Berlin, 2012-06-11

Swarmwise, remixed

Citations from Rick Falkvinge's Swarmwise — annotated with ideas for a remix.

I'm glad I took the dive to actually read this monumental work of Mr Falkvinge, since I had a very negative impression at first. I must say the people promoting Rick's thinking in my intellectual surroundings did a terrible job since they made blue-eyed summaries of the most inadaptable aspects of the book while ignoring all the nasty prerequisites that interestingly happen to be close to identical to my thinking and speaking in recent years.

Let's put the main simplification straight first: It was indeed a huge achievement to launch a political movement with a large-scale viral campaign, but the problem with that model is: you can only do it once. I am glad Rick did a great job at leading that big bang swarm thing, but now that idea can not be applied to exactly that same scenario again. You can't mobilize people for an existing political party, you can't even repeat the surprise and launch a new one. All you can do is specific campaigns on certain topics, and you probably have to hide your political affiliation in the process.

So what we *can* do is launch topical swarms, and we can learn the good sides from the swarm theory for our existing work – although, I would argue, whenever Pirate Parties do a great job they usually *are* applying swarmthink. Rick's book just helps us structure the understanding of the approach any new grassroot movement employs these days.

Yet, Rick has surprised me with a lot of insight and depth on aspects I didn't consider so much, while leaving me some thinking space to fill at the end of certain paragraphs, extending his experience with mine. So here I cite the most relevant or interesting parts of the book and annotate it with elaboration of mine, in particular with regard to my five years of activism in the German and Italian Pirate Parties – highlighting what, from my point of view, is good about them and what terribly needs attention for us all to get back on track.

Comparing three in many ways very differently structured Pirate Parties has the potential of helping us to remix the approaches to come up with a working way forward.

Understanding The Swarm

As we describe the swarm concept, it is easy to think of pure decentralized amorphous clouds of people, like Anonymous or the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, while these swarms share values, they do not share direction or method. That means they are confined to succeeding on small projects that span a relatively small number of people over a relatively short time span, even if each of those small projects builds gradual awareness of the Anonymous or Occupy brands.

The weak cohesion of the Anonymous and Occupy brands can partially be ascribed to their choice of being leaderless. While this brings resilience, as no leader can be targeted by adversaries, it sacrifices direction and purpose. I’ve found that the typical Internet community methods of inclusion, when combined with strong leadership, work much better to achieve global change than working leaderlessly under little more than a common flag.

That indeed can be considered the weak point of Anonymous and OWS, no direction and no ability to express their purpose in a synthesized representative manner. But in the case of the German Pirate Party this has led to two different solutions: One obvious, boring and impractical one being of organizing huge national assemblies, and the other one using a web-based platform. Rather than having to follow a leader, the pirates chose to develop an implementation of Liquid Democracy that would allow them to collectively express a political will. The Italian Pirates went further and developed a party structure around a virtual permanent assembly that assigns jobs to individuals without generating a single leading figure, although that model is still imperfect and in the process of riping. Both parties have sinned of voting too much and taking more harsh decisions than necessary, but if we tune *what* we use those tools for, we might be able to achieve a working approach without resorting to a traditional hierarchical structure and leadership model.

Of course, there were other factors in society to this conflict as well, the underlying themes being freedoms of speech and expression as well as general net liberties. But if you start talking about abstract concepts, you’ll just have yawns among your prospective volunteers. We’ll need a large recruitment surface with concepts that are easy to relate to people’s everyday lives in order to grow the swarm to critical mass.

That's true. On one hand people expect a political party to have underlying themes, on the other they yawn when they hear of them. We probably have to satisfy both needs in a non-conflictual way. The abstract concepts can help to inspire policy, but if the policy requirement is different, the abstract concept may be oversimplifying.

Launching Your Swarm

A traditional method would be to go about an advertising campaign to generate interest. Working swarmwise, though, two words about the idea of an advertising campaign: forget it. If your idea doesn’t generate enthusiasm on its own, no amount of whitewashing is going to create the grassroots activism that you need to form a swarm.

This paragraph is crucial for all the Pirate activists reading. Forget it: The idea of doing a political party to fight copyright or any other digital issue has been done. Nothing is going to create the swarm interest about that again. People have seen the results and it will take a very steep uphill battle to recover from that. What you can do is create on-topic campaigns either on your own or in the name of the party, which should be a safer choice in both legal and operational terms. This in fact has always been done throughout the history of the Pirate movement and also before. Viral network campaigns aren't exactly new, but they still frequently make the news. Like in 1999, when friends of mine organized "VOTE AGAINST SPAM!" – one of the world's first Internet petitions, organized to motivate the parliaments to declare bulk mail advertizement illegal. Fifteen years later this art has been refined a lot, but we're still talking viral campaigns.

When that happens, you will go from having been alone to suddenly having hundreds of people who want nothing more than to help you out on your project in their spare time. But their attention span is short; you need to respond. If you don’t, they’ll shrug and your initiative will wane out of memory in less than twenty-four hours.

Probably we could have had many more activists with us, but we didn't prepare for the impact. We didn't provide inclusion. There are still reasons why a rush could happen in several countries that small Pirate Parties are operating in, but they will not be triggered by a website with a form input. Something bigger has to happen.

Your idea needs to be tangible, credible, inclusive, and epic.

We are no longer being perceived as credible and epic. We even frequently fail on the tangible and inclusive bits, which should have been easy. Actually, in some countries we could still re-achieve the status of being credible and epic, by the way people turn to us benevolently the potential is there, but there is a fifth condition missing in the list: The idea must be surprisingly new. So we can do what we can, but we will not be able to launch a swarm the Falkvinge way. We could at best recycle some of the organizational aspects, if they aren't too short-lived.


As the swarm has its initial successes, a very small number of people will strive to join not because they sympathize with the swarm’s goals, but because they crave and demand attention for themselves, and the visibility of the swarm seems to be able to provide this to them.

As the swarm is open, you cannot and should not try to keep these people out — but you can deny them the space and spotlights they crave. It can be hard to detect them, but one telltale sign is that these people will demand attention from you personally rather than trying to build the overall swarm with people who aren’t as visible yet. You will also notice that they think very much in terms of rank and hierarchy, whereas other people will think in terms of getting stuff done and changing the world.

A few particularly tricky people will work for the swarm’s goals very hard for the first couple of weeks, and then use the built-up credibility to cash in on attention. As this happens, the transparency of the swarm is the best conceivable antidote, as such people typically depend on other people not comparing the different versions of the story they’re being told.

Ah ah.. che descrizione precisa di Alfonso Migliorini!

This part of building a swarm is inevitable, it is tough to deal with, but you can rest assured that as long as you keep the swarm open and transparent, these kinds of people won’t be able to hijack it for their own personal visibility. They will eventually flush themselves out, sometimes in quite a bit of disruption.

Ma la soluzione non si è dimostrata sufficiente per il PP-IT...

Getting Your Swarm Organized: Herding Cats

The magic numbers seven, thirty, and 150 are deeply integrated parts of the human social psyche — part of how we are wired


You also need to be aware that any organization copies the methods and culture of its founder. This means that the swarm will do exactly as you do, regardless of persistent attempts to teach them good manners. The only way to have the swarm behave well is to behave well yourself. We’ll be returning to this observation later in this chapter.

Tricky if you don't have a leader figure to teach people good behavior. Also: do we have any science about this phenomenon?

This is how the Swedish Pirate Party grew to fifty thousand members and eighteen thousand activists: one conversation at a time between passionate activists and potential new passionate activists.

In general, we can divide the people of the swarm into three groups by activity level: officers, activists, and passive supporters.

Passive supporters are usually not properly taken care of in many of our organizations. We should have solid channels to reach out for them and quality assurance to avoid spamming them with too much or too poorly prepared information.

The passive supporters may sound less useful to the swarm, but that’s not the case: they are the primary recruiting base for the next wave of activists.

