Crossforum Theatre as Unconference

Michael Allan mike at
Sat Aug 21 17:31:00 EDT 2010

Alex and David,

Alex Rollin wrote:
> I want to give a big heartfelt +1 to any scenario that aids small
> groups in grabbing hold of real democracy locally, in person, so
> that the online process makes sense.

I don't know anything about group building from a *personal* angle.
If I don't say much, it's not because I'm opposed.  I just don't have
much to contribute.

> Think about alcoholics anonymous.  The first meeting is weird and
> you take it slow, watch, maybe share a bit.  Before you know it a
> stranger is calling you because you are a sponsor listed on a
> website.

I can say that Abd ul-Rahman Lomax (who co-invented FA/delegable
proxy, and is a list member) also sees Alcoholics Anonymous as a kind
of model for participatory democracy.  See in particular the post
"What is FA for?":

David Bovill wrote:
> Think we need to have a Skype caht about this, as i've been out of
> the loop with previous conversations.

Definitely!  michael_c_allan

I know we're talking past each other, to some extent, with these
widely separate visions of theatre.  But they're also related somehow,
and it's been fruitful (at least for me) to get them a little
confused.  Also, I can thank you for moving me to take the theatrical
aspects of my own design more seriously, than I would have otherwise.
And you remind me of the possibility that other developers might help
in the early stages.  I still think, "How high the moon!" and believe
I'll be coding it all myself, but, at the very least, I can take a
development path that leaves both possibilites open.

> This seems to be an interface sketch fro an app which would allow
> you to take part in LD events from home / on the internet? If so -
> that's the sort of app that I've often worked on, and got various
> btis and peices we can play with, experiment, brain storm over, but
> I don't quite see yet the connection between the sketch and the
> actual events / that is the content of the events yet.

Just to distinguish more clearly: It's not an app in specific support
of organized events.  It's a top view of the continuous *day-to-day*
workings of democracy, and an entrance thereto.  It has nothing to do
with unconferences-as-theatre, except:

  a) Both are top views/entrances.  My proposed app is online, P2P and
     running continuously; while your unconference events are
     physical, F2F and running in occaisional bursts.

  b) The design of my app (like your events) is informed by
     dramaturgy.  This is an attractive novelty for me, and I choose
     the name "crossforum theatre" (as opposed to crossforum-
     -something-else) because it emphasizes/exaggerates this aspect.

  c) My app and your unconference events have potential

We were talking past each other in some of what follows, but I answer
best I can.

> >  1) Code an all-round functional alpha. (done)
> >  2) Add an attractive entry window.
> >  3) Get a few quality users and work closely with them.
> >  4) Pull in a second skilled developer.
> >
> > I guess you see unconferences as an entry window (2).  The
> > advantage is that it has elements of (4) in it.  You get both
> > users *and* developers at once, at least for a day or two.  The
> > advantage of my approach is that it scales more easily and rapidly
> > in terms of user participation.
> Possibly. But only if a few assumptions are fulfilled:
>    1. The user experience (UX) of the interface, and the
>    participation is sufficiently good for them to want to come back
>    for more. If you think of the software as a web game - then to
>    develop the user experience to this level can take a huge amount
>    of work, and no one will play it until the UX is good enough -
>    only then will it scale.

The entry solution (2) need not scale much immediately.  It need only
accomodate those few users (3) whose help we need in order to drive
forward the development (4).  As it now stands (1), it is difficult to
attract/hold even *three* dedicated/quality users for Votorola/coco-d.
(Meanwhile, IMHO, most/all other toolsets are mired in pre-alpha with
unworkable infrastructure designs.)

>    2. Solo participation via the web is compelling enough - to offset the
>    initial teething / bootstrapping problems.

You can't really mean "solo", because both of our approaches are
participatory.  You mean *online* participation as opposed to
*physical*?  Yes, I assume it's feasible to bootstrap that.

>    3. We will be able to attract the same quality and quantity of speakers,
>    artists and film makers to an online event, in alpha software as we will in
>    a live real space event.

This does not apply.  You were thinking of an app in direct support of
unconference events, but with online participants (not what I

> It is my view that the content, and idea is more attractive than the
> software at this stage. That yes we need to put both together (we
> need the LD game logic), but we are better using real-space and
> video for the interface, than on relying simply on an online GUI in
> the early stages.

