Since February of 2017, IF has been working with a technology startup to develop an online civic discussion platform that will be known as USATalk. The goal is to encourage civic discussion in the online environment, an arena in serious need of more thoughtful conversation. A second important objective of the collaboration is to widen access to public conversation for those who find face-to-face meetings difficult or impossible.
The effort is the brainchild of machine learning expert Will Ferguson, who suggested he could help “scale up” the kind of work that IF does. He and IF Fellow Adolf Gundersen have been working full time on the project, with substantial help from IF Fellow Shannnon Wheatley Hartman. Ferguson has already assembled a team of highly skilled technology experts and others with complementary skills and knowledge. Among them is Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia.
Ferguson and Gundersen’s ultimate vision is to develop, through repeated experimentation, a platform that—in addition to facilitated discussion–will incorporate reliable information links and feedback loops to enable continued refinement.
No decisions have been made as to whether full-scale development of USATalk will rely on crowd sourcing or philanthropic contributions.
A companion article, on the Des Moines Schools Community Discussion Project, describes USATalk’s first experimental effort.