The second part of Dan Bashaw's overview of Harel B's "On Funding" is:
Queue|Cue the Revolution (orig. copy)
Filed under: woc2006, thresholdware, SocialTech, webofchange, open source
Dan Bashaw @ 1:34 pm

Thresholdware (software that stores user transactions, then acts on them when a specific critical mass or threshold has been reached) has many applications beyond the fundraising discussed in the previous Thresholdware post [See "ThresholdWare" at] To recap, in fundraising thresholdware works like this:

[Commonly] a $100,000 project might be built out of many small donations. Using thresholdware allows users to rack a $50 donation onto their credit card, with the knowledge that it will not be processed until enough donations have come in to make the project a success. By using thresholdware, the risk of your donation disappearing into a black hole because a project does not raise enough funds to succeed is eliminated: every donation is actualized in the real world, and donors can be confident that their contribution will make a difference.

This is a powerful online fundraising approach, and I'm interested in seeing it adopted widely by NGOs.

However, the applications of thresholdware goes well beyond the economic realm. Consider this scenario, very loosely adapted from Harel B's essay On Funding: A Plan to Put the Movement on Solid Financial Ground [See for this strategic vision essay upon which both this "Queue|Cue the Revolution" and the previous "Thresholdware" blog are based]

Suppose -- hypothetically of course -- that there is a rogue superpower that intends to invade and occupy several Middle Eastern countries in 2007. Having already used up their standing army in losing two such wars, the nation in question will need to institute a military draft to carry out this latest project.

Based on prevous history, citizens of the rogue state might decide to individually resist this military draft. They might do so in the hundreds, or even thousands, in a series of symbolic actions. The result would be a trickle of resisters, tossed into jail, or perhaps into the new camps, if numbers warranted.

For resistance to result in stopping the proposed war, it would have to be far more effective than past efforts, which invariably resulted in manageable numbers of political prisoners, and the diversion of draft resistance efforts into prisoner support campaigns.

Enter thresholdware.

On the surface, Draft Resistance is a completely separate topic from fund-raising. But they have in common the usefulness of conditionality. In the case of making donations, interactive, 'intelligent' and conditional donations are desirable because you don't want to waste your donation; you would like to be able to base your choice -- at least in part -- on what others are committed to doing.

The same applies when the stakes are higher than money. In draft resistance, a resister's effectiveness depends on how isolated they will be. Will the action merely be symbolic self-sacrifice and jail, damaging both the activist and the movement as it shifts energy from taking action to supporting jailed activists, or can thresholdware ensure that it becomes something much more?

How about if resistance simultaneously involves 100,000 other citizens, organized through an encrypted thresholdware system? A critical mass of citizens far beyond the number that can be prosecuted and jailed? Here is one way this might work, paraphrased from Harel:

Say the campaign was set up so that all resistors would simultaneously send a letter of non-compliance and their defaced draft card to the authorities. One concern participants might have is that of premature release of their identifying information. To guard against this, we might imagine an independent organization like a lawyers' guild, looking at the online secure 'draft resistence thresholdware' software, and being willing > to offer a kind of insurance to each participant: insuring them against the very unlikely possibility that there is a malfunction and a letter is sent with their (pre-authorized) signature, but with a total number of such resistors being less than the limit they set (100,000 in our example). That is certainly a possibility. The insurance may include money, guaranteed hours of free legal defense, or both.

Thus anyone participating would have a high degree of confidence that "if the software works as advertised, there is "safety (and, also crucially, effectiveness) in numbers" -- and that "there will be 100,000 or more of us." But not only that -- also the confidence in and assurance of the process.

Just as having added "conditionality" allowed us -- due to considerations of both safety and effectiveness -- to increase the number of people willing to participate in draft resistance, likewise, "assurance" procedures such as these would increase even further the number of people who are ready, willing, and able to take part in such a mass-based act of civil disobedience.

Thinking still further ahead=85 The government may try to make it a criminal offense to even conditionally give permission to the grassroots organization to send out such a letter on your behalf, but that runs into several problems. First, how will the government find out you did it, without succeeding in breaking the encryption of the grassroots campaign's computers?

And what if the government goes after grassroots organizations suspected of running the "conditional draft resistance"? Let's just say that there may be a lesson to be learned from the history of file sharing, where Napster was much easier to deal with, having a central server, than the Gnutella type de-centralized software, where no central body is in control, but large numbers of users just choose to get together and run that software. Similar ideas could -- and should -- be investigated to protect citizen's rights and freedoms from unjust control by the State.

While the draft resistance scenario is extreme -- and the capabilities of modern national security agencies to oppose this kind of action may be under-estimated in this basic scenario -- it does dramatically point to the potential use of thresholdware in citizen actions: strike votes, union organizing, tax revolts and more could certainly be organized and carried out using secure thresholdware.

As for the underlying technology for secure thresholdware, there is much work that has been done in the last few years, some of which is summarized in Using Technology to Protect Free Speech in Dangerous Places [], posted on WorldChanging. Much of the software discussed is available at Secure NGO in a Box []

It is not hard to roadmap a secure thresholdware application based on current open source technologies: It's a sweet spot at the intersection of secure communications, distributed storage, and decision-making groupware -- a Free/Libre Open Source application just waiting to be built -- Queue|Cue the Revolution! -Dan Bashaw

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