Neither of us wants to attract people to the software.  We want to
attract them to the experience of real, substansive democracy (Alex
now says so, too).  The idea of such a democracy can be compelling,
but so can the reality!  From my own personal experience (albeit
thin), I know both sides of it.  (So does Thomas, I believe.  Nobody
else does.  Votorola/coco-d has had no other dedicated users, and no
other software can support the full reality of participatory
democracy, as yet.)  From my personal experience with it, I feel
confident that people will enjoy it.  Almost nobody will be happy with
the current alpha toolset, but a substantial fraction will be happy
with the overall experience.

> > So should we wait for one of these events to be organized before
> > we start developing a marquee user interface (like crossforum
> > theatre)?  Or should we start on that now, even if that means
> > starting alone?
> Bit of both. We need the "marquee user interface" for the launch
> event. And we need to invite people, fix the dates and venue, get
> the content sorted, organise people (SpectActors) that are ready to
> implement the various LD roles in the event (online and in real
> space). Again, to maximise everyones sense of energy and promote
> teamwork these things should be run in parallel, not wait for
> software to be finished first.

(Again, you are speaking of conference support tools.)

I now feel that it would be best to rapidly prototype crossforum
theatre, proceeding from mock-ups to running code in tight cycles.  So
I'd try not to care about actual look-and-feel/UX, but only about
laying a framework for later development.  The immediate result would
be ugly, but it would do roughly what it's designed to do.  Rationale:

  A. A working prototype, no matter how ugly, might be enough to
     attract those first few quality users (3).

     We currently have no top-level view *at all* (not even an ugly
     one) through which new users might enter.  New users land in the
     pollwiki, and they think it's our marquee UI.  They go away in

  B. Your unconference attendees could dream/play with it, and maybe
     work it up into something prettier.  Or they could take it as a
     source of inspiration (or irritation) for the design of

     As you say, we don't currently have the manpower for a beta UI,
     especially not for a marquee interface, like this.  But your
     unconferences could change all that.

  C. I could "finish" it quickly, and then move (all the sooner) to
     documenting the overall architecture, leaving the full
     development to others.

> > I read through your other examples, but no other production ideas
> > came to mind.
> What do you mean by a "production idea" - I think of production in
> the theatre sense here - they are clearly different productions?

I didn't mean productions (event plans etc) for the medium of
*unconferences*, but productions for the medium of *crossforum
theatre*: (top left)

Look at crossforum production as movie production, and the physical
product as a film print.  You load the film print into the frame
sequencer (think reel-to-reel projector), press the 'Run' button, and
the theatre comes to life.  But unlike cinematic theatre, it's
interactive and participative.  It connects with real-world people,
places and actions that are happening *outside* of the theatre, and it
unfolds in real-time.  The user can easily participate in any/all of
the dramatic actions that are shown (departing temporarily from the
theatre) via interlinks with the external toolsets/media.

Most crossforum productions will have nothing *specifically* to do
with unconferences (any more than most movies do), but some might.

> > The frame sequencer doesn't actually give me lots of creative
> > ideas for other productions.  )Maybe we can find a better medium,
> > later.)  But it at least suffices for the conversation-based
> > productions, which I think are the most important.  (The most
> > important of all might be one that allowed you to follow the
> > doings of your friends, family and other peers in democracy
> > space.)
> I'm not attracted / maybe don't fully get to the idea of a "Frame
> Sequencer" - I want to be able to explore, navigate, debates and
> arguments that support or contradict each other - I want to see
> various ways in which the parts can be remixed, and be seen as part
> of a whole cohesive, debate, performance, play, event.

I do understand (at least roughly) what you're aiming at for the
unconferences, and I find them attractive in principle.  Myself, I
don't participate in events as a rule, but I understand that others
do.  So I want to support your idea, best I can.

Crossforum theatre is something different (just invented and still not
sure it's viable).  I hope others can understand the idea at least
roughly - but maybe not, till after mockups or prototypes.

All my thinking is directed toward attracting three or four quality
users (item 3).  I believe that's the essential problem in the
underlying design of any user-space environment, *regardless* of the
current scale.  The environment might attract a million users by hook
or crook, but if its design *per se* is no longer attractive to three
more - if we rely instead on social network or monopoly effects to
keep the it populated - then I would say the design is a failure.  I
believe we have the opportunity to design scalable attractors for
democracy.  (Your unconferences could be one such attractor, and
crossforum theatre could be another.)

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 647-436-4521

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