That's why it is crucial for growth to treat them well.

“If you feel you need to take a break from activism, that is always the right thing to do. It’s always better to get rested and come back than to burn out and get bitter. There will always be something to do when you come back: you don’t have to worry about the world running out of evil while you’re away.” — Christian Engström

Burn out and get bitter. I wonder if those two sentiments are indeed related.

The person responsible for swarmcare would welcome new activists into the swarm and continually measure the overall health of it. A typical task would be to call new activists just to make them feel welcome, and tell them when the next events — social as well as operational — take place. This is more than enough for one person to chew.

We could use more swarmcare.

People should not be appointed to these positions just because it’s fun to have a title; rather, the organizational chart should lag slightly behind the observed reality. When somebody has already taken on the de-facto role of fixing all the practical stuff for rallies, for example, and everybody already knows that that person is the one to call to get the PA to a rally — that’s when the org chart should be updated to reflect that.

So do not be afraid of empty boxes in the organizational chart. They provide opportunity for somebody to step up to the plate informally, at which point the chart can be updated to reflect reality. It can help to think of the organizational chart as the map rather than the terrain — when there’s a conflict between the two, the terrain wins every time. The organizational chart is an estimate, at best, of what the organization actually looks like.

Works great for jobs hardly anyone likes to do but isn't optimal when it comes to picking the people that get to tweet for the group or such. Somebody will probably already be sitting on that seat and there is no method for optimizing the suitability of the person at a certain task.

(Meeting culture)

When working with a swarm, almost all of the cooperation happens over a distance — so you must find ways to compensate for the lack of eye contact and subtle body language that otherwise keep a team jelled.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to have regular meetings over the phone or over a chat line where you just synchronize what’s going on and where people are with their respective work items (volunteered work items) to make that happen. The purpose isn’t for you to check up on what’s going on — the purpose is for everybody to know the state of the whole.

We should mumble more.

One method I used to make it easier for people to attend the party management meetings when I was party leader was to limit the meeting to a strict time frame. We would start the meeting at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, and the meeting would end at 9 p.m., no matter whether everybody thought we were finished or not. That made sure that two things happened: it let people know that they could plan things with their family after 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings, and it forced people to address the important things first, as the meeting cutoff would happen whether they were done or not.

In short, the simple rule of having a hard meeting cutoff time made sure that people (including me) didn’t waste other people’s time.

Bureaucracy and administration will very easily swell to become self-justifying, even in a swarm of activists. Do not let this happen. Keep reminding people that meetings are there for the purpose of synchronizing the work done to advance the external purpose of the swarm, and that every minute spent with each other is a minute not spent changing the world.

Interesting points.

(Trust & the 3 Pirate Rule)

One value that you must absolutely communicate for the swarm to work is trust. You need to trust in people in the swarm to further the swarm’s goals, even if they choose a different way of doing so than you would have chosen, and even if you can’t see how it could possibly work.

Wow, this one's peculiar.

In the Swedish Pirate Party, we had manifested this through a three-pirate rule, which can easily be translated into a three-activist rule for any swarm. It went like this: if three activists agree that something is good for the organization, they have a green light to act in the organization’s name.

Of course, many balk at this. Letting activists run loose like this? Trusting them with your name and resources to this extent? I heard frequently that it would be a recipe for disaster.

In the five years I led the Swedish Pirate Party, peaking at fifty thousand members during that time, this was not abused once. Not once.

"Trust" might not be the main problem here. More subtle things can happen. If three people decide to participate in a fascist event, is it a strategically good idea for the whole? (We had some people causing at least some suboptimal media attention by things they did, said or people they met up with). And would they be able to print flyers for an event? Just because one of them knows how to operate gimp, that may not be going to bring about a flyer that fulfils the expectations. Maybe the problem arose because our group wasn't sufficiently narrowly focused as the PP-SE.

As a final note on trust, the part about trusting people to act for the best interest of the swarm is crucial. This means that there is never a blame game; if something goes wrong, the swarm deals with it after the fact and never spends time worrying in advance about what might go wrong.

Yes, that does sounds like having "abolish copyright" as the goal limits very much the number of things that could go wrong. If the goals are broader and folks identify with some general pirate hacker ethics, then to them the goal could become something that actually shouldn't be. A typical example could be the fight for freedom of expression within the party, allowing everyone to insult each other freely and make the news with it.

If something doesn’t go as intended, the swarm learns from it and moves on.

History teaches us nothing. Swarms do not remember and learn things unless they write them down into regulations or source code.

In contrast, if you have a large assembly of people who are forced to agree on every movement before doing anything, including the mechanism for what constitutes such agreement, then you rarely achieve anything at all.

That can be addressed. The assembly can become the leader if intelligent methods of decision-making are adopted.

Therefore, as you build a swarm, it is imperative that everybody is empowered to act in the swarm just on the basis of what he or she believes will further its goals — but no one is allowed to empower himself or herself to restrict others, neither on his or her own nor through superior numbers.

Journalists love to find pirates with inconsistent views of what they are fighting for. If everyone is empowered to tell the media what their view is, then the PP-DE effect sets in. Maybe the three pirates rule could have reduced the effect a bit, but still – we have entire renegade crews. It all worked pretty well until we won the elections, then everything fell apart with everyone acting important and such, so maybe the whole swarm architecture only works for a limited period of time or until you start achieving goals.

If the swarm were allowed to start discussing its purpose in life, then it would immediately lose its power to attract new people — who, after all, feel attracted to the swarm in order to accomplish a specific goal, and not out of some general kind of sense of social cohesion. If the goal is vague or even under discussion, the swarm will not attract people — because they wouldn’t see the swarm as a credible or effective vehicle for realizing their goal.

So "the goal" must be stated in clear distinctive words in the movement's Manifesto and kept up to date if necessary. Other than that a meta debate on what the goals would be must lead to a proposal for emendments or disappear. Any other action is damaging and must be stopped.

Control The Vision, But Never The Message

Therefore, I believe that leaderless swarms are not capable of delivering a tangible change in the world at the end of the day. The scaffolding, the culture, and the goals of the swarm need to emanate from a founder. In a corporate setting, we would call this “mission and values.”

Italian Pirates who agree should rather join the efforts of Giulietto Della Chiesa, Valentino Tavolazzi or other leadership figures. PP-IT would not be able to choose this path even if it wanted to as it wouldn't be able to generate the necessary worship.

That said, I also believe in competition between many overlapping swarms, so that activists can float in and out of organizations, networks, and swarms that best match the change they want to see in the world. One swarm fighting for a goal does not preclude more swarms doing the same, but perhaps with a slightly different set of parameters from a different founder. This is fundamentally good for the end cause.

A Pirate Party can be a breeding ground for compatible swarm campaigns, giving the swarms more resilience by backing up their leaders.

Traditional marketing says that a message needs to stay constant to penetrate. My experience says that’s not very effective when compared to swarm techniques.

If the vision is as simple as abolishing copyright, then it doesn't matter if people have conflicting messages and motivations for achieving that goal, but when a whole set of values is communicated, a concept like freedom of expression can quickly get in conflict with the organizational needs to combat offence and diffamation. In that case you must create an agreed upon definition of your vision of freedom of expression explaining where it is applicable and where it can't. So for a political movement with more complex goals it is necessary for the assembly to produce defining material that sets the boundaries. And it is necessary to have these boundaries respected.

Let me give a tangible example. When I speak about the opportunities associated with the obsolescence of the copyright industry, I can do so in many different languages. If I were to speak about this before a liberal entrepreneur crowd, I would say something like this:

“There is tremendous opportunity in the cutting of this link from the value chain. The copyright industry intermediaries no longer add value to the end product or service, and so, in a functioning market, they are going to die by themselves. There is a problem here, as their statutory monopoly prevents that. Therefore, we must assist in this cutoff, as removal of their overhead allows for growth of the overall market, future opportunities for the artist entrepreneurs, and for new jobs that take the place of the obsolete ones.”

