It's worth a look.
United Religions Initiative
by Roger Eaton, May 2011
Here are ideas for a URI North America online forum. Please send suggestions for improvements. We will be using InterMix, which is open source software that is being developed under my direction, so we can make changes. Once we have a final draft on how the forum will work, I will ask the URI N.Am. Leadership Council for the go ahead to install this new facility, without charge, on both our website and our facebook page.
The URI North America forum, will be embedded in a flexible network of linked forums that can grow to include the other URI regions and URI Global as well as forums for CCs and Affiliates and others. The purpose of the forum will be to link up first with highly congenial groups and then with global civil society generally and finally with all manner of individuals, organizations and networks in a system that gets us all on the same page without requiring anyone to give up their autonomy.
We will begin by implementing a private forum for the URI N.Am. Leadership Council. If the LC approves, the next step will be to establish a second forum for use by URI N.Am. Cooperation Circles (CCs) and Affiliates. We will use both our facebook page and our website as entrances to the more inclusive forum. URI Global and other URI regions will be able to establish their own forums which can be linked to the URI N.Am. forum.
The LC forum will be moderated for participants, but not for messages. The wider URI North America forum will be open, i.e. anyone can join, but may be moderated for messages, and there will be a mechanism to remove participants who do nothing but make trouble. The LC members will have the option to participate in any of the open forums, including the wider URI North America forum.
Moderation for participants means a co-moderator must OK all new members before they can participate. Moderation for messages can be one of two types. Either a) Strict: a co-moderator must OK a message before it is posted, or b) Loose: any forum member may tag a message as inappropriate, causing the message to be hidden until a co-moderator can look at it and either allow it or remove it.
The forum will sport the rudiments of a facebook like social network. Each participant will have a wall, photo area etc and will be able to "follow" other participants.
Messages in the forum can be rated on a dual scale for interest and approval. The messages can be sorted by date, by interest, approval, value and controversy. Value is calculated as total interest scores times average approval. Controversy is based on the statistical variance of the approval scores.
The messages can be viewed in a simple list or by "thread", which means that replies show up under the parent message. There are two ways of showing the threads, either a simple indentation of all messages after the first, or a tree like structure where each node can be expanded or collapsed.
The forum will be accessible by email. This means the forum can act like an email list. We will be able to reply to any message we receive by email and the reply will be posted in the forum as a reply from us to the provoking message. Also, and this is something new, each participant can throttle back the volume of the email list for themselves by specifying what percentage of the total number of forum messages they want to receive by email. If someone specifies 10%, then only the top rated 10% of the emails will be sent to that person by email. Clearly we will need bells and whistles, such as the ability to specify the top nn% plus any replies to one's own messages, regardless of rating, or to block messages from particular people. Messages that come by email will contain an easy link into the forum.
The eight regions of URI and URI Global would seem to form a natural hierarchy. However, in the InterMix ecology, the participating regions and URI Global will each be an autonomous group with its own forum that decides for itself its linkages. Each group will be able a) to set their level of transparency and b) to import messages and ratings from other forums.
Transparency here means that a group can specify that only the top rated nn% of messages are available for being imported into other forums. URI N.Am. for instance might want to set a transparency level of 33%, pretty well guaranteeing that only messages that do in fact represent the group are available for import by other forums. A private group, such as the LC has a transparency of zero. We will need to decide if we really do want a zero transparency for the LC, but for starters, that is the value we will use.
The ability of each forum to import messages with their ratings from other forums will generate a network-like bottom up hierarchy based on the autonomous and reversible decisions of each group. It will not be a simple hierarchy. For one thing, circularities will be tolerated. It may often happen for instance that two groups will import messages from each other. The problem of circularity is handled by simply refusing to import messages that are already in the group's forum. For another, several networks may independently decide to import the messages from the same group. NAIN, for instance might want to import the top rated 10 or 15% of messages from URI N.Am, just as URI Global will.
When a group decides to import messages from another group, it will have the choice of importing the ratings that belong to those messages as well. The decisions about ratings will in effect define the hierarchy of groups and networks. URI Global will want to import the ratings for the top rated messages that it imports from its eight regions. By importing the ratings, the messages in the URI Global forum will reflect the entire grass roots base of URI. The regions, though, will probably not want to import the ratings from URI global, because these will be much more numerous than the ratings from each region and so will overwhelm those ratings making the sort by value etc for the regional forums not reflect the opinion of the region, but rather the opinion of URI as a whole.
