Closing in on intelligence

Understanding the obstacles of online dialogue

[This post is part of a series about online dialogue. Read the first post to better understand the context of this post.]


Understanding the obstacles

I’ll start out by listing a couple of common obstacles for good online dialogue i.e. causing a lot of negative outcomes, and blocking positive ones (see the first post for examples).

Clash of expectations:  Most of the time a discussion, dialogue or argument arise when someone is making a reply to someones shared thoughts. This is usually how it happens, and that is perfectly fine. But perhaps the initiator was expecting the positive experience of sharing and agreement and found someone replying to their post with the intention of solving a problem. This is not a problem in itself, and could potentially lead to more positive outcomes, but in reality this clash of expectations is often the cause of some of the negative outcomes discussed in my previous post.

I am right – you are wrong: Perhaps the easiest to spot of all obstacles in any discussion anywhere. While it should be considered a positive thing to share and stand by your opinion in general, it is often this attitude that leads to the worst cases of discussions.

Logical fallacies: There are numerous logical fallacies that are both consciously and unwittingly committed in discussions. Some of them comes from bad habits and some of them due to lack of experience in proper dialogue.

Sabotage or trolling: This is quite common in discussions where you participate anonymously or don’t personally know the other participants. It generally only exists in discussions where the saboteur has nothing to lose by provoking the other participants. Conscious discussion vandalism – just for the fun of it. In some cases this can lead to actual improvements in social deliberation skill, due to the practice of perspective taking (even if it’s not genuine), but should in most cases be considered an obstacle to good outcomes.

These are some of obstacles for good online dialogue . If we acknowledge that online dialogue can be something important and that the dialogue in itself has value and needs to be nurtured, chances are we can overcome most of these obstacles. I will get more in depth in my next post by discussing certain traits and techniques for better online dialogue. Stay tuned :)


The complex nature of online dialogue

[This blogpost is about online dialogue, however most of the ideas mentioned relate to any form of asynchronous written discussion.]


The complex nature of online dialogue
Engaging in online dialogue is tricky and much harder that you would think. There are a lots hidden pitfalls, and as a result, people are constantly having unsatisfying experiences without realizing why. Before going in to the actual problems in my next blog post, let us briefly examine some potential outcomes of online dialogue.

Positive outcomes:

– The pleasant experience of agreement, sharing and understanding

– New insights in/nuances of the topic

– Solving of a problem / making a good decision

– Improvement in social deliberation skill

– New ideas / spurring creativity

Negative outcomes:

– The negative experience of disagreement and being misunderstood

– The negative experience of being provoked or verbally attacked

– The feeling of unsatisfying result and waste of time

These outcomes are not completely separate from each other, and negative and positive outcomes can often co-exist in the same discussion. There can also be a difference between individual outcomes and the outcomes seen from the group of participants as a whole. To further complicate the understanding; the outcomes exists on a sliding scale and can be present in the discussion to a varying degree. This being said, there is a high likelihood of both negative and positive outcomes from a discussion, especially if it gets long and/or involves a lot of voices. The two last positive outcomes; new ideas, and improvement of social deliberation skill, are often side effects from a successful online dialogue, rather than the intended purpose.

The concept of “winning” and “losing” an argument have to be viewed in this context as well. The quality of the discussion is measured against its positive and negative outcomes. If someone proves you wrong on some point, generally considered losing the argument, and you’re able to mitigate your negative feelings, you have actually “won” by achieving new insights of the topic.


Evolute looking for developers

We are looking for social conscious developers

Team Evolute is a new initiative based in Malmö, Sweden with the goal of influencing our society and environment.

We develop digital platforms for collective intelligence, which includes tools supporting dialogue, information sharing and collective decision-making. We help companies and groups to better organize themselves and take advantage of its members capacities and ideas.

Right now we are looking for partners to take these open source tools to the next level. We work with developers worldwide and has partners in New Zealand, Denmark and Spain.

Do you have experience developing in PHP, JavaScript or Ruby on Rails? Would you like to help develop the future platform for collective intelligence?

Contact us at

Advice for creating Collective Intelligence tools

The following advice are found in Clay Shirkys excellent book Cognitive Surplus.

Start small (limit audience, limit scope)
Ask “why?” (Different motivations of the users. Autonomy, Competence, Generosity, Membership + more)
Behaviour follows opportunity (Behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity. Reward motivations. Opportunity w/o motivation gives nothing)
Default to Social (“Triumph of the Defaults”. Social value should be default.)

A hundred users are harder than a dozen and harder than a thousand (intimate scale -> public scale. Being a participant in midsize group feels lousy. Once culture is established whether good or bad it’s very hard to change. The key is to recruit the first dozen of users to embody the right cultural norms)
People differ, more people differ more (Average is useless, behaviour of most -> least active differs a lot. In large systems a core group and a peripheral one emerge. Offer different level of involvement for different users! Make the size of smallest possible contribution small, make the threshold small!)
Intimacy doesn’t scale (Consider audience vs cluster patterns.)
Support a supportive culture (Let users enforce rules, culture etc. Don’t push)

The faster you learn, the sooner you’ll be able to adapt (continual learning, change the opportunities on offer – not the users)
Success causes more problem than failure (Don’t plan too much – Try & adapt. “If you want to solve hard problems, have hard problems”.)
Clarity is violence (Solving the problems as they arise means not putting process in place until you need it. Groups tolerate governance only when enough value has accumulated to make the burden worthwhile. The rules has to follow, not lead)
Try Anything, Try Everything (Encourage experiment, we can’t see the full value from the start.)