Kenyersel: Maps

Thoughts can change the world
Towards Interactive and Evolving Discussion Maps

We are working on web-based discussions as 'evolving argument maps'. These structure contributions according to how they fit into the general argument e.g. showing how comments agree or disagree with each other. As users navigate the map they are given the opportunity to:

  • match posts that look equivalent, and merge them, to help prevent repetition,
  • change and add relations between the posts,
  • observe the history of the way a discussion has evolved,
  • add, modify, and contributions in a wiki style,
  • summarise and visualise the discussion.

We have just finished the first draft of the Trident Debate map! This is a map of the discussion on the Nuclear Peace Blog. It is also a test-run of our exciting and new web software that Lucas has recently been developing. At the moment you can comment on the map and we will be adding and integrating you comments. We would also love comments on the usability of the map system. In the future we hope to allow users you to directly edit and update the maps in a Wiki-like way. Until then, please do send us any thoughts or feedback.

Background

The development of Web 2.0 tools has encouraged people to be more deliberative and interactive with what they read. People are more used to having some influence, accepting criticisms, and interacting with web based content, such as Wikipedia and the Blogosphere. Politics and news are lagging behind; they still present oversimplified and polarised positions. This has contributed to disillusionment with both the media and politics.

The main facilities for interaction with existing news sites are online discussion forums and comment streams. The current technology for visitor debates is to list comments chronologically or to sort them by thread. Although these approaches are ubiquitous, they have several significant drawbacks the list of comments becomes too long and effectively hides and discourages later contributions. Contributors cannot easily relate their contributions to what has already been said. As well as being frustrating, this leads to many posts which say the same thing.

Motivation

This project enhances the value of news by utilising the interactive user-centred Web 2.0 ethos. Online debates serve a valuable purpose. This project will lead to many benefits. This project would make web-based debates:

  • Clearer: by showing the structure of the debate, i.e. how different comments fit together.
  • More Accessible: experience with local groups shows that discussion maps allow and encourage a wider range of people to contribute.
  • Scalable: more contributions can be meaningfully incorporated into the debate as opposed to just the first few visitors.
  • Promote Understanding: interaction with these maps contributes towards a shared understanding of the issues. They help people with conflicting opinions to nevertheless engage in a constructive way.
  • Educative: the process of interaction with argument maps naturally develops critical thinking skills and a scientific open minded approach to debate.

Just reading news can be very frustrating but supporting this kind of engagement makes it an empowering and emotionally rewarding activity. It generates a feeling of contributing to something and of making a difference.

Related Projects

Discussion mapping has a long history of development, however, none of these scale to handle a large online and interacting audience. In particular:

  • The BBC's Have Your Say allows people to comment on topical issues but suffers from the problems of comment streams.
  • Structured discussions are used by professional discussion facilitators, for example Austhink or The Compendium project. These techniques rely on trained facilitators and cannot support online debate.
  • The BBC Labs' Delib project (2006) produces discussion maps of the type pioneered by Robert Horn. These maps have a high-level of graphic design. They are created by expert consultants - not by the community. They are also static.
  • Wikipedia is a good example of community editing that frequently produces high-quality work. However it does not support structured debate.
Argument Maps from Facilitated Discussions

Together with Jubilee Scotland, Ken Yersel helped facilitate the Debt Crisis Debate (see the The Debt Tribunale) at Edinburgh during the G8 Alternative conference in July 2005 and July 2006. We used the Compendium software to record the discussion. These maps are now online:

Two early prototype argument maps recorded from discussions on the Smoking Consultation, by the "Thinking Together" group in Edinburgh on the 10th August 2004.

For more information...

If you would like to more information or to get involved please contact us!
We look forward to hearing from you!