Fragments Of Comprehension

(semi-internal) Our consciousness and humility must reflect, refine and redeem every scattered fragment of the material world

► Digital Infrastructure and the Emergence of Communist Transparency (November 1999) – [FoC.12.12.21]

Posted by Ben Seattle on December 21, 2012

I wrote this 14 years ago.  I am posting it here as a reminder to myself to read it again.

Some of the links in this post may still work.  Others will not.

The time is approaching when many of these ideas may become practical. — Ben

last updated: 17.Apr.99

Project Prometheus:Digital Infrastructure
and the Emergence of
Communist Transparency
How web-accessible databases
will assist the self-organization of
the anti-revisionist communist movement

Here is how we will use the web
to help progressive and communist activists
become more conscious of the activity of others
and better organize their own activity

— Based on discussion of Ben Seattle and John K — November 1998 —



  1. Project MAD  Media Abstract Discussion
  2. Project PAD  Progressive Article Database
    2a. public interactive margins
  3. Project IDOCC  International Database of Organizations Claiming to be Communist
  4. Project SPAR  Scientific Polemical Accountability for Revolutionaries
  5. Who is this guy?  (pages to assess people)
    5a. tickets  5b. the 3 axes  5c. registration for revolutionaries
  6. Forums  Arenas of combat and collaboration
    6a. structured posts  6b. attention levels  6c. no top-heavy trees  6d. response attachment zones 6e. collaborative filtering  6f. bozo filters  6g. node control by author of post  6h. reader override of node control 6i. compete-for-attention pages  6j. changing posts  6k. encryption
  7. FAQ  Interactive Glossary  Timeline
  8. Database of public meetings and demonstrations
  9. List of lists       (ie:
  10. Integration with existing email lists
  11. Web Hosting
    11a. Sub-domains  11b. Independent domains
  12. Updatable Task List  “TO DO” database
  13. A little philosophy
    13a. Open source and standards  13b. Our Basic Method: (start modestly and evolve step by step)

   Some Discussion (located on another page)

Public domain vs. GPL-type license  Registration (technical)  Developing Standards
 XML  Transition to post-prototype  First things first  Scouts

<% greenbox_title “intro”, “– Introduction –” %>

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— Introduction —

Click on the image
above to see the
Architecture for Victory

The coming revolution in communications will, as decade rolls after decade, have an immense impact every sphere of human activity. In particular, the revolution in communications will profoundly transform the nature of the class struggle and usher in a period of information war which will lead to the victory, on a world scale, of the proletariat.The projects described on this page are intended to assist this process: (1) to assist theself-organization of the communist movement as a movement with the ability to cast off the bankrupt theories and practices which have accumulated since the death of Lenin, and (2) to assist the interaction (and mutual influence) between the emerginganti-revisionist communist movement and a large and ever-increasing section of the working class.

The particular projects described here may or may not ever see the light of day as vehicles capable of harnessing the revolutionary energy of thousands (much less millions) of workers or progressive activists. What is certain, however, is that eventually projects based upon similar principles will bring consciousness to the working class and lead to its final victory over bourgeois rule. And the experience gained on the projects here may be of real use to this process.

The most important of the projects below will be the creation of a functional prototypeof a future Workers’ News Network (see “Project MAD” below).

Other key projects will be a database of communist organizations (or at least organizations that consider themselves to be communist) and a system of forums that use collaborative filtering and are of greater practical use than current forums. <% greenbox_title “mad”, “1. Project MAD
— Media Abstract Discussion –” %>

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1. Project MAD
— Media Abstract Discussion —

This will allow anyone to enter info (ie: a short review or abstract, with comments) about any magazine or newspaper article.  The items reviewed could be from either the mainstream press or the left press. The idea here would be (given a body of volunteers) to create organized and summarized meta information about both the bourgeois and left press. If, for example, you wanted to know what was going on with China, you would be able to query the database for all articles in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal that were about China in the last six months.  You could also, of course, do the same thing for the left press.  This assumes, as I have noted, that there is a sufficient body of volunteers to summarize many key publications in both the mainstream and left press.Hence, Project MAD would be a functional prototype for a future electronic news service that would contain “all the news that serves the proletarian revolution”.  Or, depending on how it was indexed and sorted, it could function as something similar to a Wall Street Journal for the working class.

Project Mad would also review books, web sites, movies and so on.  The future news service would, in essense, “reflect, refine and redeem” all that was truely important in the entire mediasphere.  I should add that I consider the development of such a news service to be inevitable.  It is my hope that such a prototype as I am working on could provide experience that may be helpful for more ambitious projects.

Project MAD would not censor contributions by anyone unless the item was rabidly racist, etc.  The selection of items to be seen by users would be determined by a series of filters that would be set by various political trends that would both compete and cooperate with one another.

