Clay Shirky at TED: git push democracy next

September 29, 2012


Clay Shirky has done it again,

In a fascinating TED Talk, Shirky examines the impact that collaboration tools developed for and by Open Source communities, will have on the way citizens participate in public life and how they can steer the political processes.

By analyzing the way modern tools such as Git and social sites such as Github empower large scale Open Source communities to engage in Collaboration without Coordination, Shirky hints at the impact that these tools are already having in the way large scale organization are engaging with the public.

In particular, Shirky cites the example of the New York State Senate, and its embrace of Open Government, through the public availability of software tools sponsored by the NY Senate that empower citizens to have access and provide input on legislation being drafted by the Senate.

Or how Germany is publishing its Laws in Github:

 Or the way that the State of Utah is making its legislation available in Github

with the curious implication of being able to see the DIFFs on how the Laws are being amended over time:

The ability to make diffs is something that Open Source developers have taken for granted for many decades, but that turns out to be revolutionary for Legislators and for the Public who is affected by these Laws.


“No Democracy anywhere in the world
 offers this feature to its citizens
 for either legislation or for budgets,
 even though those are the things done
 with our consent and with our money.”


Shirky closes his talk with:

“A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetime,
In the last decade, in fact.
It’s Large 
It’s Distributed
It’s Low Cost 
and it is compatible with the ideals of Democracy.
The question for us now is:
Are we going to let the Programmers keep it for themselves ?
or are we going to try and take it
and press it into service for society at large ?”


1 comment to Clay Shirky at TED: git push democracy next

  1. Interesting concept – but I wonder if it works for coding because there is a general consensus amongst programmers on what is “better” (has less bugs, runs faster, uses less memory, is more easily readable / maintainable), and for the same reason it wouldn’t work for anything political (generally there are at least two sides with major philosophical differences). Just look at the feedback postings on any popular “political” (e.g. an issue with opposing views) topic and you’ll see that it is quickly overrun by extremists who don’t really add any value to the discussion.

    On the flip side I do think more active, open participation at a local level on not-too-political topics could help. Here I am thinking about things like traffic – imagine there was an easy way to point out issues (hey, a left turn signal on Sitterly at Wooden would REALLY improve afternoon traffic!), discuss options, and prioritize work based on budget. It would be an interesting experiment to see if people were willing to participate, and if folks could get along enough to solve a problem as non-controversial as that.

Leave a Reply