A Wiki By Any Other Name

Today’s Salt Lake Tribune carries an opinion piece by Steve Urquhart audaciously titled “The People Have Spoken.” Representative Urquhart somehow believes that consent was found via Politicopia’s discussion of HB148. Yet I feel my sole concern of vouchers was not only ignored by Representative Urquhart, it was outright mocked by a proponent. Representative Urquhart weighed in early on the discussion and promptly stopped with a link to the bill’s draft at revision 29. For some reason my concern of tax dollars going to extremists was not only scoffed at, but edited to remove references to America’s and Utah’s history of extremism. An additional discussion about the abortion bill had my “Pro” and “Con” sides of the issue removed completely.

I would chalk some of this up to SocialText’s inability to do moderated reversions, and Ted Gardiner’s baffling level of cutting and pasting, but regardless of where my words went, I have to ask why was I not heard? Representative Urquhart touts this Wiki as an open avenue to legislators. If that is true, why are the legislators barely participating? Urquhart has been trumpeting his innovation far and wide, yet he lightly participates on issues of his own crafting. Instead, he deems the public discussion fulfilled because a dozen people can voice their 2 cents in a Wiki, then moves on to the next issue. So far, the opponents of the Abortion Bill far outweigh the proponents, and all of them are talking about the fiscal issues of Utah challenging the Supreme Court. Will Urquhart and our legislators listen to that in the same manner they listened to my concern about tuition vouchers? So far, it doesn’t look good. If that is enhanced democracy, I beg to differ. I feel like I’ve been shuffled to an online “free speech zone” away from the actual debate.

When I started my Senate campaign Wiki last year, I was clear that it was an additional tool in the belt, not a substitute for all the tools. It also stands the danger, like email, to be largely ignored by our representatives who are actually making the policy. Even worse, it carries the pretense that we are being heard.

I personally would like to see legislation drafted allowing the State to expand the legislative website to allow commentary and, yes, a full Wiki as well. As I demonstrated this last year, any nutcake can setup a Wiki, what makes it powerful is when the legislators actually participate and use it. Governmental Wikis should be institutionalized and not under the control of a single company or individual. There is no excuse in this century for governments and legislators not participating in the online debate.

8 thoughts on “A Wiki By Any Other Name

  1. That’s always the danger of a Wiki, especially one without much of an audit trail. I think Politicopia is a good idea, but you are correct in that the oversight needs to pass either to a more neutral party or to a group with equal left/right balance.

    The best person to talk to concerning a public Wiki for legislators and constituents would probably be Rep. Dougall. He’s been a leading force in crafting legislation to standardize meeting calendars between all state agencies and make them available via RSS. He understands the power of technology and knows it will ONLY be useful if everyone is on the same page. To see where he’s gone with that so far, take a look at .

  2. Pingback: Part of the Plan » Blog Archive » Rhetoric, Thy Name Is Politician

  3. I’m still learning, and I appreciate you sharing your candid thoughts. I would like some suggestions on the level to which I should participate on Politicopia. I would hope you’d agree that I participate quite actively in discussions on my blog — including discussing the extremist issue that you and others raised regarding vouchers. On the wiki, though, I was thinking that I wanted it to be a community site, not “my” site; so, I have laid off commenting tons there. Maybe that is a bad decision. While your campaign necessarily was about you to a large degree, since that’s what a campaign boils down to, I don’t think that Politicopia needs to be about me at all.

    I’m very sorry if someone erased your work. While I don’t know if that was error or intentional, you of course are free to put the content back up.

    Also, to your specific charge, I never said that the online discussion at Politicopia, my blog and all the other blogs that discussed vouchers reached concensus. Rather, I said that the discussion helped expose that concerns over financial ruin to public education were overstated.

    Quite a few legislators are watching the content on Politicopia; but, as you note, they are not getting on and driving. Clearly, the site would benefit from more users.

    Lastly, don’t be so sure that the robust online discussion in the Utah Bloghive isn’t moving the abortion issue. Conversations I am having with active citizens and Representatives suggests to me that the Internet is moderating the discussion. We’ll see.

    I think you are wonderful, Pete, and that you have much to add to the debate in Utah. And I sure am sorry that your experience with Politicopia has been frustrating. Maybe you experienced the same kind of learning curve with your campaign wiki, but I thought of the idea, quickly launched it, and now am running to keep up. I’d love it to be a good tool for public dialogue and would appreciate any help you could offer.

  4. Having your arguments edited is the whole point of a public wiki. I would assume that you are not the only one whose remarks have been changed. Why would your comments be somehow sacrosanct?

    Perhaps your point about extremism was not addressed directly on the website, but as I recall, it was discussed in the floor debate in the House.

  5. Removing my comments completely without an explanation as to why is not editing, its censorship. My abortion comments were deleted, not replaced. The words “America” and “Utah” were completely cut from my sentence making the end result a sentence with no meaning. The unwritten rule of Wiki’s is that article text is open game, but individual commentary should not be touched by anyone except the author.

    Steve, thanks for the clarification. I went to a lot of effort to be as neutral and as open as possible on my own Wiki. I didn’t want it to be purely about me, but giving an opportunity to anyone who wanted to contribute to do so and be heard. That said, I think it still requires some steering from above to prevent the kind of actions that I have seen so far. I am also adamant that the legislators actually defend their policy if they are writing it. I am hoping you can encourage them to do so.

    Ross, I’m sure Socialtext is making every effort to match Wikimedia. Its editor is easier to use, but its audit trail is extremly hard to understand. I see no “Restore Revision” on any page referencing revisions. I would also like to be able to see the history of edits by a user, and be able to monitor changes to my own entries. It appears it is still playing catch-up at this point.

  6. I would have to agree that Politicopia is an awesome idea.

    For example, see the legislative proposal to abolis corporal punishment in public and private schools at:

    Currently, alot of politicians are ignoring this proposal, which failed in 1997. But now with Politicopia at least citizens will have a chance to discuss the idea of ending school beatings once and for all.

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