Indaba Application Network... Building better tools for better democracies

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Indaba Application Network... Building better tools for better democracies

United States
Organization type: 
for profit
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Indaba's "Coalescent Bubbling" technologies drive the most advanced realtime ranked-choice interaction tools available online.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The demand for effective mechanisms of democracy is immensely large, but that demand is woefully under-served. It’s far easier for people to join in voicing a loud and clear “No!” to a pressing common grievance than it is for them to sort out their abiding diversity and coalesce around new solutions once the grievance is gone. This is true at any scale. It applies as much to the victors of the Arab Awakening as to residents of any neighborhood dealing with zoning and development. We already have the right urges. The basic habits of democracy have been with us since our ancient African origins. Just as members of clans gathered to choose their champion singers and dancers, viewers of reality television now pick theirs. But a 21st century democracy worthy of the name will require tools that are massively scalable, impeccably fair, and profoundly useful. Indaba is the Zulu word for "important meeting." The modern sense of the word is "collaborative venue." The challenge of a world without dictators is to accumulate the tools, skills, and practices by which we will finally succeed in learning to govern ourselves, bubbling up the best of what we have to offer.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

An effective strategy for building a toolkit appropriate for robust, modern democracies requires solving a new kind of needle in the haystack problem. Say the world needs a new needle. Immediately, massive numbers of people start throwing ideas into a pile. Most are so poorly conceived or expressed that they're no better than hay. And, good or not, many are essentially similar. The result is a giant haystack. The challenge is to encourage the best needle inventors (and their constructive critics) to collaborate in forging truly brilliant new needles, while keeping hay off the pile. My solution is an interactively crowd-sourced social moderation mechanism. 1) Its content entry interface would force novelty, ensuring that a minimal number of needle and hay duplications are added to the pile. Display the extent to which a proposed entry matches a predecessor, blocking any posting of outright duplicates. 2) Needle vs. hay sorting would be applied as soon as an item is added to the pile. Anyone can help sort, but no one can add an item until he or she has already sorted an assigned allotment of preceding entries. Inculcate habits that favor signal over noise. 3) Provide visualizations of the sorted results in order to illustrate coalescence of preferences. This part of the solution is already in operation as a ranked choice voting service at It is designed to provide the fairest possible method for vetting options in multi-candidate elections, and is engineered to advance the principle of coalescent bubbling.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The model for coalescent bubbling used at (and all Indaba Application Network sites) is drawn from the ranked-choice/instant runoff (RCV) voting systems used for public elections in Australia and US cities such as San Francisco. RCV is also used for many kinds of sports and entertainment voting. It offers several virtues in situations where voters are presented with many good or acceptable candidates, but no obviously dominant consensus choice exists. Voters submitting an ordinal list of preferences provide much more useful information than they otherwise could with a single preference ballot system. Moreover, the ballot mechanism now in use at Indaba Application Network sites presents voters with a set of candidates listed randomly in a single set. This precludes the early-out-the-gate leader-bias that occurs with Digg-like “buzz” voting and the overly simple thumbs-up rating systems now typical across the Web. The ballot mechanism also provides for interactivity, giving voters a handy way to view text and media content regarding a particular candidate. Furthermore, the system is organized like an online townhall. Ballots can be amended until voting closes, enabling constructive give and take that seeks to emulate the best aspects of real-world face-to-face collaborative decsionmaking.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are quite a few actors in what could be called the debate, deliberation and decision-making subset of the civic software space. Google Moderator is the largest. My approach has been truly distinct. Most seemed to have put their initial technical focus on the beginning of the process… collecting user generated content and attempting to map that content in some useful way. Collecting and organizing fresh dialog is undeniably important. However, faced with limited resources, I put it off, focusing instead on the end of the process… developing tools by which a community can usefully visualize its own consensus building actions. This has been a boon, granting me freedom to invent something that was truly unique, while benefiting from the mistakes that others have made in attacking a common problem. Apparently only two or three other organizations have taken up the technical challenge of building a ranked choice voting interface, and only one of those seems to be under active development at this time. That organization seems to have positioned itself as a secret-ballot voting service, whereas my goal is to develop open venues that function as online town halls.
About You
Indaba Application Network
About You
First Name


Last Name


Twitter URL


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Indaba Application Network

Organization Country

, FL, Broward County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, FL, Broward County

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

This project is the direct result of my doctoral dissertation, which largely concerned the controversy surrounding the privatization of the Internet’s domain name system in the mid and late 1990s. Those events included the world’s first global election using Instant Runoff Voting, electing five members to the Board of Directors for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

During my research and writing, I had a front row seat to the breakdown of the famed collegial culture of the Internet engineering community. It was not unlike the move toward radical and paralyzing polarization that can be seen in the United States today. I wondered if there was anything I could do to solve the problem, combining my professional skills as a database programmer and my deep background in political science. How might it be possible to structure dialogues that bring together people of diverse views? The Indaba Application Network and the online collaborative venue project I have described here is the result.

Along the way I learned that Thomas Edison’s first patent was for an electric voting machine. It was a flop. I am honored to be working in such an esteemed tradition.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

There are generally two kinds of reactions. One is, “What a great idea! Good luck!” The other, more common, is, “How are you going to make any money doing that?

An early iteration of this project,, was used to conduct frequent straw polls during the 2007-2008 presidential primary season. The information collected at that time was as good as catnip for political wonks, providing nuanced insights into the preferences of participating voters.

The first paying client for this system was a new Major League Lacrosse team based in North Carolina. Over 1100 fans ranked their choices for team’s new team name at a Facebook iteration of this project called WeVote.

The long-term benefit of this project depends on network effects. The greater the number of people using it, the more value it can provide.

It may be noteworthy that observers of the ongoing SF mayoral race, which will use ranked choice voting, have said that the candidates have been acting relatively civil toward each other, apparently in the hope of not alienating voters who might be willing to cast 2nd and 3rd place votes for someone who compliments rather than insults their 1st choice candidate.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

There will be two ways to measure success. Will use of these tools, engineered to support multi-candidate voting events, help overcome the tendency toward demonization of opposites in a political process? At the same, time, will the quality of online discourse benefit, encouraging people to offer informed thoughtful ideas to their peers, secure in the knowledge that their submissions won’t be ignored in a noisy swarm?

The idea is replicable, but it would take considerable commitment to reach the standard of fairness and the drawing together of diversity embedded in Indaba's design.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Break the 5,000 vote barrier in a straw poll that parallels a real world vote... either the GOP 2012 race or SF Mayor 2011

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Iterate an app to focus on the SF Mayor 2011 race

Task 2

Add tools for allowing vetting users to allow creation of high quality ballots (elections and nominations)

Task 3

Partner with a meida outlet that will drive users to Indaba sites

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Iterate into foreign language sites (Spansh, Arabic, Russian) using the same underlying data structure and functionality

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Build a reliable revenue sream or secure other sources of funding

Task 2

Parther with influential groups and individuals who will help champion this project

Task 3

Refactor the system to support higher scale of demand

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured


What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

I've been doing this by myself. I need collaborators who share the vision and want to help me advance it, or I need enough revenue/funding to keep going.

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

There are many good reasons to expect that billions of people will be online by the end of the next decade, essentially present to each other through technologies that enable multi-screen interactive crowdsourcing. With so many people online, we'll need better systems for scaling our discourses into useful and productive signals.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

Even though my primary motivation in pursuing this project is to help raise the level of political discourse, it’s clear that some of the tools and approaches I’ve developed can have much wider applications. To name a few multi-candidate situations where it would clearly be of use: 1) Reality show voting; 2) Mobile-based in-Stadium sports MVP voting; 3) Local media promotions for “Best-Of” competitions; 4) Corporate governance voting; 5) Educational environments where peer-driven judging of subjectively evaluated content is appropriate (essay contests, and so on), and; 6) Quasi-subjectively judged competitions ranging from Art Contests, Poetry Slams, and even the Ashoka Citizen Media Global Innovation Competition. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have better way of sorting through all these entries? What happens when you have to deal with 6,000 of them?)

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Other than the $500 I received from one client, I've done effectively all the development myself, on my own time... probably 3,000 hours invested.

Tell us about your partnerships


What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?
Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Human resources or talent, Marketing or media, Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Pro-bono help (legal, financial, etc.), Innovation or ideas, Mentorship.

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list


Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

Building better tools for better democracies. Massively scalable, impeccably fair, profoundly useful. Interactive crowdsourcing.