The final project (ie: not Project MAD, not the prototype–but the future news service) would be highly distributed and replicated among a large number of different servers.  This would make censorship nearly impossible and would make it far more difficult for unfriendly forces to jam the servers.  Copyright would *not* be used because by making everything public domain–we facilitate the full use of the entire body of material by political trends which often are quite hostile to one another and not inclined to cooperate in the least.  Without copyright–it becomes extremely difficult for any “controlling authority” to emerge that could deny use of the database to anyone for any purpose.  On the contrary we are talking about something that is widely distributed and public domain–so that no control (either physical or legal) becomes very practical.  The cooperation between the different servers/groups/people involved would be facilitated by a series of standards that are worked out in the course of creating all this.  Hence our development and organizational model is patterned very loosely on the IETF/RFC methods used in the development of the internet.

Note also that all leftist political groups could use Media Abstract Discussion to index each and every article in their newspapers and journals.  So this would be a significant step in the direction of the unity of all revolutionary forces.  The various trends may still hate each other, lie about one another, fight with one another, etc–but now would be, for the first time, all on “one page”, so to speak.

Also (and this is very important) everything in the MAD database would be interactive.  This means that readers would be able to comment on articles, comment on other comments, and filter out comments by bozos. If you felt that some article contained a misrepresentaion or a lie, you would be able to say so.  Hence, every article would become, in effect, a forum of sorts.  And collaborative filtering would allow readers to have the choice of leveraging the filters and ratings of others like themselves.

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Current status

       Much of this has already been implemented in software
       and is available for beta testing at:


       The next step is to organize the creation and entry
       of database items -- so that we can work with more
       realistic data and also attact database contributions
       from progressive people.

<% greenbox_title “pad”, “2. Project PAD
— Progressive Article Database –” %>

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2. Project PAD
— Progressive Article Database —

This would allow progressive articles to be uploaded using a standard format.  Just like articles in a database used by a newspaper, there would be standards for summaries, headlines, subheadings, etc.  When displayed on the web, each paragraph would have a number.  One model for this is the format I use in most of the web pages that are part of the “Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy”.  If I want to link to a particular paragraph from another page–it is easy to do so.In the system I used to generate the “SOME” pages there were 2 kinds of titles (a floating title and a main title), an abstract and 3 levels of headings (which automatically generated a table of contents) and the ability to automatically link back and forth to and from footnotes. There was also a standard way of handling bold and italic words or phrases. Not implemented (but which we would eventually need) was a method to highlight and enlarge a portion of text for use in a sidebar inserted in the text body (many magazines use this technique and it assists readers to find the “juicy” sections that help them decide if the article is worth reading).

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2a. public interactive margins

Comments made by readers could also be attached to particular paragraphs (and eventually particular sentences, words or phrases–just like the annotation feature in Microsoft Word).

Shown above: in Microsoft Word, readers can highlight a particular phrase and attach a comment to the phrase. Revolutionaries will need the ability to do this over the web.

I call this last feature “Public Interactive Margins”.  Readers would be able to decide for themselves, when they read an article, whether or not to display the public margins.  Naturally, the comments in the margins would be subject to the filters selected by readers (which would not only eliminate junk but sort the material by rating).  And readers would be able to make comments in the margins of comments, etc. The idea of “public interactive margins” is strongly related to the “response attachment zone” for posts to forums (see the “forums” section below). The main difference is that the response attachment zone would be a single zone where a response to a post is attached. Public interactive margins could be (at the discretion of the reader) displayed side-by-side with the paragraph of the original material. <% myTitle = “3. Project IDOCC
International Database
of Organizations” myTitle = myTitle & ”
Claiming to be Communist” greenbox_title “idocc”, myTitle %>

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3. Project IDOCC
International Database of Organizations

This would be a database of organizations (or parties, or party chapters) that consider themselves to be communist.  Each entry would be updatable by the organization itself.  So if a reader wanted to know what communist organizations existed, what they believed and what they were doing–he could have one place to check (ie: “one-stop shopping”).  Presently, there are a number of web sites that provide lists of links to communist organizations.  But IDOCC would be the most comprehensive and would be updated by the organizations themselves.  It would give a concentrated summary of the activity and theoretical positions of the various organizations, using “structured posts” and “compete for attention pages” (see below).The IDOCC would also allow readers to make comments and criticisms (pro, con or neutral) about each organization.

The database could be queried.  If a reader wanted to know what organizations thought about Trotsky (or Stalin), for example, this would be easy to do.  It would be easy to list and compare the positions on any controversial person or issue.  It would also be easy to view the assessments that each organization had of any other organization.

Individuals could also be listed in the IDOCC.

