Archive for nomic game

Update on Nomicly, Alpha Available

On Monday, I released an alpha version of my project Nomicly by sending the public link to friends.

Feedback has been generally positive. More than one person has either given me affirmation that they see business value or that it would be a useful place to interact with communities and peers, both of which are key to Nomicly’s success.

I’m really happy with the state of Nomicly now. One major goal was to end the year with a demo-ready product that can help illustrate where I want to go with Nomicly. That is certainly the case with the alpha.

The alpha is admittedly super-simple, and that for me is an example of the platform’s founding principle of simplicity. I’m also taking a fairly lean approach with a mix of calculated incremental design—for the last few years, I’ve taken a “it’s like a game of pool” approach to product design. If the ball just sits there for a turn or two, that’s okay so long as it’s still setting you up for a future shot to the pocket. (I think an old boss at Meltwater may have said that about sales actually–which also illustrates the goal of Nomicly to cross-pollinate people and problems to get really good ideas.)

That said, the progression of Nomicly to a business entity is not going to be easy, and it’s just getting started. Reminds me of a hobbit or two that I know of.

Please feel free to take a look at Nomicly and let me know what you think. :D

Special Thanks

Many thanks go to my wife Adria Mooney for her immense help in making Nomicly something worth looking at as well as her unending patience and support.

Bug Report

Despite my best efforts to ship a completely bug-free alpha, a few things were missed. By my accounts, four bugs were identified within 48 hours, three noticed by friends/me, one unnoticed (i.e. just me being a nitpiker):

  1. Twitter Login (disabled) — I thought this was working. I realize now it may never have been working (bad testing). I attempted to get a fix in quickly but to no avail. Feature disabled for the time-being.
  2. Modifying Ideas (fixed) — A core concept in Nomicly is to modify (and hopefully improve) other people’s ideas. Due to a subtle mistake in the site setup differences on staging and production, the feature didn’t work. Luckily we were able to locate the mistake in a few minutes and get it working.
  3. Timestamps (tbd) — For some reason I thought it would be fine to use gmt. I realize now that the time presented should be relative to the person viewing it. (Duh) Bug? Maybe more of a half-implemented feature…
  4. Idea Creation on the Me Page (fix coming) — This is likely a small regression: idea is submitted, but it doesn’t show up in the feed. (unless you refresh the page. lame.) Nobody’s noticed (AFAIK) but the fix will be going out shortly.

Nomicly, My Frankenstein Prototype

Over the last two weeks, I’ve transitioned from high-level planning and concept definition for Nomicly to really putting together a prototype. (What Nomicly Is.)

I decided in mid-October that it was time to put together a prototype but, honestly, being a mere hobbist-programmer I was a bit daunted by the challenge.

Reminded by this quote from Göthe, I got started:

Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.

I think of that quote often actually. I’ve found it to be very, very true. To get excited, we need to engage the vision in our mind and build a plan around it. But to maintain that excitement—to build upon that excitement and create actual momentum—we have to get started.

Caveat is that, imho, it is important to prioritize and delineate a minimum viable product so that the investment of time and effort (and stress and vexation) is adequately rewarded with meaningful, tangible, or visible progress.

I believe I’ve largely been accomplishing this balance.

As of writing this, it is possible to

  • Register using FB or Twitter (or standalone)
  • Create new ideas
  • Create ideas specific to a question or topic (i.e. have a focus to the ideas)
  • Vote on ideas

I’m also nearly done with a “Hot or Not” variation where players can choose between Idea-A and Idea-B.

That is almost my definition of the MVP.

I still need to help create a “users” page where people can access feedback on how their ideas and participation is creating consensus within Nomicly. I also still want to bake in a smidgen more game-like mechanics because I find “gamification” to be an interesting area to explore within innovation. (A lot of design thinking is around ‘play’ as a tool for accessing creativity and innovation. Games are also fun.

This quote from Bing Gordon also helps:

If you want to have employees or customers who were born after 1971, you need to understand the lens through which they see the world…It’s the new normal for people born after 1971 to see the world as games…

I also need to work on the basics of the analytics but I’m not anticipating anything overly complex for the short-term. I am talking about a mere prototype.

My amazing wife is going to help with beautification since CSS is far from a forte of mine. We lovingly refer to the beautification as the ‘lipstick on pig’ phase.

I’m quite excited about the progress I’ve made and I should have something worth poking at by Thanksgiving.

