Representative democracy in a connected world

Ross Mayfield has an intriguing blog post on the role of representation in “emergent democracy.”
The more technoutopian visionaries of “emergent democracy” imagine a world where representatives go away, and citizens vote on all of the business of government.
Ross is notes that any population significantly larger than 150 is going to have a variety of groups with disparate interests and opinions, and there will need to be intermediate layers to negotiate those differences.
The fascinating question is how that structure might be different than the current system of representation.
This discussion is similar, by the way, to the “disintermediation” conversation in the early days of the commercial internet. Visionaries speculated that the internet would disintermediate transactions; customers would buy everything directly from the manufacturer. Didn’t happen. The role of the intermediary changes, but there are still middlemen in the picture.

Tools for Electronic Democracy

One of the promising conversational threads at the Emergent Democracy Happening was the discussion of tools.
There are various types of tools that would help political action emerge from decentralized online communities.
Tools that make it easy to form self-organizing groups. Groups need to be visible to the public, enable people to join easily, and be managed by the participants. Discussion groups are great, but can be rather intraverted and hard to join. Trackback is a great way to build a community from decentralized bloggers, but there’s no easy way to contribute identies to form a self-managed group.
Tools that make it easy to increase the intensity of interaction.
Online conversation is great, but higher-bandwidth modes, like phone and face-to-face meetings often help build relationships and commitment levels.
The Happening” infrastructure — a conference call supplemented by online chat and wiki, made it possible scale interactive conference call in size, by making it easier to call on speakers, and to scale the discussion in time, by creating a persistent project space that lives on after the event. has a handy centralized service that uses a website and email updates to enable people to sign up for groups, and meet in person once a month. But the contact information is managed centrally by Meetup, and the venues and dates are selected by Meetup. This doesn’t give groups enough control to manage themselves
Tools that help communicate with governments. By making it easy to send citizen letters and campaign contributions to politicians. has a fantastic centralized service that uses a website and email updates to notify citizens, and enable them to speak up or donate. It would be great to have decentralized versions of those tools, available for groups to manage themselves.
Tools that amplify memes. Daypop and Blogdex identify and amplify the ideas that are kicking around the blogosphere. It would be great to have less centralized versions of these tools, with the ability to illuminate the zeitgeist in Austin, or with regard to say, environmental issues.
I’m brainstorming here: this is just a start. Would love to continue the conversation. What do you thinK?