However, speaking to dark-red communist groups that celebrate the Red Army Faction as heroes, I would choose a different language:

“I think it is glorious that the cultural workers have finally assumed control over their means of production, and that we finally have the ability to throw off the middlemen parasite capitalists who have been profiting for decades off of the workers’ hard labor. We should help our brothers and sisters to make this transition happen, and help them turn the captured middlemen profits into new jobs for our culture.”

Granted, these two settings are extreme contrasts to make a point. But even a subtle sign of not belonging can be enough to get your idea and vision discarded in a conversation.

This is why you need the activists — thousands of them — to translate your vision into as many different social contexts as you have activists. Only then will you be able to electrify their friends with your vision, as that vision is clad in the language of their respective social contexts.

This is brilliant and a lesson certainly worth learning, basically it explains the value in personal interaction with supporters and electorate on the streets over brochures and party programs. The program needs to be articulated to serve its role, but getting the message and enthusiasm conveyed is a different ballgame.

Don’t think you can do this yourself for every setting. You can’t master every nuance of language and social code. Nobody can. I may be able to switch languages rudimentarily from years of training in different settings, but I can’t easily change appearance. If I arrive in a suit at a location where I am to give a presentation, and the people there turn out to be laid-back hippie types, then that’s it. No word I say after that can change their perception of me.

You just made a strong point against single person leadership. If a project is lead by one human being there will always be people who turn away exactly because of that being's appearance or posture. Purple shirts could be the killer for some while they are the credibility enabler for others. Whereas if a party consists of a hundred swarms, then you can just adhere to a different swarm and fight for the same goals. Not to mention the structural problem of representation which is the classic long-term enabler of corruption.

There will be people in the swarm who object to others’ interpretations of the vision and general principles, of course. This brings us back to the distinction between empowerment of the activist self versus the power to crack down on the work of others. The golden rule of the net springs to life: “If you see something you don’t like, contribute with something you do like.”

This rule is absolutely paramount, and it is you who must enforce it.

What if the previous group of three just spoiled a strategic cooperation with a potential coalition partner?

One of the worst things that can happen to the swarm is the emergence of a backseat driver culture, where those who take initiatives and risks are punished for it — and it is your responsibility to make sure that people who do things are rewarded, even when you think they weren’t exactly on the money. It is especially crucial that peers in the swarm don’t fear other people being angry with the swarm, and punish the risk-taker as a result. [...]

When people in the swarm get criticized by the public and by influential people, that is a sign you’re on the right track. This is not something to fear, this is something to celebrate, and everybody in the swarm must know this. People must be rewarded by their peers for taking risks, and you must make sure that other people in the swarm reward other people for taking risks, even when things go bad (or just don’t produce the expected results). If people see something they don’t like, the rule must be that their response is to contribute themselves with something they do like.

If a backseat driver culture emerges, risk taking and initiatives don’t happen, because activists become shell-shocked from constant peer criticism whenever they try something. If this pattern develops, the swarm dies.

Oh yes, we have plenty of backseat driver culture. Looking away and doing something you like frequently has not worked — important jobs simply didn't get accomplished because the wrong people had taken control over it. We need ways to unlock important jobs from people that are blocking them while ensuring a constructive atmosphere without offence or diffamation.

You need to celebrate every time somebody does something you feel goes in the right direction and that initiative is criticized by somebody influential outside the swarm. “Well done,” you need to say visibly. “These influential people say we’re morons. You’re doing something right.” Lead by example and teach others to celebrate when this happens.

This doesn’t mean you can’t listen to feedback and learn from it. But it should never, ever, be feared. This is paramount.

(Flyers and Posters)

Let’s start with the flyer design. It needs to look professional, but need not be perfect nor packed with information: the key thing when handing out flyers is that people see the swarm’s symbol and colors and an easily absorbable message, with a link where they can get more information.

"Professional" is very important here, as people will not care to read anything that doesn't look inviting.

[series of good recommendations about flyering]

Finally, some people will inevitably crumple up the flyer or tear it to pieces and throw it with contempt in the street. Make sure that everybody in the activity picks up such litter and throws it in proper trash cans — otherwise, people will register the swarm’s colors and symbol as trash in the street, and associate negatively from there.

Haha, so I'm not the only one doing this, for exactly those reasons!

In general, our experience says that posters should be put up by patrols of three activists. The first activist holds the poster to the wall, the second affixes it there using masking tape, and the third explains what the poster and the swarm is about to the passersby who will invariably stop in curiosity.

Love the third person in this description.

Your choice of venue matters. You want to fill a square with people to make effective media imagery. If you pick a large square and get 500 people to attend, they will look like a speck in the middle of an empty square. In contrast, in a small square, that same crowd will look almost like an angry, unstoppable mob. It is hard to estimate how many will attend your swarm’s rally before even having announced it, but you must do so before choosing where to hold it.

Same rules as for clubbing apply.

[recommendations of letting activists print materials themselves]

Posters are somewhat harder to scale out due to their nonstandard large size, but a surprisingly large number of activists have access to A3-style printing gear somewhere in their daily routines. It doesn’t take large print runs when it comes to posters. As already mentioned, a one-hundred-poster campaign is considered a large one in a suburb or small city.

If it goes well, encourage activists to take photos and share when they do activism in the streets. That encourages more people to do the same kind of activism and breeds a friendly competition. You can also use such photos for internal competitions with fun and silly prizes. This helps motivate the swarm as a whole, and also serves to show other people that the swarm is active — potential recruits and adversaries alike.

True. Some groups are said to be doing a lot of work but we never see any pictures, so it may feel like it didn't really happen.

Keep Everybody’s Eyes On Target, And Paint It Red Daily

We are going to change the world for the better: Even if you could get a short-term swarm focus around hate and intolerance, this book is about good causes. Everything you focus on tends to grow, and all your values become organizational values. Therefore, a swarm built on distrust would quickly be devoured from within by its own negative feelings, and collapse, splinter, and fragment into irrelevance.

Many political groups are depicted from the outside as nay-sayers, but most of them actually have some more or less absurd or realistic vision-building going on inside, especially the fascists. Fascism paints a picture of things being better when they are clean and orderly, no matter how harsh the price – and they don't care that it's not true.


A key tool in project management is the timeline. Between now and success, you will need to set subgoals to be met that are spaced about eight weeks apart. This may seem like a contradiction to self-organization, but it’s not: you’re telling the swarm the things that need to happen to get from point A to point B. You’re not saying who should be doing what and when.


Setting subgoals, or milestones in project lingo, spaced about two months apart on the timeline communicates a path from now to success that not only helps people believe in the swarm, but also helps people choose to do things that are relevant for the current stage of the project. Each subgoal needs to be credible, relevant, achievable, and clearly contributing to the end success. It will also help jell the swarm into crack working teams that perform magic on shoestring budgets (or, more commonly, no budgets at all).

We arranged a competition between the thirty initial geographic subgroups, where the winners in total count of signatures, as well as the winners in signature count relative to the size of their geography, both would get an original certificate of registration. A silly prize which we paid a small premium for — getting multiple originals of the certificate — but very, very symbolic and worthwhile when you’re building a movement that will change the world.

One of our best signature collectors at the end of the day was an activist named Christian Engström, who set the benchmark: it was possible to collect twenty signatures per hour if you were out on the streets in midshopping hours.

Oh, meritocracy!

Update 2018: We have experienced meritocracy backfire bigtime, bringing people into parliaments that for behavioural reasons should never have been eligible in the first place — and we paid the price.

The second reason you need subgoals about eight weeks apart on a visible, published timeline is to create a sense of urgency.

Anything that you measure in public, people will strive and self-organize to improve.

The Swedish Pirate Party posts its liquidity, assets, debts, and donation summaries openly (as many political organizations do now, but not a lot did so in 2006). This leads to people wanting to break new donation records.

Same thing with membership numbers, and in particular their growth rate.