As exciting as that goal is, it’s really just the very beginning. I’ve got quite a roadmap ahead of myself ranging from product-focused enhancements to funding to 3rd party implementations.

So, while I’m excited and pumped and gaining momentum daily, it’s all balanced by the knowledge that a long, difficult path lay ahead. Göthe is right that our mind will grow heated, but Nietzsche is also right about the consequences of starting:

To make plans and project designs brings with it many good sensations; and whoever had the strength to be nothing but forger of plans his whole life long would be a very happy man: but he would occasionally have to take a rest from this activity by carrying out a plan—and then comes the vexation and the sobering up.

Game Theory and Nomics

Stanford University is offering a free game theory class that I’m enrolled in. I’ve been interested in game theory since reading The Art of Strategy last year.

As a quick aside, I actually read the book because I wanted to be sure to properly align the incentives of Servio’s workers on CloudCrowd. That is to say, on CloudCrowd we have some really awesome workflows that involve allowing workers to receive bonuses for correcting work they’re reviewing (rather than rejecting the work and only getting a low-base rate for rejecting flawed work). We also have a workflow that sends rejected work back to the original worker for “self-corrections.” Our workflows are quite fascinating to me because we’re building a work platform that (as long as I get to contribute) will continue to align itself more and more with how “the real world” works. However, because of the complexity in our workflows, it was important (as the product manager determining payouts, expected user behavior, policies around eligibility, etc) that I have a fairly strong handle on the relevant game mechanics governing worker interactions.

When I read Cognitive Surplus late last year, I first learned about the “Nomic Game.” I’ve been a little obsessed with how we can leverage the Nomic Game, as a principle if nothing more, to create a collective consensus building platform ever since. I think I’m on to something here, and hearing the founder of Votizen speak at a TedX conference (via YouTube) affirms this belief. Remember, one of my first inspirations for the Nomic Game was the Occupy Wall Street movement and their inability to create an actionable, cohesive consensus—it’s worth noting that a “leap of faith” assumption, to use Eric Reis’ term, is that social movements of today—political involvement methodologies of contemporary society—need to “catch up” with normal business and consumer technologies. I mean, we’re still using an electoral college for presidential elections, and from what I can tell the system was only in place because of the technology available during the 1800′s (i.e. horse drawn carriages). We’re still using horse drawn carriage paradigms for elections!? This is mind numbingly retarded to me. (If that bothers you too, check out what Jennifer Pahlka is working on. It’s pretty awesome.)

Coming full circle to the Nomic Game, the concept was originally proposed by a political science professor Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment, and Suber used the game as a way of illustrating how The Constitution works for his students. One of the main lessons of the game is that through self-amendment, “unalienable rights” can be revoked through a consensus of modification of the “unalienable-ness” of a right. It’s a very interesting read, albeit a bit dense.

One of the first questions I had when thinking through the Nomic Game was “What are the game theory implications of the Nomic Game?”

This question isn’t as straight forward as you might expect. To understand what I mean here, let’s walk through a simple mental game.

Particularly in the fashion I plan to implement it, the Nomic Game helps people establish consensus around ideas. Another word for “idea” in this scenario is “belief,” and this is an important point. (Background: In game theory, beliefs and motivations play a key role in understanding games where players play multiple rounds before completing the game. And, the Nomic Game is exactly that.)

At first we may think (without the math, aka “a priori“) the (weakly) dominant strategy is to simply agree with ideas so that we can arrive at a consensus and move to the next problem. That is, if we all agree with an idea, then as a society we will (presumably) receive the same utility. But, as an additional premise, we’re not just working with bland ideas like “let’s go get a cup of coffee,” we’re dealing with important ideas like “we should stop the production of nuclear arsenals.”

Now we’re treading into a contentious area.

My beliefs about the implications of stopping nuclear arsenal production come into play. Tangential beliefs about what it means to no longer produce nuclear arsenals need to be evaluated. Moreover, is it a weakly dominant strategy for me to agree with an idea that does not properly align with my belief system even though I may access some utility by doing so?

If we take a step back for a moment, we can see this same weakly dominant strategy at play in our political election system today: Your choice for the next president (or Senator or whatever) is Twiddle-Dee from the Republican Party or Twiddle-Dumb from the Democrat Party. To be a bit more explicit, the argument, “I don’t want to throw my vote away” is a tacit consent that the the political actor (the voting citizen) is taking the weakly dominant strategy of choosing the “most likely person to win.” This is playing the dominant strategy.

