Friday, November 04, 2005

Direct Democracy and Blogging

Robert - I'm responding to your initial questions in not quite the linear style as you posed them. When the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, one of the best younger economists in the nation, and Stephen Dubner, a writer for the NY Times, came out last spring there was a huge flurry on the blog devoted to the book where the authors would make a post and then a lot of commentary would follow from ordinary citizens who had an interest. In the middle of that discussion Levitt took to task a book that was very hot a year or two earlier year called MoneyBall, and esepcially on the issue of whether the A's general manager Bill Beane really did apply statistical analysis to determine the (comparatively) inexpensive ballplayers who batted in the A's lineup. This generated a huge amount of discussion on the blog. And then later in the summer the A's started to do well....

The idea that the general public can communicate directly with important people who have strong opinions and blogs are the right forum for that is an intoxicating one. But I also think there are a lot of high powered folks who want to have such dialog but when they try it online the people dynamic just doesn't work and it doesn't play out well. So I'd like to see the Freakonomics case repeated a few more times before considering it the rule rather than the exception.

In the context of my experience with collaborative technologies, the Freakonomics case is indeed a freak. I had a difficult time encouraging college students and grade school teachers to use the bulletin board on iLab. Most of the postings were mine, and I read them all once to make sure they were what I intended, so half the readings were mine as well!

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