Thursday, June 29, 2006

Standpedia - Web 2.0 Argumentation

Here's an interesting concept, take basic argument mapping and bring it to the web, opening it up for general use as a social site. In a sense this is what Standpedia does, and it seems to be aimed at being an online resource of arguments, in the same way that Wikipedia is an online resource for facts.
Standpedia is wiki-style encyclopedia of controversy. It's a place where tough questions are answered from a variety of perspectives, instead of a single 'neutral point of view'. Standpedia users work together to build maps of controversial issues that everyone can agree on -- not because the map offers one right answer but because all the perspectives are well-represented within the map.
I am a little bit jealous, I have had a similar idea myself, ever since discovering formal Argument Mapping as presented by Austhink. It is certainly a timely idea as it can help people communicate more easily, but I wonder whether it will really work as presented by Standpedia.

One of the most hotly contested aspects of Wikipedia is the way that articles are often vandalised, hacked, tainted with inaccuracies, biased and dominated by a few editors. And this is whilst trying to present facts, let alone emotional issues like Standpedia aims to.

Blogger Jeremy Heigh points out that conversations on the web are often "more like many monologues at once". Jeremy also calls this "philosophical voyeurism spiced with a hint of insanity", and Kottke thinks that while "choice of topic, the way in which the question is posed, and the pace of the commenting has a lot to do with it", "there's still a ton of chaff out there obscuring the wheat."

There seems to be a fundamental disconnect here between what people would like to do (discuss an issue) and the end result of what they actually end up doing (spurt out their opinion as fast as possible). A public website that stores your opinions/thoughts/rants seems like an invitation to many of us to scrawl anything that currently inhabits our mind, often to the detriment of the conversations already taking place there. Standpedia is fighting this issue by supplying an online gladiatorial arena for people to present their thoughts on a particular topic, with some visual tools to help convey argument structures.

The problem for Standpedia is that as the site gains popularity/notoriety it will require a great deal of self-policing by users to combat the inevitable slife towards chaos, miscommunication and general comment-graffiti currently found on many blogs and online forums. Making the user interface as simple as they have may actually contribute to this problem, as the barrier to entry for a casual uncaring user is remarkably low.

Perhaps they could assign user's ownership of topics they create, allowing that user to moderate the edits that others suggest. But perhaps that is simply too un-Web 2.0 for the 21st century?

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