Whew, I went over a lot here but I didn’t reach my main goal. I wanted to explore a formula for the utility of a Nomic Game player but I have to go to work. Next time!

(Btw, I’m still looking for a better name than Nomic Game. What do people think of “”?)

Pushing Forward on the Nomic Game

I was able to get a few more hours into the Nomic project today. Not quite to the point where it’s even remotely presentable (even for this dirty of an experiment) but some good progress.

It took me a few minutes (as in 60) to get back into the groove of writing code, but I’m now recording new ideas and just about ready to start allowing voting. I forgot to implement a few things with regards to the ancestry of an idea but getting that in will only take a few minutes.

The Nomic Game will be a pretty clunky version even when I get voting in because I won’t have a notion of “people” yet. :p I’ve been waiting to get the bulk of the ideation process in place first before moving on to user identification. Then I can address issues such as “who gets to vote” and “limiting votes”.

To identify people, I plan to use Facebook and make the Nomic Experiment a Facebook app so that I can leverage their authentication process.

Ideally I’ll have time to setup the Twitter API so that users can auto-feed their ideas to Twitter. I’ll probably “ship” the prototype without it though because I’m eager to get feedback on the base concept.

Hopefully this prioritization (ideas and votes before people) doesn’t bite me in the butt. I tried to make sure I had some design thinking in place to account for people and I believe the highly modularized approach I’m taking to the code will give me the flexibility I need. I haven’t built any unit tests yet, but I plan to! (I say this knowing I’ll probably rely on ad-hoc testing for the foreseeable future.)

You might have noticed that I keep referring to the project by different names “nomics”, “nomic project”, “nomic experiment.” This is the result of not having a name for it! It really only occurred to me recently that I’m probably the only person who wants to call this “Nomics”.

Got any ideas? Maybe Idea Factory? That’s what I put in the meta description. But I haven’t even spent a lick of time looking for domains. I’m figuring that has to be the least important aspect of the app–at least until a day or so before I want to release it.

If you somehow stumbled across this post and have no idea what I’m talking about, read my first post specifically on the Nomic Game or this post where I first started contemplating the need/value of the Nomic Game.

The Nomic Game Schema

So I haven’t updated on the Nomic Game since the first post.

For the reader who was perplexed by the “philosophical design” of the Nomic Game, here’s where I took this crazy ramble:

Reflecting on the “philosophical design,” I produced this set of notes:

some notes i had jotted down

Don't mind the handwriting. I can read it! ;-)

From these notes, I created these tables:

| Tables_in_nomics |
| community_admins |
| community_list |
| community_members |
| error_logs |
| following |
| ideas |
| people |
| votes |

I have another table to create called “plans” which are just going to be collections of ideas. Long story short, I reasoned that a “plan” is really just the collection of a number of small ideas. I felt ‘plans’ were an important notion to capture because if the Nomic Game can generate real action (as I hypothesize is possible), then there needs to be some way to collect “ideas” into a “plan”.

What I thought was particularly interesting about my contemplation of ideas was the exploration of “sentiment.” Related to another project I’m working on, I’ve been looking through different models to understand “decay” rates. I’ve been studying up a bit on Normal Distribution, and some other fun things.

When I applied some of this decay and Normal Distribution thinking to the notion of a “sentiment,” I arrived with this basic behavior:

A general model of sentiment.

Two models for measuring sentiment.

Without divulging the exact formula(s) that I’ll be tweaking to measure sentiment, the general idea is that as an idea moves from neutrality to agreement (or disagreement), it’s also building up an “area” proportional to the number of people participating in the idea. This is important (imho) because not all ideas will garner the same attention and so we wouldn’t want to present relatively unimportant ideas to people.

Using those two models, I think I can measure “consensus” (general agree/disagree) and also “impact of consensus” (how many people actually give a sh*t).

Anyone want to help me with this part of the project? I’m not an expert at statistical modeling and it’d be great to get some pointers. :)

Nomics – A Game for Finding Consensus

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been interested in how we participate in the policy decision making process. I went so far as to state that both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements were a reflection of deep frustration with our political process. I say this because, despite differences in demands and world views, the two movements are populist in nature.

From my perspective, the big “ah-ha” moment was when I started looking around for how the Occupy Wall Street group was organizing itself. There were websites here, Facebook fan pages there, but nothing cohesive. Moreover, nothing that I could find represented a “this is what we believe and this is what we want”.

Of course, I then asked myself, “What would people use to reach a consensus?”

