Open Source: Help the world be a little bit more debate wise

I recently got a request for help from David Crane, the founder of Debate Wise who’s looking to update his site and open source it!  I would go into more detail myself but here’s what David has to say! (He says it better than I ever could, giving you the background and all the info you could possibly need and more to get involved in his project!!)

Debate WiseDebatewise is a non-profit debating web site whose goal is to be the Wikipedia of debate.  Anyone can create a debate on any subject they like and anyone else can edit and strengthen that debate.  In this way and over time the arguments become stronger and more definitive and provide an ever greater resource for anyone looking to make up their mind.

I founded Debatewise because I love reading the comments on forums and blogs but was finding it increasingly hard to make sense of the many conflicting opinions there.  The good stuff is often on long threads and long threads aren’t always full of good posts.  What’s more, the sceptic in me has trouble accepting the veracity of a point until I know how it is countered, and finding counterarguments isn’t always easy in a linear, time-organised, structure.

Debatewise is set-up to solve this problem.  We allow arguments to be formed collectively as we believe the best case is made when people collaborate.  We also encourage the creation of counterarguments so our users have an easy way of comparing views and coming to their own conclusion.

We believe by so doing we achieve three things.  We give people with something to say the opportunity to convince others they are right. We help people overcome the decision paralysis that occurs when we’re given too many options, indecision being the mother of inaction and all that.  We also, and importantly, help counter the criticism that the internet is a giant echo chamber; 57% of our visitors tell us they change their minds often or frequently by what they read on the site.

We’ve been going for just over two years, have around 2,000 debates and get about 70k visitors per month.  There are two full-time staff in-house, another two interns and a Rapid Response Team of around 140 students who seed most of the debates for us.  We are all volunteers.

Debatewise is a currently a Community Interest Company and we will be starting the process of becoming a full-on charity soon.  Our content is licensed under copy-left and our software is open-source.  Or rather it will be.  One thing we need help with is opening up the software and creating a repository that others can take from or add to at will.  Being only a wannabe geek I have no idea how to do this properly.

The other help is more practical: adding features, developing the resource, creating mechanisms that manage the data and so on.  I’ve got lots of specific ideas and will happily detail them to anyone interested.  I’m also very keen to hear any new ideas on how we can improve what we do.

Our site is built on Ruby on Rails and other skills I think we could benefit from include Javascript coders, information architecture and information designers as well as good old debaters.  So if you fancy an argument, want to educate people or, most usefully for us, can help us build what has the potential to be a highly useful tool, please get in touch.

Oh and added bonus info:
We did a big project using Google Wave, 1,000 young people from 100 different countries used it to debate climate change during the Copenhagen climate change conference (Lars Rasmussen talked about us a couple of times on the Huffington Post blog entry he made recently:

I think there’s a real opportuity to develop the Forum Botty developed for Wave and wondered if it was worth telling to your community. This is separate to our main project, but linked nonetheless as I believe a forum in Wave could generate a lot of debates we could archive and make publicly available.

About Sarah Lamb

Sarah is a freelance writer with a masters degree in Computer Science. Sarah writes about innovation, technology and social media. She has a keen interest in gender diversity with the IT sector and founded Girl Geek Dinners in 2005