Friday, 2 July 2010

Your freedom, would you like it?

I wanted to wait until Your Freedom had actually started working properly before I wrote this, unfortunately that doesnt seem likely to happen. I'm pretty sure it's being hosted in someone's basement.

So thats how Freedom has arrived, slowly, and with frequent error messages.

Its a lovely idea, people get to vote on laws which need changing/repealing, the Government promises to listen and take action when writing the Great Repeal Bill we've been promised later this year.

But, as per usual, a great idea has been spoiled because our Government can't do the interwebs.

No one seems to have considered that if you expose this sort of site to the interwebs, with no editorial controls, anyone might sign up and might register any sort of complaint. Hence why I will later be coming out against the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

Also, on truly controversial issues, the Digital Economy Bill for example, literally dozens of different entries, all asking for the same thing. (I got bored trying to list them all)

The other problem is, what if people don't like Bills which the Government has committed itself to keeping? Like DEA, which looks set to stay, because the music industry will cry if it doesnt.

There's also a ranking system, which doesnt take into account that something with a ranking of 5 with 2 people voting for it, is less important than something with 4.9 with hundreds voting for it. So literally nothing on the most popular page is actually an issue of any importance, since all the important issues have enough voters that one person spoils the perfect 5.0 rating.

I can't seem to sign into my first account because of a draconian need for context sensitivity in the username (WHY?!), which is a small thing, but exposes a larger problem.

When I couldnt sign in, I created a new account! Enabling me to vote twice for anything I want. So basically votes don't actually mean anything on the site. I'm pretty sure I could pop onto 4Chan's /b/ board and some kind soul there would engineer a few billion people voting in favour of any issue I like.

All the media froth about this yesterday could only have been the result of reading a press release and listening to a speech. Anyone who uses this site is going to realise how hideously flawed it is from the outset.

I think there must be something you sign when you become a politician, or work for one, which says that you will never, under any circumstances show any degree of competance. Nor will you hire anyone who can do it better than you.

This isnt true internationally, where there are some beautifully simple websites. Look at the wonderful example of Its sleek, there's nothing pointless there, its lean, it looks hungry, like it might bite. (A little too poetic there, sorry). It even has some vaguely useful applications for you to download for your phone, a range of health, government services, and general information tools.

What we needed was a well designed, simple toolkit, which allowed people to vote on any ACTUAL Bill, and make suggestions about regulations that could be dropped.

As always, lovely ideas, poorly carried out, by a group of people who like the buzz around social media, and the idea of the internet, but couldnt care less about how its implimented or whether it actually works.


  1. While I agree that Your Freedom is pretty flawed, I feel I should probably come to its defence on one point: making something 4chan-proof is a Hard Problem. As evidenced by the number of sites that /b/ has its way with, most companies (and governments) just haven't figured out how to do it yet. The only real defence against a DDoS (including a /b/tard mass result-fixing kind of attack rather than just a simple denial of service) is to go into lockdown for as long as it lasts, which would make for pretty bad press for Your Freedom.

    A few tweaks could have gotten around some of your points - aggregate rather than average 'stars' would be a quick and easy way to rank items in order of their *actual* popularity. And an enforced "here are some existing items with similar titles" page before item submission would prevent some of the duplicates.

    If they're serious about opening up lawmaking to the public (and I'm sure they're not), what would have been better is something more wiki-like, based - as you say - around the actual text of the law. (ISTR reading that a country did this for a bill at some point as a one-off thing.) Obviously not just a stock Wikipedia clone, otherwise the edit wars would kill it, but something allowing us to offer our thoughts on a clause-by-clause basis.

    That'd also remove the "Repeal the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics" issue that can't really be prevented any other way apart from by moderation - and the slowness moderation introduces is a killer for new websites.

  2. As always, these posts are somewhat with a pinch of salt, and no website is truly 4chan proof (A phrase I'll be stealing for future conversations on cyber security).

    My problem with the site really does come down to the 'few tweaks' issue, because thats always whats lacking. Its the 5% of extra effort that'd take a site from being mediocre, to something truly interesting and valuable.

    If this site doesnt work well, and its construction isnt robust, what is its utility in this case, where the geniune effective results are vital.

    I like the idea of a wiki style editor too. The guy who wrote We-Think did something similar with a draft of his manuscript if memory serves, allowing people to comment, without turning it into a public debating forum.

    Fundamentally, I stand by my point, these websites are the result of people who want the PR of using 'cool' internet tools, but could care less about how they work or what use they are.

  3. It could have been a case of getting it out of the door quickly rather than spending much time tweaking it - I don't know how long this was in development or why the Powers that Be decided to release it when they did.

    But if it *wasn't* horribly rushed, then yeah, a bit more attention to detail would have made it a lot better!