It would be possible to sort and/or filter the list of organizations based many different criteria:

	(a) geographical location
	(b) claimed size
	(c) organizational form 
		(ie: party, branch, basic unit, collective,
		working group, study group, individual)
	(d) claimed adherence to one or another trend or theory
	(e) degree of interactivity and openness 
		(ie: how regularly they answer public questions 
		posed to them by friends, foes or readers and 
		entered into a public database of questions and
	(f) size or activity of associated forums 
		-- or -- number of articles (or readership of those
		articles -- or the ratings of those articles) in
		the MAD database
	(g) links to armed struggles or insurgencies  
		(ie: like in Turkey, Columbia, Peru, Myanmar, etc)
	(h) ratings, endorsements or complaints of various
	    kinds made by people or organizations
	(i) source of information 
		(ie: who entered the info: the organization 
		 itself, a supporter or a complete stranger)

We also would like to give each organization or person in IDOCC a web-based forum that they could control.All data in the database would be public. The database would be accessible from Like other projects here, the idea would be to start somewhat modestly and gradually “grow” the project as it attracted input and readership. <% myTitle = “4. Project SPAR

Scientific Polemical Accountability
for Revolutionaries” greenbox_title “spar”, myTitle %>

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4. Project SPARScientific Polemical Accountability for Revolutionaries

The basic idea behind SPAR is simple. When you want to publically ask a question of some person or organization–this would be the place to do it. The items in this database would consist of structured posts with some additional fields for who is asking the question and who is being asked.The need for SPAR finds its origin in the saturation of the “communist” movement with charlatanism. Charlatanism is almost everywhere. And charlatanism is going to have to be punctured. SPAR is designed to be a weapon to do this. The motto here is: “Build a better weasel trap and the proletariat will beat a path to our door”.

SPAR was concieved as a tool to use within the communist movement and, in particular, for people and organizations that are part of IDOCC. The concepts involved may find application elsewhere but for now my focus is to confront charlatanism within the communist movement.

SPAR would consist of people or organizations who have a made a public commitment to make a public response to public questions (whether these questions are friendly, hostile or neutral).

Revolutionaries are busy people and cannot be expected to drop whatever they are doing anytime anybody asks them anything–so there would have to be very clearly defined “rules of engagement”. For example, the commitment may be only to reply to questions from others who have made the SPAR commitment. And there will be time frames involved. For example, if a question is asked in the month of November, the commitment might be to reply by the end of the following month, December. And the commitment might only be to submit a brief response, for example a reply of 200 words or so (ie: what in a structured post is called a “long summary”). There would also be agreed limitations on frequency of questions. The SPAR commitment (or pledge) might specify that only 6 questions a year (for example) will be answered from a particular person or group. The details of what would be practical would have to be worked out by real people as this develops.

And, a response to a question could be a statement to the effect that: We will not reply to you because we consider your question to be stupid or we consider you to be (a) a waste of our time, (b) a charlatan, (c) we are finished with you, etc.

The intent here is to implement a mechanism to force controversies and evasive manuevers out into the light of day where everyone can see them.

At present there is no such mechanism. When you ask a charlatan a question–he will often ignore you and it is difficult to compel these characters to reply. Further–when they are compelled to reply–you get a blizzard of words that say nothing and evade the subject.

But having questions and answers in a summarized form in a central public database makes such evasive manuevers increasingly difficult–because it helps to increase _transparency_. Anyone looking at the database can see who is being evasive and draw their own conclusions.

SPAR could also find application as a database of friendly or neutral questions and I expect that the majority of questions in it will not be hostile. But it is the need to have a central focus for questions with hostile intent–aimed at exposing stupidity, opportunism, cowardice, hypocrisy, evasion and treachery–that makes something like SPAR necessary.

Naturally, charlatans will not be eager to sign the SPAR pledge and have their web sites certified as “SPAR Compliant”. But, as the community of people interested in building a healthy and powerful communist movement develops–this community will exert a powerful pressure. People and organizations that are not SPAR compliant will lose prestige–will lose the ability to hold their heads high–and will lose the ability to play trusting activists for suckers. <% greenbox_title “whois”, “5. Who is that guy?
— Pages to assess people –” %>

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5. Who is that guy?
— Pages to assess people —

This is something that can be applied to both MAD and IDOCC. Each contributor (whether a person or organization) represents an item in our database. And, like other items, can be an attachment point for structured posts.In particular, it would be useful to create a compete-for-attention page (ie: a page where anyone can attach a single structured post and the posts are sorted by ratings) for each person or organization in IDOCC. That way, if you want to get a quick picture of what people think of this or that person (or organization) you could click on the associated page and find out what everyone thinks about them. This would also be a place for the person himself to tell people who he is: his background, experience and what organizations he has supported or currently supports.

Two additional features will also be helpful here:

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5a. Tickets

Currently, people who drive unsafely can be given tickets by police. In the future, as the communications revolution unfolds, tickets will probably be given to drivers by other drivers. It will probably be as simple as honking a horn is today. The power to give tickets will be _distributed_.

It will be useful to allow the readers and users of IDOCC to also give one another tickets. The tickets would be for specific “offenses” and would be linked to particular posts which were in violation.

What would the offenses be ? I am still studying this. One offense would be distorting or misrepresenting someone’s position on something. Another might be a big discrepency between someone’s “mission statement” (required when registering at IDOCC) and their behavior (ie: hypocrisy). We could even come up with categories such as “extreme stupidity” (altho I am not too sure about that). Each person would be able to issue up to 3 tickets a month (or something like this).

Anyone would be able to easily look up how many tickets any person or organization has received. That would give you a quick read on anyone or any organization. A reader would be able to read any of the tickets and link to the associated post for which the ticket was issued. By looking at the offending post the reader will be able to judge whether good judgement was used in issuing the ticket.

The software would probably be set such that no tickets could be issued for “casual” posts. Hence people would be able to act somewhat outrageously as long as their posts were “casual”. If you as a reader get tired of this–you would be able to set your filter to hide casual posts or simply hide the casual posts of certain people.

It would also be just as easy to look up all the tickets that a particular person has issued. Some people will issue a lot of worthless tickets (it can safely be assummed that for every feature we can dream up–there will be idiots who make every effort to abuse such a feature). People who write up tickets for stupid reasons will be recognized as such–and if, for example, you have set your bozo filter not to show tickets issued by Malecki–then you will not see those when you check up on someone.

Tickets will be resolved when the person who gets the ticket makes an apology that is satisfactory to the person who creates the ticket. At that point–the author of the ticket will mark it as “resolved”. If the ticket is not resolved it will be “outstanding”. When you look up someone’s ticket history you will be able to see both resolved and outstanding tickets (we can color code them or something similar).

Naturally, since everything here is a database, you would be able to sort a list of people by the number of outstanding tickets (or the ratio of posts to outstanding tickets) or by many other criteria.

Ticket history will undoubtedly influence the judgement of readers concerning who to put on their bozo filter. People who want wide readership will feel heavy pressure to make sincere apologies and get their tickets resolved.

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5b. The 3 Axes

Participants in IDOCC will also be “rated” in three separate dimensions. There are many things that people (or organizations) could be rated on–but I suspect that 3 axes are fundamental. One of these axes is personal and two of them are political.

The personal axis would be called “personal maturity and seriousness”. It would be related to how the person conducts himself. Is he careful not to exaggerate matters or incite or antagonize other people–he is likely to enjoy a good rating here.

The two political axes would relate to the practice of the person in relation to sectarianism and reformism. Sectarianism and reformism, I have concluded, represent the two principle diseases that infect the communist movement. Most other serious problems are related to these two diseases. Sectarianism essentially represents a failure to recognize the revolutionary potential of others–and a failure to, on this basis, engage in principled cooperation with others. Reformism represents a failure to oppose manifestations of the bourgeois ideology and practice (often known as “social-democracy”) that unfortunately saturate all progressive movements.

All 3 axes are separate from one another but it is likely that there will be a stronger corelation between the ratings on the “personal maturity” axis and the “sectarian” axis than between the “maturity” and “reformism” axis.

It will be possible to view all participants in terms of their ratings in this three dimensional space.

Eventually, as the process develops of separating authentic communists from people and organizations that call themselves communists, the ratings on the 3 axes will be helpful in viewing and understanding progress.

The most important of the axes will be the 3rd one (ie: reformism). But progress on this front, more so than the other two, will only take place as the class struggle heats up in society. It is only the unfolding of events in the world that leads political activists to have hatred for the treacherous and undermining role played by reformism.

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5c. Registration for revolutionaries

In the US everyone is given a “social security” number. This is essentially a national ID number. We are going to create something similar. I am thinking in terms of using the “logon” however instead of a number.

The registration for MAD or IDOCC will be able to function as something like an “identity check” for revolutionaries. It will be anonymous and free. But it will make it easier to know who you are dealing with, what people think of him, what he has written (such as looking up all posts by this or that person) and (very important) what complaints have been lodged against him.

Since registration is anonymous and free, it would not be possible to prevent someone from creating more than one identity. But it would be possible to prevent many people from creating a large number of identities (we can record IP address and browser type and language and hence would be able to enforce a few common sense rules to prevent most jerks from having dozens of different logons).

Jerks who end up on lots of bozo lists will find themselves compelled to create new identities. To a certain extent this may forever be a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. But we do not need to create a prefect system: we simply want something that allows most of the jerks to be exposed most of the time with the minimal effort. <% greenbox_title “forums”, “6. Forums
Arenas of combat and collaboration” %>

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6. Forums
Arenas of combat and collaboration

Nearly all of these projects would be linked to forums in one or more ways. For example, a news article in Project MAD would serve as a jumping off point for a forum on that article. Posts in one forum would also be able to link to posts made in different forums–so that all posts could ultimately be connected. Likewise, posts could be attached to an entry for an organization (or person) in IDOCC. In general, we want readers to be able to attach posts to just about anything including, of course, other posts. And we want to give readers the power to see the posts, filter them out, sort them, or assign the filtering/sorting decisions to some person or organization whose judgement they respect.go to contents
6a. structured posts

I am experimenting with what I call a “structured post”. This would consist of a series of informational fields, each about 3 or 4 times the size of the previous field. The current model is as follows:

    30 bytes
    120 bytes
    400 bytes
    1200 bytes
    5000 bytes

Anything longer than 5 KB could be part of a PAD item.We want to encourage posters to summarize their posts. Someone creating a post will never know the format in which it may be viewed by a reader–so a useful summary in each field will maximize awareness of whatever idea is being described and increase the chances that an interested reader will feel compelled to “drill down” for more information.

It is possible to summarize material using Microsoft Word’s autosummarize feature. I am not making this up. It actually does a far better job than you would expect. But I am sure that it cannot do as well as the authors of each post.

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6b. attention levels

Each person who creates a structured posts could assign it an “attention level”. A casual comment, for example, should not be regarded the same as a post where you have given a great amount of thought to a subject. This would correspond, roughly, to the difference between a casual comment you might make to a friend and the kind of comment you might make in a formal debate. In the structured posts that are part of Project MAD, there are 4 levels:

     (1) private
     (2) casual
     (3) reference
     (4) attention.  

The most common attention level is intended to be “reference”. The FAQ for Project MAD explains that reference-level posts should be political but are not expected to necessarily be all that thought out. The expectations for an attention level of “attention” are much higher. And the expectations of “casual” are very low. If you want to simply say “fuck you asshole” to someone–you should make sure your post is casual. At the other extreme, if you criticise someone in a post with an attention level of “attention” — you should write in an all-sided way–and point out what is correct and healthy in their thinking as well as what is not.

I plan to eventually add 2 more levels: (5) “serious attention” and (6) “life and death”. But readers and posters would need a fair amount of experience with what already exists before it would be productive to add these additional levels.

I have also given thought to adding a level intermediate between private and casual. This could be used to make a comment that is only visible to people of your choice. This would enable, in effect, a kind of private conferencing.<% bluehead “topheavy”, “6c. no top-heavy trees” %>

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6c. no top-heavy trees

The way that Project MAD works, no response can be made at a _higher level of attention_ than the post being responded to. This is one of the few “rigid rules” that it may make sense to enforce. The reason for this is to encourage a certain kind of tree structure in the discussion. We probably do not want “top-heavy trees”. If a casual comment is made, only casual comments (or private comments) may be made in response to it. An “attention” level post, on the other hand, could be replied to with a post at any level. Some intuitive thought may reveal the advantage of this: from the point of view of the reader–you know that if you want to find the important stuff–that it is not “hidden” or buried beneath several levels of responses to something that looks like it is not important.

This would help to reinforce the notion that attention levels of posts really do mean something–really do affect what can be done with a post. This may also help posters to understand that a casual post (ie: the lowest level that someone else will be able to see) will probably be safe from an “attention-level” post attacking it. We want to encourage people to understand that weaker ideas that are in the early stages of development–will be much safer at the lower attention levels. The higher attention levels are for ideas that reflect greater confidence and are ready for attack from any direction.

Now suppose you want to draw attention to what someone has said in a forum in a post that was at a “casual” or “reference” level. How do you do it ? You can’t attach an “attention” level post in response to a post with a lower level. So what do you do ? You would create an “attention” level post and attach it to the forum and in that post you could discuss the other post (ie: the one you want to praise or criticize) and _link_ to that post.

The details of how this would work will become more clear as this is implemented. Sometimes it is useful or necessary to call attention to an idea that is circulating more quietly. Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?”, for example, revolves around criticism of the economist’s “Credo” which was something almost in the way of a semi-private draft and not intended to have a large circulation. But Lenin felt it was important to analyse the “Credo” because it laid out in clear form the thinking of the economist trend which had a very large and unhealthy influence among marxist circles in Russia. <% bluehead “razones”, “6d. response attachment zones” %>

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6d. response attachment zones

When a post is displayed, other posts that have responded to it are displayed in what I am calling the “response attachment zone”. How this response zone should be displayed–becomes a question of great interest.

At present, in Project MAD, posts that are attached (to a MAD item or to another post) are sorted either chronologically or by “attention level”. They are also shown several levels deep, with less information shown on posts that are deeper. But there are a great many ways to filter, sort and display posts and we will have to experiment with real data to find the methods that are likely to be of greatest use to readers.

We can sort posts by rating (using collaborative filtering) and also by what I call “accumulated weight” (where the ratings of a post’s children and grand-children, etc, are added up or play a role) so that posts that have drawn a lot of useful comments would tend to float up to the top like a bubble in a vat of sewage.

Also, if a hundred posts are attached to post “A” we might only want to display a very small amount of information about each post (maybe just short title). But if only 5 posts were attached to “A”, then our display might show much more information about each post (maybe short and long titles and short and long summaries). Our algorithms should be able to do these kinds of things automatically. Also–we might show more information about posts that are highly rated, etc.

John has noted that there will be a need for the user to see only his own posts (or only posts that have replied to his own posts). Or maybe you want to take a look at only the posts of a particular person. All this kind of functionality will have to made available. Once we make this functionality available, we will then continue to experiment with it–and distil those features of greatest use. Most readers prefer not to be confronted with an array of technical decisions on how to display stuff–so we will eventually need to settle on useful default formats that advanced users could customize.

Our goal is to find methods of showing the reader the maximum amount of *useful* information and shielding him from the maximum amount of information that he doesn’t want to look at. <% bluehead “collab”, “6e. collaborative filtering” %>

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6e. collaborative filtering

Collaborative filtering will be very important. Collaborative filtering gets around the problem that there are a lot of jerks and idiots who tend to rate stuff differently than I do–and I don’t want their ratings to affect what I see.

Let me briefly explain how it works. If everyone rates posts and you sort posts by the *average* rating–this is *not* true collaborative filtering. Collaborative filtering involves an algorithm that computes a “distance” between all the participants. For example, if João and I tended to rate the same posts in a similar way, the alogorithm would compute a relatively short distance between João and me in “ratings space”. If I were to look at a list of posts–collaborative filtering might then show me a listing of posts sorted by the ratings of the 20% of the participants who were closest to me in “ratings space”. Put in less mathematical terms–it means that greater weight would be placed on the ratings of *those people* who have tended to agree with me in the past. <% bluehead “bozo”, “6f. bozo filters” %>

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6f. bozo filters

[this section to be completed soon–Ben Seattle 17.Apr.99] <% bluehead “node”, “6g. node control by author of post” %>

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6g. node control by author of post

One concept that I have been considering–is to allow the author of each post to set default filters for the “response attachment zone” to his post. What this means is that if I create a post–I have control over whose posts show up as response to it. If, for example, I conclude that posts by Robert Malecki (a well-known hothead in the cyber-marxist millieu) are not welcome by the readers of my posts–then I would set a bozo filter such that Malecki’s responses to my post would not even show up when readers looked at the response zone for my post. <% bluehead “override”, “6h. reader override of node control” %>

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6h. reader override of node control

In such cases as described above–it would be important that the reader always have the final word on what posts can be seen. Hence the reader would be able to override the default filters set up by the author of each post. Most readers would not do this if the post author had a reputation of using good judgement in creating the default filters. Hence, this introduces a healthy dynamic tension. If an author sets his default filter to zap intelligent and thoughtful replies–he will find that readers tend to ignore his default filter and use their own. <% bluehead “caps”, “6i. compete-for-attention pages” %>

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6i. compete-for-attention pages

A variation on the forum idea is what I call a “compete for attention page”. This would be kind of like a forum but it would be special type of forum in which each person is allowed only one post. If you wanted to add something–you would have to either change your post or mark it as inactive so that you could add a new post.

Compete-for-attention pages would not be oriented towards a dialog between participants as much as presenting a quick overview of someone’s view on a particular subject. The usefulness of this can be seen in a scenario of a reader checking out IDOCC. The reader wants to know the positions of the various groups (and people) on Stalin or Trotsky or some particular issue. By going to the compete-for-attention page on Stalin, Trotsky, Mao or whatever the issue is–the reader could get a quick summary of everyone’s view.

Such pages could also be useful in organizing ideas on a wide variety of subjects. Like any “response attachment zone”, the posts could be sorted by ranking using collaborative filtering. This kind of thing would help to organize useful information because the various items of information would compete in this arena for the mindshare of readers.

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6j. changing posts

In Project MAD, once a post has been created–it cannot be changed. If a reader wants to change his post, he can _deactivate_ it and write another post. My reasoning on this was that a post should be a record of what was written, what other people have read and what they responded to. If a post can be changed after someone else has responded to it–then a reader begins to lose the chain of cause and effect–the “audit trail” that lets him know how the action has unfolded.

Since then, however, I have been considering whether our software should be more flexible. Several web-based discussion systems that I have looked at allow their posters a short period of time (ie: ten minutes on one system, 30 minutes on another) to modify their posts. This indicates to me that there must be a strong demand from users that they be allowed to modify their posts. If we want people to use our system–we will have to respond to this demand–or people will go and use some *other* web-based system 😦

I have concluded that there would really be no problem allowing someone to modify a post as long as the record of the original wording is preserved in the post’s history and is publically accessible. Hence, when a post is displayed, there would be a link (if the post has been modified) that would allow users to see the post as it was originally. If the post is modified more than once–then all previous versions would be visible using this history link. That way there will be no need for unclarity over what someone has said and someone else has responded to. The ability to change posts has not yet been implemented but I plan to do this next time I put on my programmer’s hat and fiddle with the code.

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6.k encryption

Since all the software and data for all of these systems would be public domain–we would have to use encryption to keep private material private. At the same time, however, there are numerous legal, technical and political problems that arise from the use of encryption. Facilitating secure communications among workers in many countries, including supporters of organizations that the US government considers “terrorist” (ie: FARC in Columbia and the DHKP-C in Turkish Kurdistan, etc.) may step on a some powerful toes that would take considerable offense. So we probably want to avoid making any decision on this for a few years or until there develops, in the community we are helping to assemble, a consensus that encryption is necessary and is worth defending from a legal, technical and political angle (see below).

In the meantime, we should educate ourselves on related issues such as the Wassenaar Arrangement (an international agreement between the U.S. and most of the developed countries on restricting the use of strong encryption by workers) and related technical issues–including what other progressive organizations are doing. One good starting point for this is:

What are some of the legal, technical and political issues?Legal: Technically, it is not difficult to implement strong encryption on either the server side (ie: our server in New Jersey) or the client side (ie: the encryption is done on the user’s computer via PGP implemented in Java script). Client side encryption has the advantage that the user’s password does not travel over the internet in unencrypted form where it would be vulnerable to a packet sniffer. From a legal view, however, putting client-side encryption on a web page that is stored on a server in the United States–could be considered export (which you are probably aware is still illegal in the US). There may be various ways around this. It is very much to our advantage to keep everything legal. And it is also desirable to use servers located in many countries, including the US. The law barring the export of encryption will likely be thrown out in a few years. The national security apparatus in the US is hell-bent on continuing to prohibit the export of encryption. But this runs counter to the economic interests of the computer industry and these interests will likely prevail. We could also openly defy the encryption export laws–but to do this sucessfully would probably require a well-organized campaign by hundreds, if not thousands, of people–and by the time we have that much support–I suspect the law will have long been junked.

Technical: It is easy to implement strong encryption that no one can break–but it is not necessarily easy at all to prevent someone from simply bringing down our server or hacking it so that the web pages we send have been tampered with to defeat security.

Political: It would be easy for hostile forces to have some stooge place encrypted material on our server that is related to child porn, biological warfare or nuclear terrorism. Then, at an appropriate moment, the material could be “discovered” and compliant news media would echo the charge that PIX/IDOCC is involved in kiddie porn and/or biological/nuclear terror. The defense against this would require that the project is large enough (and involves activists conscious enough) to mount a political defense that would make such an attack on us backfire.

What is our current status?MAD does not use encryption at present. Instead user’s passwords are scrambled in a non-reversable way before being stored on the server we are renting in New Jersey. This means that anyone who looks at our password file will not see any information that would be of any use even if they have access to our algorithms–because reversing the scrambling process is computationally infeasible (ie: even I do not know user’s passwords).

Because, no encryption is currently used, a user’s “private” posts are not really private. Anyone that looks on the directory can see all posts. The best way to handle this (for now) would probably be to simply inform the user (in the FAQ) that the privacy of these posts is limited–and is protected mainly by the software not making it easy for someone to read someone else’s private comments.

John told me that the patent for PGP expires in the year 2000. I had not realized it was quite that soon. This is good news. I suspect, however, that for the reasons given, it may be a few years before we need to make any decision on this. <% greenbox_title “faq”, “7. FAQ,
Interactive Glossary
and Timeline” %>

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7. FAQ,
Interactive Glossary
and Timeline

I have created a list of definitions on my web site. For IDOCC we could make such a list of terms updateable by every person or organization. Then readers could see a common glossary (together with competing definitions) for many widely used terms.We could do similar things with a common FAQ. Compete-for-attention pages could be helpful here.

We could also create a common “timeline” that people could update. It could contain years and months along one axis and countries (and other subcategories) along the other axis in a table. The table cells could contain links to more information or we could make all updating via structured posts. <% greenbox_title “demodata”, “8. Database of public meetings
and demonstrations” %>

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8. Database of public meetings
and demonstrations

This is self-descriptive. You live in city X. You use this to find out what is going on where you live in the next few days or weeks. Would be automatically updatable by anyone registered in IDOCC. <% greenbox_title “metalist”, “9. List of lists
(ie:” %>

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9. List of lists

I maintain at a list of email discussion lists where many of the participants consider themselves to be marxist. The functionality of this list may eventually be absorbed by MAD and IDOCC. But since these have been slow to get started–I created the “list of lists” so that something could exist in the meantime.If anyone would like to apply themselves to a project that could be useful (and less complicated than MAD or IDOCC) — this could be a good opportunity to gain some experience. Working on such a project would involve everything from design to promotion to maintenance.

The LOL could be either maintained by hand or automated (ie: so that list owners could update info directly). It could contain basic information about all the marxist-oriented lists, such as:

	a) what is the web page (if any) of the list ?
	b) how many people are subscribed ?
	c) how many posts per month on average ?
	d) what kinds of topics are discussed ?
	e) what is the list charter or mission statement ?
           (ie: what the basic rules are and what kind of people are welcome)
	f) who has been suspended or expelled and why ?
	g) who are the top ten contributors (by volume) ?
	h) how do you subscribe and unsubscribe ?
	i) who runs the list ?
	j) what is the general reputation of the list ?

In addition to email lists, there are also web-based lists and usenet. The number of such forums will eventually be in the hundreds or thousands. There should be a reliable central place so that activists can know about all the discussion forums related to marxism. There should also be links to information on any necessary software (for example with usenet).More than this– there should be a decent introduction to newcomers concerning what these lists are–and what they are not–and what we expect and hope them to be in a few years. John, if I am not mistaken, your expectations concerning what you expected to find at L-I were considerably different than what you found. There will be *lots* of new people joining these lists. We want to help facilitate this process and also to help iron out the problems. João might be able to help out in this respect also. <% greenbox_title “elists”, “10. Integration with existing email lists” %>

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10. Integration with existing email lists

A number of the email lists have very poor integration with the web. We may be able to help with this in many ways. It would probably not be too difficult to create an automated system whereby an email could be cut and pasted into a form and a button pushed to archive it so that it becomes permanently accessible over the web. Even better would be a system that would allow the posts to be organized by either author or thread.Once such a system existed–the next logical step would be to allow the participants to come to the web site and _rate_ posts by pressing a button. Then readers would be able to tell the web page: “just show me the posts which are highly rated”.

What would be better–would be a system that could _receive_ email and post it without human intervention. Unfortunately I do not know how to do this yet. We would probably have to have our own server and/or know more technically than we do now. If we had a system that could both send and receive mail automatically–we could use this to create mini-lists. For example: everyone could send their favorite post of the day to a special address and then the favorite posts (without duplicates) could be forwarded at the end of the day to those readers who only have time for the better posts.

(Note: I have recently acquired the ability to _send mail_ from our web site. We cannot, however, receive mail automatically.)

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10a. Meta-List digest

The other thing we can do here is to think about ways of systematically creating and distributing _meta information_ about the various lists. For example: a weekly or monthly summary of the most interesting or significant events on the lists would likely be highly popular. These lists are of great interest but–because of the high volume–most potential readers are shut out of them. A weekly or monthly summary that was of high quality (ie: from objective and trustworthy reporters who had the judgement and experience to understand the motion and internal contradictions on the lists) could be part of a “top-down” email list that might attract many subscribers. <% greenbox_title “hosting”, “11. Web Hosting” %>

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11. Web Hosting

We could also directly host some web sites at 9NetAve. This could help organizations in countries where it is difficult to have a web page. Activists who consider themselves communists should have something better than Geocities or Tripod.There are two types of hosting we can do. The first type would involve building an interface similar to what as Geocities does–so that users would not need to use FTP to control their site. The second type is to give people their own URL over which they would have essentially complete control.

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11a. Sub-domains

The first type would involve users having a URL of the type:


The latter type of URL (ie: hosting on the domain ) would require registration in IDOCC and the main page of the domain (ie: would give readers background information indicating that such a URL does not represent an endorsement of the accuracy or authenticity of any claim to be communist. This would be important because there is and will continue to be considerable controversy concerning what organizations are or are not “communist” — and we would want to make it clear that the domain is not taking a position on such questions which can only be resolved via a lengthy period of struggle. Our view is that we want this struggle to take place and we believe that we will encourage the healthy development of this struggle along principled lines by giving all claimants to the title “communist” space to make their arguments and participate in this struggle.go to contents
11b. Independent domains

The second type of hosting would make it easy for anyone interested in VB script or ASP pages to experiment. We want knowledge of this technology to get around.

Most of our hosting will be of the first type. But in some cases we will also do the second type. <% greenbox_title “tasks”, “12. Updatable Task List
‘TO DO’ database” %>

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12. Updatable Task List
‘TO DO’ database

We will eventually need a database to help us keep track of progress on various tasks. Especially as we gain volunteers who want to help out and take responsibility for various tasks, a database can help us gain transparency over our own projects (ie: “who is doing what?” and “how is progress going?”). Here are some of the fields that would be needed for each item:

     Task Number
     Task Name
     Task Description
     Task Priority
     Person Responsible (ie: who has volunteered for this)
     Estimated time frame for completion (ie:
          immediate:    ASAP,
          near term:    within six months
          medium term:  within two years
          long term:    within five years)
     Parent Task (ie: task number for which this task is a sub-task)
     Status (ie: Active Task, Future Task, Postponed Task, Suggested Task, etc)
     Comments (this would be a text field of unlimited length
               that would include: date, person and their comments)

<% greenbox_title “philosophy”, “13. A little philosophy” %>

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13. A little philosophy

[this section to be completed soon–Ben Seattle 17.Apr.99]go to contents
13a. Open source and standards

We should make our source code and database information available to everyone. John has asked if we should do this as GPL (ie: General Public License) or something similar rather than public domain. I will address this later. The main thing is that it is to our advantage to have lots of sites that replicate the information and that are free to make improvements over our methods. We need “competitors” in order to get really good. But we also need to agree on certain basic standards so that we can freely use one another’s ever-growing database collection.

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13b. Our Basic Method:
start modestly and evolve step by step

What I have sketched out here is both modest and ambitious. I have described various projects that are related to one another in various ways. Details will undoubtedly be different than I have described. Even my descriptions may be inconsistent. The point is that we should not get caught up in the details. What is important above all is to gain an understanding of the basic principles that will successfully guide projects of this kind. What I have sketched out is really just a few ideas that more or less automatically flow from a fairly small core of basic principles.

What we want to do above all–is to help show others the power of these principles.

The projects I describe here will certainly happen _in one or another form_. The particular projects that we work on, on the other hand, may come to nothing. I think our aim is to create working prototypes that actually collect and organize human labor and that are robust enough to work well with hundreds or even thousands of participants.

In doing so, we will be helping to lay the groundwork for more advanced efforts by others who have greater talent, resources, insight or dedication than ourselves. The principle of “transparency” will be invincible.But this will take time. In the meantime, we can best understand our own role–as scouts and explorers working to gain knowledge that will be useful to an immense and invincible army which will soon enough awaken and begin to organize itself.

Here is some discussion of these projects
by Ben Seattle and John K.
And, yes, we would very much like to hear your thoughts. Send email to
(email address no longer valid)
on these projects–or on any other subject.

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