Same thing with response times to mail. Exposure events in oldmedia (TV, radio, newspapers). Mentions on blogs and Twitter. And so on.

Some people refer to this as gamification, a term that can come across as unnecessarily derogatory. [..]

Routine activities that are the same from day to day require some kind of motivating visible mechanism, or, more efficiently, a competitive element. [..]

A very working solution to this dilemma is to use internal competitions with silly prizes.

[..] Use divisions by geography or some other arbitrary line to create teams that compete against one another. [..]

There is a social limit to how many competitions you can have working at a time, which is probably higher than one but lower than five — this is up to you and your swarm to find out.

— We are out of flyers. It’s a luxury problem, as we are handing out more than we thought possible, but it is still a problem. Help us! Log onto your bank and transfer 25 euros into account 555-1337-31337 right now, exactly just right now!

will yield a result almost an order of magnitude stronger than this version:

— We’d appreciate if you’d help us fund our handout materials. Please donate any amount you would like to contribute to account 555-1337-31337 at any time in the near future.

There's a certain discrepancy here between letting the swarm go loose, then making all of these very smart top-down decisions. Should the editorial group of communications have come with a message like that? Can there be a way to figure out the best ways to do these things by methods of brainstorming, or do we depend on reading a smart book?

Screw Democracy, We’re On A Mission From God

Legitimacy in a swarm is quite different from legitimacy in a country. People cannot realistically choose to not be in a country, but people do choose to be part of a swarm or not be part of it. Therefore, legitimacy in the decision making of the swarm comes through the fact that people are volunteers in the first place and choose to be part of the swarm, with all the values that come with it.

That distinction concerns especially the perception of civil rights. Your country must assure you those rights, but that doesn't mean they also count within an organization with specific goals.

The process of voting creates losers. People who become losers are not happy. Happy people are productive, enthusiastic, and good activists. Therefore, we want happy people. You can say that everybody has the power of veto for decisions that concern the entire swarm. While this creates significant border-setting problems with regard to exactly who constitutes “everybody,” it is one of the most inclusive ways to get volunteers on board once that problem has been solved.

Method of consensus as least worst of all? Interesting.

The process of bare majority voting does so. 100% consensus decision-making is awfully hard to achieve. 90% consensus voting however yields decisions that almost everyone wants to see taken and provides a good ratio for having the remaining 10% be convinced by their crew partners and friends as to at least accept this decision for the necessary period of time.

Update 2018: Check out the Methods of Collective Rationality that we later developed to have consensus within Liquid Feedback.

People who anticipate a voting process prepare themselves for the possibility of losing — so they become motivated by fear of losing personally, rather than motivated by the joy of building the swarm that furthers their personal goals.

This distortion of motivation in a voting scenario will cause such activists to behave in a completely different pattern than if they were focused entirely on the end goals of the swarm. It creates a significant shift to defensive stances at the individual level that are harmful to the swarm’s ability to function.

So we should limit the number of situations this happens and the number of people that engage so intensely in a vision the others are not agreeing upon.

Once you have clarified to the swarm that these conflict resolution methods are the ones we use, some people will insist that internal democracy with voting brings legitimacy to decision making. But there is an important underlying assumption at work here: that the collective makes better decisions than the individual activists. As we have seen, the swarm organization relies on the exact opposite.

Hmmm, makes sense, if only it was applicable everywhere.

My approach for a very basic sanity check was to have three people agree on an idea as good for the swarm. One person can come up with ludicrous ideas, but I’ve never seen two more people agree on such ideas.

You should visit Italy more frequently.

This part is absolutely paramount to communicate to your officers in the scaffolding supporting the swarm — that mistakes are not only allowed, but expected, and when they happen, we learn from them. (It’s a different thing to tolerate somebody making the same mistake over and over, or sabotaging the swarm deliberately, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

Learn how? In the life of a Pirate Party every two years large parts of the activist personell is replaced. I have frequently seen that activists would not pay attention to experienced old-timers and repeat mistakes because they can.

When forming a swarm, everybody is venturing into unknown territory. By definition, it’s a trial-and-error venture. Everybody is breaking new ground in changing the world in a way that has not been tried before — both on the individual and the organizational level.

Since this has not been tried before, there is no right answer or concrete experience to fall back on. Everything done has, to some extent, never been tried before. Therefore, by necessity, it becomes obvious that a lot of things tried won’t work out.

Actually apart from the launching phase using Internet dynamics there isn't so much the swarm does that couldn't have been done in the middle ages. Why are you so convinced there's something terrifically new going on here? Why isn't this a well-established form of organization? Have other swarms in the middle-ages evolved into corporations, political parties and NGOs in present times instead? Have Falkvinge style swarms instead proven not be lasting and dismantled or mutated after their initial launch? Are religions the swarms of past times, based on a vision and some wise words from a died and resurrected leader?

Failures are expected, but with every failure comes a learning experience. In almost every organization, a number of failures are a prerequisite for an ultimate success with a particular activity. Make it possible to make those failures in as short a time as possible, minimizing the iteration cycle, and your success will come sooner.

Collective decision making is always hard, and, as previously discussed, democracy creates losers. This begs the question; is there a method for collective decision making that doesn’t create losers?

I wonder if such an over-dramatization is useful I have been a loser in dozens of important decisions within the PP-IT. I simply stacked those votings up in my Liquid Feedback profile page and either scratch them out when the party developments prove me wrong or pull them out again when the time is right to re-discuss them or I was otherwise proven right. Sure it is great if you can avoid voting when taking decisions, but there should be a reasonable culture of accepting losing votings and keep working for the overall goal of the project.

One good mechanism for arriving at a decision in a (defined) group is called a consensus circle. Rather than focusing on fear of losing through voting, which will cause people who fear losing to just stall what they think is a bad decision, the consensus circle focuses on including everybody and getting people into a constructive mind-set.

Trying to get this deployed in PP-IT has had terrible consequences. Not only there is no single room where all people gather (we use Mumble at best), but the truly Italian habit of wrapping up a discussion and gently imposing their interpretation of conclusions as the general consensus is frequent, and anyone who objects is considered impertinent, badly-educated and deconstructive. If you try to apply moderative intervention in such a circumstance the results are even worse since the audience will see you as being authoritarian, imposing and censoring – while you are actually just trying to make the method of the "consensus circle" be respected and employed. Under these circumstances you can either let imposition happen, fall back to voting or dismantle the project. Also, being strict about talking times is seen as very bossy and authoritarian, too.

The method as such appears quite simple, but with powerful results: The group gathers in a room. Everybody takes turns speaking about what is important to him or her about the issue, under a time limit of sixty seconds. (It could be forty-five, it could be ninety, but should be thereabouts. Somebody is assigned to use a stopwatch to time the speaking slots.) Everybody can spend his or her sixty seconds however he or she likes [..] and may not be interrupted by anyone during that time slot.

But once the sixty seconds are up, it’s the next person’s turn, going in a circle around the room in one direction of the circle, starting over on coming full circle and giving everybody another time slot, until everybody is in agreement on the issue at hand.

One single “no” from any participant is a final “no” for the group as a whole. Therefore, nobody will leave the room as a loser. This creates two very powerful mechanisms: the first is that it forces everybody to find a solution that is acceptable to everybody, and the second is that it slowly releases all fears of leaving the room as a loser, creating a completely different mind-set from the one surfacing when fighting internally.

But it also accepts that single people can water down the boldness of a decision to thin water, or even block the process. One amazing power of Liquid Feedback is that it can produce BOLD ideas, just like you obtain then from empowering the swarm, all within the planning stage of things instead of having to learn from failures (which is essential if you only get one shot at certain choices). So a healthy combination of swarm action, liquid and consensus-based decision making could lead to best results. All Pirate Parties use swarm techniques to a certain degree, the question is how did they solve some other aspects and how did they solve conflicts which cannot be addressed by swarming?

