written by Jared Duval, was released today by Bloomsbury. (Full disclosure for this review: Jared has become a friend since he first interviewed us for the SeeClickFix chapter in the book. He also now lives in New Haven. Both are likely to bias my opinions.)


Guilty of dedicating little time to reading I expected to vainly consume only one chapter. However on a recent flight to Toronto I failed to only scope the index for references to SeeClickFix and finished Next Generation Democracy before touching down.

Next Generation Democracy chronicles distributed and open movements and organizations that are reshaping the face of democracy. Through the stories of ordinary people who have made instrumental impact on the world, Jared links the similarities in effecting change back to the principles of the open source software movement.

The forward by Tim O'Reilly reads, " is the time for government to reinvent itself, to take the old idea of government 'for the people, by the people and of the people' to a new level."

This is the story of people who are helping government to think of itself in a new light. This is the story of government as a partner with its citizens and as a platform for participation. This is the story of government as an enabler. Most importantly this is not the story of the government that sits solely inside city hall, this is the story of the government that sits in the collective actions of all of us and sparks the average citizen to speak up and enable their neighbors to do the same.

Malcom Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker a few weeks back that, "Social media can't provide what social change has always required."

I understand the point that a tweet about global warming is a sorry substitution for tying one's self to a tree. However Gladwell misses a point which Mr Duval clearly recognizes:
That first tweet about global warming is a much easier on-ramp for the average citizen. Those that will tie themselves to trees and show up to City Hall for town meetings are not less likely to do so. In many cases social web platforms can enable those that tie themselves to trees to get many more to do the same. In the same way that a few check-ins on foursquare can lead to a swarm, organizers can get those to rally in real life. Between 40,000 and 100,000 people still attended the Copenhagen Summit and gave cause for 968 arrests.

Its not the individual tweet that creates a revolution but the trending hashtags of thousands of tweets that provides awareness to many who would not have been previously aware. Social Media personalizes our new global consciousness through the voices of our friends. The platforms teach us that leveraging users and citizens will only make the platform/democracy stronger . The read write principles of the web platform are what's fundamentally changing the way we organize and effect change.

From the evolution of Linux to the distributed mechanisms of the US Coastguard, Next Generation Democracy shows us how being more inclusive in our decision making and providing easier access to governance can reshape democracy for the 21st century. As a perfect debunking of "Why the revolution will not be tweeted." Jared tells the Story of SeeClickFix users who met online and formed a block watch off-line to improve the real space around them.

For a more detailed review of Next Generation Democracy, by Yasmin Fodil:

And to purchase the book: