Of course, there is a rich and varied literature on democracy and networked technologies. While blogs are a hopeful technological move in the right direction, they are not at all a brave new world. The same sort of hype (yes, I am reinventing myself as a non-bloghyper) existed around Usenet, and indeed around the radio.
I am excited by the new interest in how blogs might be employed to encourage democracy. I think they might have a valuable role to play. But I worry that the current discourse is trying to reinvent the wheel a bit. Why not fall back on people like de Sola Pool, or even Herbert Marcuse, to a certain extent. We don’t have to even go back decades, we can go back years.
Suggesting that folks read the literature to get a richer view of the problems of electronically mediated democracy sounds both elitist and pedantic. But really this is something that should appeal to techy people: the virtue of laziness. If people have not only thought about this before, but argued and experimented, why not make good use of their experience.
And so, treading deeply into pedantry, here is a very brief and incomplete list of links to follow:
Iyangar, Luskin, Fishkin, Facilitating Informed Public Opinion: Evidence from Face-to-face and Online Deliberative Polls
London, “Teledemocracy vs. Deliberative Democracy”
Fung and Wright, “Experiments in Deliberative Democracy”
Witschge, “Online Deliberation: Possibilities of the Internet for Deliberative Democracy” (pdf)
In brief answer to Ross Mayfield’s post: I don’t think it is so easy to disaggregate direct democracy and deliberative democracy. The recall is a great thing, if you trust voters to think through the issues before casting a vote. The problem is that it is difficult to get the average person to think about politics. This is not a new problem (cf. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems). The real question is whether blogs might have led to the kind of public deliberation that would have yielded a better choice of representation. I think they could, potentially, lead in that direction. I also think it is equally possible that the kind of “discussion” encouraged by the atomized nature of blogs is detrimental to deliberative processes.
In other words, blogs are not the answer to democracy. Build it, and they will not come. As a technology — in the usual sense of a set of programs — they are nothing: snippets of code (if that!) to allow frequent content updates on the web. As a social technology, they do allow for mass interaction, but they are neither the only, nor necessarily the best, way of doing this. The real question is how to create an environment in which people can make intelligent decisions. This may have an electronic component, but I sincerely doubt it is essential.