What happens if URI N.Am. imports messages and ratings from We the World 11 Days network because the latter is an affiliate of URI N.Am? The 11 Days network may contain many organizations not directly related to URI N.Am. Then URI Global is left with a quandary, does it want those We the World ratings or not? InterMix will handle this by giving URI Global (and similarly for every group that imports ratings) a three-way choice when it imports messages: a) do not import related ratings, b) import only related ratings from URI N.Am. members and c) import all related ratings, including ratings imported into URI N.Am.
In the case of URI Global and its 8 regions, it seems clear that Global will want to import the top rated, say, 10% of messages from each region along with all their direct ratings. Whether ratings of regional CCs and affiliates will also be imported is in question, especially ratings from affiliated networks. The regions are likely to want to import the top 10% of URI Global messages in return, but without any ratings.
There are a couple technical problems to resolve. If a message and its ratings are imported by multiple routes into the same group, we want to allow only one dual-rating per person to make it through, and that one to be the latest. The second problem is how to keep up with additional ratings for the same message in the original group A after the message has been imported into group B. Also, when groups change their settings, the past must not be affected. Changing the transparency of the LC group should not suddenly make visible older messages that were written when transparency was zero. These issues can be managed.
The URI N.Am. CCs and affiliates may participate in the forum in two ways. First, some of them may be willing to add a link to the URI in N.Am. forum to their web page or even their facebook page, so their members are more likely to participate as individuals. Secondly, though, and this is what we especially will want to encourage, they will join the larger InterMix system as separate groups each with its own forum.
The great thing about this system is that each organization decides for itself. There is no need even for any kind of agreements between groups. Yet the upshot is that we get a flexible hierarchy that brings everyone onto the same page.
The ability to implement a bottom-up hierarchy based on the free and reversible decisions of autonomous participating organizations is a breakthrough. Civil Society enjoys a degree of cohesiveness, but not nearly to the degree required by the state of the planet. Partly this is because the separate organizations and networks are maxed out dealing with their own issues, but partly too, there are the natural jealousies that arise when one organization or network tries to put itself above the others. On the first issue, we need to put the word out that it is part of every organization's overhead to connect globally. We all win or we all lose, so we must connect. On the second issue, a bottom up hierarchy is now a real possibility.
Here is how it will work: Each group will be able to set a "transparency" level for itself to indicate what percent of its messages will be "published" - i.e. available for anyone to see. Say We the World sets its transparency level at 50% and URI in North America sets its transparency level at 25%. Since the top 50 and 25 percent of messages are in the public domain, URI in N.Am can certainly specify that the top 10% of We the World message should be imported into the URI in N.Am. forum. Likewise the other way around, We the World could import the top 5 or 10 or 15% of URI N.Am. messages. Both groups are importing messages from the other, so neither is dominant in any hierarchy.
A troublesome detail here is that if an imported message is in reply to another message, then the parent message will be included at the bottom of the imported message to give context. This detail breaks the transparency rule in that the parent message might not be highly rated, but that cannot be helped. The parent message is the context and must be provided.
That is it for the start up version of the URI in N.Am. software. A forum will be available to discuss and prioritize new features of the software that might be implemented. One that will come up relatively soon is the addition of a calendar. A second important feature will be the ability to tag messages and retrieve them by tag. With tags, it will be possible to import from another forum only those messages that are tagged with particular tags, such as "international day of peace", or "nuclear disarmament". Thus URI in N.Am. might want all messages in the top ten percent from We the World regardless of tag, but We the World might want only messages tagged "11 days 11 ways" from URI in N.Am.
Farther down the road, the software will
be implemented as a peer-to-peer system, so participating organizations
can totally control the usage of their email lists. With a single
centralized host, as will be the case to begin with, a big drawback will
be that groups will not want to entrust their email lists to the host system.
We need to investigate the possibility that URI could be a trusted host
for the beginning stages before InterMix goes peer-to-peer.