There’s one more important thing to the consensus circle method: a final decision must not be proposed until it appears absolutely certain that the group will accept it, that nobody will exercise his or her right to veto. If just one person blocks the final decision, the issue may not be discussed any more that day, and the group will not have reached a decision. This is important, as any deviation from this rule would throw the group right back into a factionalizing trench-warfare mind-set.

And this is precisely what went wrong at the first attempt to introduce the consensus method in PP-IT's structural reform working group. The one that questions all existing methods and thus needs consensus the most of all.

Now, this method doesn’t solve the problem of how to define the group in question where everybody gets the power of veto. That will be a problem that depends heavily on the very specific situation and context.

In a party of thousands of participants creating a consensus within some can result in bullying others out of their participation rights. To avoid creating bad feelings you will have to ensure that the most vehement opinion makers in the field are participating, as annoying you may find them on a personal level.

Activists make friends and change the world, and that’s it, from their perspective.

So leadership acts like an invisible hand. :-D

There will be no shortage of people who want to reorganize — or even organize, as they will call it. I call these people “organizational astronauts” derogatorily and intentionally, as they will have missed that any organization at its core is about people, and the more you can use the way people behave naturally to further the swarm’s goals, the faster you move.

Those astronauts may not be useful in the early stages of the organization, when the swarming methods actually work, but when the organization comes of age and deserves to continue to exist somehow, some things will have to change.

The swarm is a disorganization by design. Some would prefer to call it a self-organization. In either case, there’s nobody assigning everybody to boxes, tasks, and activities. That’s why the organization works so well. Organizing it in the manner of organizational astronauts kills the swarm’s ability to function as a swarm.

That's a generalization. All Pirate Parties have swarm aspects in their organization just like all traditional parties have or had some time in their past. The question is how far can you get by pure swarmism and when do you reach the point that some things need to be addressed differently? You have filled several of the gaps in the swarm scheme using the leadership of the founder, taking decisions such as how to formulate the invitation to submit a donation – but maybe the swarm doesn't want to let a leader figure fill in those gaps, and have the privilege of deciding when it is time to do so. Beppe Grillo too lets his swarm move freely until his core control interests are questioned, then he denies the copyright to use the Movimento 5 Stelle brand to some too empowered swarm leaders and de-facto kicks them out.

You need to make absolutely clear to these people that the swarm works by its own consensus, that decisions are made organically by individual activists flowing to and from initiatives of their own accord, and that this swarm is your initiative; if the wannabe fixers and organizational astronauts don’t want to play by the swarm’s rules, they need to use the law of two feet themselves, and go somewhere else.

... or create a swarm of people who is convinced that a better organization is needed and starts building it up. Did you allow for this to happen or did you make it clear that this is YOUR swarm and thus demotivate them from participation?

This brings us to the delicate question of scarce resources in the swarm. As it grows, people will start to donate resources to it — servers, money, equipment. If it is a successful swarm, it will have recurring donations and some sort of predictable income.

In accordance with the overall theme of this chapter, some people will insist on “democratic control” over these resources. But again, doing so will turn the swarm into something it is not — there are no formal mechanisms for collective decisions, and there should not be.

Every Pirate Party will have experienced sabotage by some dissatisfied person who would tear down some resources or run away with some credentials. By consequence all PP's have created the official website and the official toolset that activists can rely upon whenever they need it. I presume this is again something the founder is in charge of in your architecture. The founder as a guarantor of the entire project.

It follows that we reward exemplary activist behavior with our attention, and completely ignore things that we want to see less of.

So you refuse to give any constructive feedback to people that do suboptimal things, leaving it to them to either figure it out or just keep on doing whatever they are doing?

At some point, you may want to adjust the goals of the swarm. For a political party, this is almost inevitable. For a single-issue swarm, it is more avoidable. Nevertheless, it creates very difficult problems in the face of the swarm’s disorganization.


In such a scenario, voting may be the only way through. In doing so, you will create losers, many of whom will leave the swarm permanently with a bitter aftertaste. But if the alternative is to accept the failure of the swarm as a whole, it is still the preferable option.

Then it is a good idea to have a constructive voting culture oriented on maximum rationality and consensus.

Every exclusion is a failure. Just because you don’t see any people being formally excluded, that doesn’t mean people don’t feel excluded.

One way of getting around this, which the German Pirate Party has used very successfully, is to allow everybody with formal voting rights to select somebody to vote in his or her place. This voting right can be assigned differently for different issues, and also be assigned in turn, creating a chain of trust to make a sensible vote. This taps into the heart of the swarm’s social mechanisms of trusting people and friends, rather than fearing to lose. “Trust over fear.” We like that. That’s swarmthink. The German Pirate Party calls this liquid democracy.

Unfortunately the method has not been accepted in many parts of the country, resulting in an odd and pretty demotivating practice of either direct (assemblies) and representative democracy (the time between assemblies) with all of the implied disadvantages of both systems. Also, in both virtual (LQFB) and physical assemblies there is a far too easy-going tendency to impose decisions by mere 50% majority, frequently splitting the party in halves on important issues and yet expecting everyone to keep on going. That doesn't fly, and we have seen the results.

Everyone has an opinion on this topic. Mine is that liquid democracy is indeed the least worst of voting mechanisms and we should embrace it as a replacement to assemblies and decisional boards, but at the same time we should raise the bar on the amount of majority needed for decisions, deploy the practice of consensus circles before and during the LQFB debating period to maximize the consensus at least between the opinion leaders and stakeholders (which in the liquid democratic model exercise a voting power according to the role they have, the trust and merit they have gained, so it's not equal for all), and ultimately avoid decisions where they are not needed or not getting anywhere near to a consensus.

However, the concept of liquid democracy doesn’t solve the problem of determining who should have voting rights in the first place.

Specifically LQFB requires identified and authenticated participation to fulfil the political transparency requirements (this may be seen at odds with the civil right to privacy, but civil rights are for citizens concerning their private affairs, not for activists taking a stance in politics and thus acting as politicians). The German PP has raised the entry bar to participation quite high with a yearly 42€ contribution. The Italian PP only asks for 5-10€ which has shown to be too low as some attempts have been made to lobby the permanent assembly with delegations from sock puppets.

LQFB comes with a built-in mechanism to counter that problem that disables the vote for people that do not log into the system over several months. Any computer scientist should notice the bug here: The owner of the sock puppets would merely log in those accounts periodically or even develop a robot to automate that task. I have come up with the solution to measure participation by automatic parsing of participant lists in meeting minutes. If a person hasn't participated in *any* crew or working group of the party, they will lose voting privileges temporarily. Members of a meeting thus become testimonies for each other and non-existant meetings of sock puppets would implode as soon as a regular honest pirate chooses to participate regularly in those meetings, which in a continously mutating organization should easily happen on a monthly basis. Crews or working groups that never mutate are either inactive or suspicious.


A particular kind of attention-craving maverick will create a group of followers determined to wreak havoc until they get their way. This can be very disruptive and goes counter to swarmthink, where the best ideas and the best arguments win, rather than the loudest mouths. Still, it is a significant disturbance.

The way to deal with this is not to agree to demands — if you do cave in to get rid of the disturbance, you will teach the entire organization that creating loud disturbances is a very effective way of getting influence in the swarm, and you will start going down a very bumpy road as other people start imitating that behavior.

We've seen some of that happen!

Rather, you need to identify the reward mechanisms within the subgroup that has formed around the maverick. Odds are that they’re forming a group identity around not being recognized as individual activists. You can shatter this identity by recognizing good contributors in the group who are hang-arounds of the maverick; odds are that there are several good contributors in that group who are just temporarily wooed by the maverick’s charisma. If you pick away a couple of key people in this group and recognize them for good earlier work — unrelated to the maverick’s yells — you will isolate the maverick, and the disturbance will lose critical mass.

Surviving Growth Unlike Anything The MBAs Have Seen

Getting 20,000 new colleagues and activists in a week isn’t a pipe dream. It happens. Quite rarely, but it does happen. You need to be prepared for it.

