Google bods reform DEMOCRACY in coconut or vitamin water quandry

'Utopian' social network could go official – but then, it is on Google+ ... so

Google has developed an internal utopian voting system for its office events, which its creator hopes to make an official product.

So far 11,000 internal staff have cast some 75,000 votes on Google office events like Halloween contests and building names. Some 4,200 staff voted in a Mircokitchen food event in which vote tallies determined participants.

The system is the brainchild of engineer Steve Hardt and runs on Google Plus (so perhaps its shelf life is limited -Ed), which overcomes previous high complexity and cost issues with a voting format described as a mix between direct and representative democracy without the faults.

Hardt said his project operated on liquid democracy and allowed users to delegate vote allocations to others. They can also cast a vote themselves, if they wish.

"Direct democracy is perfect utopia but it doesn't scale," said Hardt.

"[Representative democracy] ends up with a focus on the candidates, caring about 'does your representative have good hair' ... and you get distortions from elections like 'we can't make that happen, it's an election year'.

"Liquid democracy is designed to remove the shortcomings and take the best of both. People can delegate their votes to others, often people you trust or know, or people they know, and votes can flow on."

Hardt began building the voting infrastructure about two and half years ago, with the intention of making it an official Google product.

He claimed it trumped direct and representative democracies in part because votes can be restricted and pulled, maintaining accountability and offering expertise incentives.

Liquid democracy flow

Googlers, for example, can delegate their bid on cafeteria food preferences to another staffer, but maintain their ticket for their preferred IT hardware.

Liquid democracy is a derivative already in use by the Pirate Party for internal politics.

Hardt said group restricted boundaries can be used to prevent global voting on local issues, while other checks exist to assist with accumulation of power.

The engineer, together with co-author Lia C R Lopes, explained the system in the paper Google Votes: A Liquid Democracy Experiment on a Corporate Social Network which can be viewed here (pdf).

The ability to delegate voting power allows liquid democracy to scale to large groups as well as representative democracy does. People who have others delegating to them are much like representatives in representative democracy systems, becoming specialists for group decisions and voting with greater power.

Liquid democracy systems tend to be meritocracies. As a person becomes more of an expert on issues facing the group, more people trust and delegate to them.

The increased voting power can incentivise them to further increase their expertise and effectiveness. The opposite effect occurs when the delegate becomes less effective. This feedback process gives accountability and curbs abuses of power.

Coconut or Vitamin water?

The pair described Google Votes as a demonstration of how social-networking software could enable new forms of decision-making systems in a cost-effective scalable manner.

Various tweaks are planned around voter notification and delegate recommendations, apparently. ®

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