Virtual Petition

Another e-participation project I just came across today: Virtual Petition

Looks like things are just getting started. From their first (and so far only) petition, here’s the instructions they give:

  • To sign your name, click on the edit button on the top of the screen, find the right place, add your name, then hit “save page”.
  • If this issue gains enough signatures it will be submitted to our elected officials and to our news outlets. Thank You.
  • Why the Presidential Elections are Broken
  • To debate this issue please post on the discussion page
  • Everyone is invited to help refine the above paragraphs.

Interesting, as always, though I have yet to find an example of wiki-based dialogue and deliberation that actually works.

Here are some of the issues I see with a pure wiki approach:

  • Unstructured, flat text — Almost impossible to slice and dice data in meaningful ways (generally true for most wikis, as far as I can tell): Which arguments or ideas are viewed more often than others? Which are considered relevant? What’s the level of agreement for each item?
  • Little to no process support — Workflow, business logic etc. are practically non-existent on most wikis (and while oftentimes that is exactly the reason why they are so useful, in this case it’s a considerable weakness)
  • Scalability issues — Ever try to run a vote on a wiki with 1,000+ participants? Now try that while the content of the item you’re voting on is in flux.
  • Fairly limited (or at least very loosely structured) social networking capabilities — Who are my friends? What do they think? How can they help me filter information or peer activities?

Having said that, there’s always the chance someone can figure out these things in entirely new ways. In that sense, best of luck to Virtual Petition.

5 Responses to “Virtual Petition”

  1. Steven Mandzik Says:

    Tim - thanks for the review. I just started the site on Saturday, Jan 5, 2007. I hope to keep it neutral and free for people to add to. Otherwise, I will have to build all the petitions myself.

    Also, a quick search shows that there is no other easy way to just create a virtual petition, so hopefully over time people will use it when they need it.

    As to your questions, I can provide some extremely biased answers. I work professionally and personally on wikis and so I am total believer. I don’t try to sell them either, I use them.

    The answer to 3 of your concerns is community. Which is also the most frequent concern raised by the public. A robust community with lead users can provide for some great process support, social networking, and some clear effective guidelines/policies.

    For scalability, that is simple, use mediawiki. It is open source, regularly upgraded, and has proven success (wikipedia). The only concern with that is if you get popular enough you have to move to a dedicated (more expensive) host, but that is a good problem to have.

    Feel free to send me any questions you may have at

    Also, I am surprised…why didn’t you sign the petition?

  2. Steven Mandzik Says:

    ps - thanks for the previous post with the other wikis, i now have friends!

  3. Tim Says:

    Hi Steven, thanks for the comments (that was quick). ;-)

    I should have added that I’m generally in favor of wikis and a big proponent (both at work and elsewhere).

    So, not saying it can’t be done. Just that the other examples of wiki-based dialogue I’m aware of seem to have struggled with one or more of the issues I mention above.

    I’m subscribed to your recent changes. I’ll be watching how things go.

  4. Lou Says:

    Tim - You hit the nail on the head with your assessment of the weaknesses of using a Wiki to support civic dialogue.

    Wiki’s are great when the challenge is to collaboratively write a single article with a third-person voice and a neutral perspective. Civic dialogue, on the other hand, is inherently first-person and opinionated… as as such, requires tools designed specifically for this task.

  5. Challenges for Wiki-Based Consultations Says:

    [...] regard to Virtual Petition (January 2008): Here are some of the issues I see with a pure wiki [...]

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