We called this a verticality and imagined it typically only happens once — a miracle-type event. (We would have more than tripled if our servers had been able to handle the influx of new members. They had never been tested for this kind of load.)

Reminder that web servers must be ready to handle sudden surges in interest. Always. But don't sponsor the surveillance economy by using Cloudflare for that! And of course all the other aspects of a functional party.

We trust one another. We know that each and every one of us wants the best for the Pirate Party.

That may no longer be true after certain large scale successes. But there's also hardly a way to find out who is having how much of a kind of an interest for the project rather than another. So after the initial swarm phase is over and the inner distrust is inevitable, it is good to create structures that function nonetheless and make it hard for anyone with an interest to disrupt, to succeed in the intent. No Pirate Party seems to have a suitable structure as yet. Some pessimists would even argue, that such an architecture isn't possible.

We respect knowledge. In discussing a subject, any subject, hard measured data is preferable. Second preference goes to a person with experience in the subject. Knowing and having experience take precedence before thinking and feeling, and hard data takes precedence before knowing.

This could be a building block of such a structure, formalizing the rationality of thinking.

We campaign outward and cohesively, not inward and divisively.

Works best if the campaigners have nothing to decide themselves, right? Like you wouldn't let three pirates take a strategic coalition decision. The three pirate rule is for simple activism stuff, things that are done that way pretty much in any grassroots movement.

In particular, we’re never disrespectful against our co-activists (one of the few things that officers in the Pirate Party will have zero tolerance with).

So there are some tough rules? Curious to see the details about that.

We represent ourselves. The Pirate Party depends on a diversity of voices. None of us represents the Pirate Party on blogs and similar: we’re a multitude of individuals that are self-identified pirates.

But the outer world will always say the Pirate Party does this or does that, so you are either implying that the board is in charge of that part, or that you let the louder swarm initiatives take on that role. In Germany this has been the foundation for our enemies to instill the idea that we don't really know what we want and we are all in a fight between each other – and in fact, if a journalist wanted to make a point about the pirates, they would frequently find pirates to represent any position they wanted them to represent. Often as easily as looking for a suitable tweet. They found pirates to speak of the party in religious terms, although the program says we are laicists. They found pirates to speak positively about atomic energy, although we are against that in our program. There's always somebody willing to speak to the media to say the opposite of what he should be saying, and that doesn't even mean he's on an agenda, although that would make sense. That's why it must not be permitted.

An example is in forums where we find ourselves in a discussion with somebody who seems to be wrong. It’s easy to take on an irritated tone of voice and use condescending language (for a funny illustration of this phenomenon, look up the URL We must avoid this by being aware of the risk and counteracting it. This goes especially for net-only communication, where important parts of communication such as body language, emphasis, and tone of voice just disappear, parts that would otherwise have reduced the experienced aggression in many comment fields. Attitudes are highly contagious, so, therefore, we make sure to have a positive and understanding attitude. We spread love, trust, energy, and enthusiasm.

The legendary "Somebody is wrong on the Internet" cartoon from xkcd. Indeed it is very hard to communicate when everything that is said is always interpreted the worst possible way. Switching to Mumble has made that a lot less bad, although there are still people who will refuse to participate in that same Mumble session as the idea of having to change their minds about certain other people terrifies them. It's a clear case of we shouldn't even have started using these kind of written "discussion" tools like mailing lists and forums.

“I’m going to do X, because I think it will accomplish Y. If enough of us do this, we could probably cause Z to happen. Therefore, it would be nice to have some company when I do X,”

This is how unpaid activism has always worked, but what if something is important enough for an assemblary mandate? Our experience is that getting a mandate by Liquid Feedback usually is not a big deal. The delay can be spent with preparatory work. Should some serious afterthoughts and counter-arguments come up, this may lead to disincentivating the activist from pursueing that path — even if the assembly as a whole then decides on a green light. That isn't bad. It just documents that the idea wasn't so good after all. The assembly shouldn't insist on "things decided not getting done" in that case (if it's really important, they should elect an officer to ensure implementation). On the other hand, if the activist puts the plan into action, they will be more aware of possible pitfalls and procede more carefully. This should all be seen as better than just three people agreeing on something.

We react immediately against disrespect. Even if we have great tolerance for mistakes and bad judgment, we do not show tolerance when somebody shows disrespect toward his or her colleagues, toward other activists. Condescending argumentation or other forms of behavior used to suppress a co-activist is never accepted. When we see such behavior, we jump on it and mark it as unacceptable. In our leadership roles, we have an important role in making sure that people feel secure in their roles, with no bullying accepted. If the bully continues despite having the behavior pointed out, he or she will be shut out from the area where he or she disrespects his or her peers, and if some friend reinvites him or her back just for spite, we will probably shut off the friend, too. We have absolute-zero tolerance for disrespect or intentionally bad behavior against co-activists.

Yet another case of an anti-authoritarian grassroots movement coming to the conclusion that intolerance is intolerable in order to get anything done. This is good. Unfortunately both Pirate Parties I participate in do not implement this sort of policy much, leading to disastrous consequences.

We speak from our own position. When we perceive somebody as being in the wrong, we never say “you’re stupid” or similar, but start from our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions. We communicate using the model “When you perform action X, I feel Y, since I perceive you think Z,” possibly with the addition “I had expected A or B.” An example: “When you give the entire budget to activism, I feel frustrated, as I feel you ignore our needs for IT operations. I had expected you to ask how much it costs to run our servers.” This creates a constructive dialogue instead of a confrontational one.

It's hard to introduce this retroactively, especially in organizations where trolls gained leadership and declared offensive debates a virtue.

We stand for our opinions. We never say “Many people feel…” or try to hide behind some kind of quantity of people. Our opinions are always and only our own, and we stand for them. The one exception is when we represent an organization in a protocolled decision.

Indeed that sense of "many" can be very wrong.

Administration is a support and never a purpose. We try to keep administrative weight and actions to a minimum, and instead prioritize activism. It is incredibly easy to get stuck in a continuously self-reinforcing bureaucratic structure, and every formal action or process needs to be regularly questioned to evaluate how it helps activism and shaping the public opinion.

LQFB however could be quite non-bureaucratic. It can be a tool to communicate to everyone what you would like to do next, have people give you feedback in form of support or suggestions, and if there's nothing quantifyably wrong about what you suggest, get you going with an assemblary mandate.

We build social connections. We meet, and we make others meet. Social connections — that people meet, eat, and have beer or coffee with each other — are what make the Pirate Party into an organization.

In fact, most of the trouble the PP-DE has experienced, happened via 140 character short communication over the interwebz. It's usually not the ones who regularly meet to cause trouble. Chances are definitely higher they sort it out.

We develop our colleagues. We help everybody develop and improve, both as activists and leaders. Nobody is born with leadership; it is an acquired skill. We help each other develop our skills, even in our roles as officers and leaders.

Can't think of a single example when this has happened.

People gravitate to other people who seem to be enjoying themselves. If you are having fun, more people will want to join you. If you are bickering and infighting, people who would otherwise be potential activist recruits will instead walk an extra mile around you to avoid being drawn in.

Having fun in the organization is crucial to success. You need to make sure that you and your colleagues, all several thousand of them, have fun.

As the PP-IT defends its right to pointless bickering and infighting, it has detracted supporters from joining the crew. The only reason the PP-IT still has people joining (not necessarily more than people leaving, though) is that people hear of the Pirate movement as a whole or think the goals are important. Then, when they find out how we "work," they turn away disappointed. We reeeally need to change this aspect – some advanced thinkers in the PP-IT think we need to replicate the swarm effect, but all we have ever done was very swarmlike already, what has been missing is the prerequisites for respectful collaboration as Rick repeatedly argues.

Success in a swarm doesn’t happen smoothly and fluidly. It happens in hard-to-predict enormous bursts.

You may have spoken about a subject for a good year or two, seeing no return on your efforts at all. Then, something happens, and more or less overnight, tens of thousands of people realize you have been right all along and join your swarm for the fight.

While grinding along without seeing any returns can feel disheartening at times, it’s important to understand that people are listening and do take notice to what you’re saying. They’re just choosing to not act on it at the time being — maybe because it’s not important to them, maybe because they plainly don’t believe a word you say.

Then, all of a sudden, the government announces new horrible legislation that confirms everything you’ve been saying for the past two years, and you find yourself with twenty thousand new followers and five thousand new activists overnight, as you’ve gone from a doomsday prophet to being a rallying point for well-needed change. That’s the way it works.

The first part of the challenge is to drum up your own motivation to keep grinding, grinding, grinding, even when seeing little to no visible return. Write those articles and op-eds, stage those events, keep handing out those flyers, even in an emotional wintertime. People are taking notice.

The second part of the challenge is to immediately get out of grinding mode when this catalyzing event happens, and go into an intense recruitment mode to take care of all the new activists, as described in this chapter. Then, as the recruitment burst fades, you teach all the new activists to grind public opinion in the same way as you had been doing, the swarm now having a much larger surface area than before the growth burst.

However, we should not confuse persistent day-to-day grinding with a refusal to see roadblocks for the uptake of the swarm’s ideas. If people tell you that your website is confusing, that the officers of the swarm are inaccessible, or that new people who come to gatherings aren’t feeling welcome, those are real issues and should absolutely not be taken as a sign to just keep doing what you’re already doing. Everybody needs to listen for real blocks to adoption of the swarm’s ideas, all the time — but it’s when there are no such blocks coming, and there’s still no momentum, that everyday motivation can be hard to muster up. It is precisely at this point that one must keep grinding.

PP-IT is good at grinding, but not so good at seeing roadblocks (the reasons why they are so few). PP-DE hasn't gotten to the small numbers of PP-IT yet, but the grinding is in rapid decline. Everyone has their own ideas on what is causing the collapse, but no effective action is taken.

[interesting account on mistakes made when creating the "youth wing"]

The people who had set up the youth wing exactly as I had asked had outperformed themselves and set up the best possible organization to match the specs and beyond, beating Swedish records in the process and indeed getting those hundreds of thousands of euros per year — but the strategic damage to the underlying values far outweighed the monetary gains. As a final blow, the money wasn’t allowed to go to the party at all, but had to stay in the youth wing.

The lesson here is that no millions of cash in the world — even if you do get them — can repair the damage to your organization if you lose your value base. This was my biggest strategic mistake ever. You must maintain one, and only one, value base.

Very interesting point of view, this deserves some scientific analysis to compare the different value systems precisely and document the results more objectively.

When I spoke to previous challenger parties across Sweden, they all bemoaned one specific organizational detail that had ultimately become their downfall: multiple power bases.

They had organized into several separate formal organizations, each with its own legal identity, each with responsibility for a particular geography or subgeography. This had several disastrous effects.

First, it vested activists in their local organization’s interests, rather than in the swarm as a whole. Tons of energy was diverted from activism into internal power struggles between intentionally created factions. You want every activist to be part of the one swarm, rather than part of “the subswarm of Fort Duckburg fighting for its own interests against the subswarm of neighboring West Gotham.” You don’t want to intentionally create factions for infighting.

Woah, and here we are in Germany confirming that pattern.

In a strange alliance, in both grassroot activist as in post-war political thinking, subsidiarity and federal organization of resources and duties has an oddly popular positive connotation, hardly ever questioned by reason and certainly not backed up by facts and figures.

Federal structure as imposed by the German laws has been an essential ingredient for PP-DE's crash, making sure it would never be able to agree on anything of importance beyond their founding values.

The reason federation is frequently seen as a positive value could be in the way it empowers local or regional leaders beyond what the swarm logic already empowers them anyhow. This approach is fundamentally greedy and usually chosen in order to combat corruption and bad decision-making at central places, which in essence means, fighting against representative democratic structures.

Ironically, old-school political parties only managed to solve this by re-enforcing representative structures and producing leadership figures. Subsidiarity can in this case actually re-enforce the illnesses of representative democracy instead of, as people would expect, curing them.

The Pirate Movement has developed a marvelous alternate solution to all of this. If liquid democracy were only deployed properly (it hardly ever is) it could bring the necessary competence for the big organization to understand the little needs of a little group, be it regional or minorital of other kind, and make wise choices, with both minority and majority interests in mind, without having to turn to false notions of decentralization with its huge infighting potentials. Also the consensus circle approach would be helpful here, instead of exercising brute majority power at general assemblies, which happen to be biased by the region hosting them.

Maybe the PP-DE could address this problem in a reform that would reduce the federal structure to the minimum required by law and create a philosophy and mindset of not believing the myth of subsidiarity. Whereas PP-IT merely has to fight back on the frequent blue-eyed requests for a switch to a federated structure. Asking for a rational explanation how that would actually solve any problems usually is enough to expose how nothing backs that myth up. It's odd how this sort of thinking has made it into laws of otherwise rather advanced countries such as Germany or Sweden (the youth empowerment case described earlier). In the case of post-war Germany we know that it was designed after the structure of the USA. Federal subsidiarity may be not such a bad idea concerning governance, but it is quite at odds for the purpose of political activism.

Second, it creates metric tons of administrative redundancy. You want as few people as possible doing administrative work, and as many as possible doing activism. Therefore, you want to centralize the administrative workload to one or a very few people, and reduce the workload of everybody else to be on the level of clicking on “give me a cash advance for this great event we’re having.” Having to deal with many legal identities means that each legal-identity organization must do its own bookkeeping, tax forms, recordkeeping, and so on, wasting many activist hours that would otherwise have gone toward activism.

The federal architecture of PP-DE has produced different implementations of solutions for bureaucratic needs that have then been copied and remixed by the regions, but this has never been good enough to compensate for the huge blow that it is to do all that work sixteen times instead of once.

Using Social Dynamics To Their Potential

Offline friendships are much, much stronger than online friendships and connections. It is the offline discussions we want to cover the swarm’s topics; they are much stronger in terms of emotional attachment and intensity between people. Thus, we need to use the reach of online tools and communication to make people want to talk about the swarm’s goals in their respective offline environments, where the possibility of recruiting new activists is much, much better than on a random web page.

A swarm only grows on its fuzzy outer edge: at the swarm’s center, where you are, everybody is already involved at the highest activity level. This leads to an important insight: the people who are most active can’t recruit any new activists to the swarm themselves by talking to their friends.

But it is still the responsibility of the most motivated people to grow the swarm, despite the fact that they can’t do so personally. Rather, it is their responsibility to enable the people who can recruit new people to do so, despite the fact that the people in a leading position have no idea who these people actually are.

To do this, a couple of key components must be communicated to the entire swarm at regular intervals in heartbeat messages. This must be done by the people with the most experience in talking about the swarm, typically once a week. The heartbeat messages should contain at least the following:

Newsflow. Let people know what’s going on. [..] Overcommunicate the context of the news, the external news in particular — make sure even the newest activists understand why you chose to highlight the events that you pick in the newsflow. Don’t assume everybody read your letter from last week, because the newest activists didn’t.

Sample rhetoric. The newly joined people, who know the most not-yet-joined people, are also the ones who are the most insecure in their rhetoric about why the swarm is important, fun, and skilled in its work for a better world. Their confidence can be increased in many ways — one of the most straightforward and successful is to supply direct quotes that can initiate a conversation, or sample responses to typical questions.

Sense of urgency. When these people [..] believe in the swarm and its mission, part of that mission must be to grow the swarm itself and to understand how such growth contributes to the swarm’s end success.

A swarm grows by people talking to one another, one conversation at a time. The Swedish Pirate Party grew to fifty thousand members just like that: one person at a time, one conversation at a time.

