#SocialCivics and the architecture of participation

at Radar: “It was big news recently that former Twitter executive Jason Goldman is joining the White House to head up a new office of Digital Strategy.

In his post, Jason asked for advice, posted anywhere, using the hashtag #socialcivics. I decided to do a writeup, as he asked, to share my ideas and to spark further conversation.

Briefly, Jason’s mission, on behalf of the White House, is to create new tools and processes for civic engagement, so that all of us are working more effectively together to build a nation that works for everyone, not just for the few with privileged access.

One of the key ideas I have to offer is something that years ago, in the context of open source software, I called “the architecture of participation.” I wrote:

[Open source software projects] that have built large development communities have done so because they have a modular architecture that allows easy participation by independent or loosely coordinated developers … The Web, however, took the idea of participation to a new level because it opened that participation not just to software developers, but to all users of the system.

Modularity depends on standards — formal or informal expectations about behavior and interfaces — and interoperability. To take an example that is not from software, consider that our most competitive, participatory industries all feature devices made from standardized parts. Whether you’re talking automobiles or personal computers or cell phones, a rich ecosystem of suppliers is possible only because we agreed that the threads on bolts and nuts should be a certain size, that electronic parts should be interchangeable, and that complex, custom assemblies should be kept to a minimum. Even large systems depend on small modular parts, but the fewer modular parts a system has, the more expensive it is, and generally, it can be modified and improved by far fewer people….(More)”