I thought of the Nomic Game.
Eric Reis, author of Lean Startup, once said (something along the lines of), “People spend a lot of time worrying about their ideas being stolen…need to just get it out there…and I’ll bet that even if you tried to have someone steal your idea, you couldn’t.”

I’d like to take that bet. I’m going to present some initial conceptual thinking I’ve done on the Nomic Game as a tool for organizing political though. I feel comfortable doing this because I agree that it’s highly unlikely that someone will steal my idea. Or more accurately, if the idea is “stolen,” it was “stolen” because the person who originally thought of the idea didn’t do anything to move the idea from “idea” to “reality.”

In terms of what is built, I have the database (mostly) designed/implemented and will likely have something “poke-able” by the end of the week. That’s my goal at least.

When reading the conceptual overview, you’ll note a bit about “community” at the end. A big challenge that we deal with at Servio is, “How do we know that particular person is qualified to participate in this project?” I’ve put in a smidgen of initial thinking in this regard and see “communities” as a v.future feature set. I believe a little thinking about “how to protect an idea from the wrong people participating” (i.e. people who aren’t qualified) because I think a major mistake at crowdsourcing companies is that they don’t think about “project guards” up front. (I spoke about at CrowdConf last year; here’s a blog post on it).

Conceptual Overview of Using Nomics to Solve Political Engagement—my notes

There are people.

People can create or modify ideas.

People can agree with an idea.

People can also disagree with ideas.

Goal: Find the best idea with the most consensus.


This means there needs to be a way to associate one idea with another, as in an anscestory of ideas.

That implies we have a root idea, partent ideas, and children ideas.

The root is a parent but not the parent of all ideas.

The root is the parent of itself.

The root can have many children but no ancestors.

The root idea is the ancestor of all present and current ideas.

Some parent ideas are children of the root idea but others are children of children of the root idea.

The root idea is a mere proposal for more proposals.

The root idea cannot be agreed with or disagreed with.

The root idea can only create children ideas.

Once a child idea is created, it can be modified, agreed with or disagreed with.

A modified child idea is a new child idea.

The new modified child idea’s parent idea is the one from which the modified child idea originated.

At some distant time in the future, ideas can be merged with other ideas to create new child ideas–child ideas with two parent ideas.

Also in the future, a child idea can be merged with its parent idea or ideas.


To track the consensus of an idea, the count of moment of agreements or disagreements must be tracked.

A moment of agreement or disagreement is a point in time when a person evaluates an idea and decides to either agree or disagree.

There can only be one moment of agreement or disagreement per idea per person.

A person can change his mind from/to agreement or disagreement.

If agreement changes, the count of agreement or disagreement should equally change.

Another word for moment of agreement or disagreement is vote.


A simple idea is a belief.

If a belief cannot be stated simply, it is likely ill-understood.

Complex ideas originate from a lack of understanding.

Ideas should be simple, at least to start.

Ideas should have a one sentence-ish summary.

Ideas should have a three to five sentence description.

Ideas longer than this are likely too compelex and should be revised to be consise.

Access to ideas may require guarding.

All people do not have authority over all ideas.

There are communities of people.

People belong to many communities.

People who belong to some communities do not below to other communities.

People who do not belong to a community may or may not be allowed to access an idea.

Access to an idea is a decision of the person or community who propose it.


An idea’s creator is the person who proposes it.

If two ideas are merged, the new merged idea’s creators consist of the originating ideas’ creators.

The root idea has no creators.

If the root requires a creator, the root idea is its own creator.

People are known or unknown.

Unknown people belong to a community of unknown people and no other communities.

Only known people can belong to communities of known people.

A community is a self-selected group of people.

Self-selected means that the people see themselves as consistently coming to consesus on ideas.

People can discover or create communities by identifying people who consistently agree or disagree with the same ideas.

An idea is only priviate to a community if the person who proposes the idea decides to make it so.

A consensus is the current balance of moment of agreements and disagreements.

There is no definitive consensus with an idea.

A consensus is a spectrum of agreements and disagreements.

There should be transparency into the specturm of agreements and disagreements.

There may also be a summary consensus which translates the spectrum consensus into either Agreement, Netural or Disagreement.

An agreement is when over 55% of moments of agreement occur.

If there is no majority of agreement or disagreement, 55%, the consensus is neutral.

People should create new ideas or modify ideas to resolve neutrality.


People should be able to see what the parent or child ideas of the current idea are.