The edges of the swarm are not sharp, but quite fuzzy, and it’s hard to define the moment when people decide to activate themselves in the swarm for the first time. Is it when they hear about the swarm? When they visit its web pages? When they first contact a human being in the swarm? I would argue that all three of these are different steps on the activation ladder.

The crucial action that is needed from the people leading the swarm is to identify as many steps as possible on the activation ladder, and make each of these steps as easy and accessible as possible. Again, it sounds obvious, but many organizations fail miserably at this.

There are several key things that need to be done. Some of the least obvious are to always make sure that all people in the swarm can respond meaningfully to questions about the swarm’s purpose from people who are just hearing about the swarm — normal social growth should never be underestimated — and that there are always plenty of empty boxes in the organizational chart for people who want to take formal and real responsibility for the swarm’s daily operations.

When push comes to shove, it’s not the number of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, or newsletter subscribers that counts (even though these metrics are easily measured). It’s how many people you can activate. This is a different number, one that isn’t as easily seen, even though it has some form of correlation to the easily measured numbers: it can be assumed to rise and fall when the other numbers rise and fall, but over and above that, it’s hard to predict.

You may want a flash mob to form outside a courtroom as a verdict is handed out, for example, when all the TV cameras are there. You have twenty-five minutes, and you’re in a different city. What do you do?

The first thing to realize is that you shouldn’t do anything except contact the local leaders of the swarm and ask them to make something happen. The next thing to realize is that these local leaders must have the tools to make that something happen.

The Swedish Pirate Party has tools to send a text message to all activists in a geographical area. (We don’t track the activists’ actual location — that would be bad and rude behavior. Instead, people can subscribe to messages related to certain areas where they typically move about.) The local leader would go into our swarm activation tools, choose an area to blanket with a phone message to our activists’ phones, and send something like “Flash mob for the verdict today. Meet up outside the District Court on 123 Such Street at 12:30, 22 minutes from now. Get there if you can.”

When such a message is sent to thousands of phones, hundreds of people show up.

You can and should use mass text messaging over your favorite platform to mobilize the swarm not just to physical locations, but to any place where your issues are discussed. This particularly includes comment fields and discussion threads.

A lot of people in general want to be on the winning team in most contexts and will adapt their behavior to match it. Therefore, if you can make your swarm look like the winning team, regardless of your actual strength, 90 percent of your work is done.

In the beginning of the Swedish Pirate Party, we used this mechanism a lot. Whenever there was an article in oldmedia on our issues, we would send an alert phone text to people interested in swarming to the article and making sure our perspective dominated the comment field. In this way, we were able to give a very clear impression of public opinion on anything that touched our areas — an impression that we turned into reality by creating a persistent perception.

Control the public perception of who’s the winning team, and you become the winning team.

Oh wow, so Rick effectively applied social media marketing methods just as Casaleggio did for Beppe Grillo. Making use of the fact that the web isn't representative or democratic to your own good goals. But at the same time we should teach people not to believe what's in the website commentaries... ;-D

In the postelection evaluation of the European elections in 2009, the Social Democratic party — Sweden’s largest party — wrote that their election workers had seen the Pirate Party “on practically every square in the entire country,” showing colors, handing out flyers, and talking to passersby. As the party leader, with a hawkeye on our activities and resources, I knew that this statement was very, very far from the objective truth. But it was our competitor’s perception of reality — a perception that we had created. If the election workers of the country’s largest party perceived reality like this, a large part of the general population also did.

Impressive job.

“Just how many people did the Pirate Party send here, anyway? I see you everywhere!” The other parties send delegations of hundreds, and yet it was our seven delegates who got noticed because we made it easy for people to notice us in a crowd.

I do see parallels with communism and fascism, but I guess it's better if the *right* people work that way rather than the wrong. Problem is, the wrong learn fast.

This is also the reason I encouraged activists to buy and wear shirts with the party’s color and logo in the streets. We didn’t make any money on the shirts. I didn’t care about that income stream.

We frequently left that income stream to third parties. Not so smart.

And thinking about it another minute, you don’t need to know who your activists are. You just need them to talk about the swarm’s issues with their friends, show up at rallies, etc. Many will prefer to be anonymous, and honoring that will make the swarm immensely stronger.

In Italy we introduced the certification so we can make people participate properly in digital decision-making, but we definitely put too much focus on the participatory democracy thing. It is just great if people just drop an e-mail address and take part in stuff that needs to be done. We should have more mere e-mail supporters we can reach out to than actual vote-enabled members.

In the Swedish Pirate Party, a significant portion of our homepage was devoted to “People blogging about the Pirate Party.” Anybody who mentioned the Pirate Party’s name in a blog post — no matter in what context — got their blog post highlighted and linked from our front page. This could be accomplished fairly easily with automated processes.

This is one of the mechanisms behind our becoming the most-discussed party in the entire Swedish blogosphere. When you give up the illusory control of your brand — which you never had anyway — and reward people for discussing you, unconditional of the context, they will keep discussing you and your topics, services, or products. That is exactly what you want to happen.

People will be rude to you from time to time (after all, your swarm is trying to change the world, which is guaranteed to make some people angry). This will be challenging to your mood and psyche, but you need to respond, and you need to be nice and polite. You may never turn the person who is rude to you and angry at your values, but you will take every other reader on the site by complete surprise, and they will become potential activists in your swarm.

Politics is a spectator sport, and so is arguing your case anywhere on the Internet. As they say in other spectator sports, “win the crowd.”

Managing Oldmedia

There are four types of press releases in terms of planning ahead:

The first kind is the reactive press release, when you’re responding to something that happens and you are providing comments. [..] Assume that something newsworthy breaks on Twitter that relates to your swarm, and your gut feeling tells you that oldmedia will probably make a published article out of this piece of news. They will take about thirty to forty minutes to write the story draft, and it will publish in sixty. You have thirty minutes to provide your comments and quotes. If you do that, you are helping the reporters write a good and balanced story, and your quotes will get into the oldmedia story being written.

Getting a press release out in thirty minutes is hard, but completely doable. [..] You should be prepared to send these 24/7, by keeping enough activists in some kind of virtual media room that knows how to handle oldmedia. If enough activists are there — say, some thirty activists — then enough of them will always be awake at any time of day to deal with incoming events.

You will need to make sure that people who become part of this subswarm are not blocking a position for somebody else that you’d rather have there.

The second kind is when you comment on a large event, the time of which is known in advance, but not its outcome. You should have multiple press releases ready to go. Time to send must be ideally within 120 seconds.

The third kind is when you tell oldmedia about something you will do later in the day, like when you stage rallies or send flowers to adversaries. If oldmedia have the ability to send photographers to your action, you should send it early in the morning of the day in question, around 6:30 a.m., in time for the editorial morning meeting — if sent the night before, it would be an old press release. On the other hand, if oldmedia cannot be expected to send photographers, you are expected to make photos and/or video from the event available yourself, which will vastly increase your chances.

The press release should read as closely to a finished article as possible. The more the oldmedia reporter can cut and paste, the more work you are doing for them, and the higher the probability of becoming part of the story.

Be provocative. If you’re not making somebody angry, you’re probably not doing anything useful. Have fun and make your adversaries angry at the same time: this does not only lead to more activists in the swarm, but it also makes you really enjoy your work in the swarm. Plus, it guarantees you a load of media. Oldmedia just love provocative. Don’t be afraid of people yelling. That’s a sign you’re doing something right.

Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” This is eerily accurate in oldmedia’s portrayal of any disruptive or provocative swarm.

When working with oldmedia, the swarm needs one outward face, and one face only. This would typically be the swarm leader or founder (you). It is important to realize that this is an avatar face — it is not you as a person, but a face that represents a larger and very specific movement.

Several swarms have tried to abstain from having this avatar face, and they quickly discover that it works very poorly against oldmedia.

You need to teach the media subswarm to write quotes and attribute them to you, the swarm leader or founder, for these reasons. If you’ve taken enough part in the media group and written enough press releases yourself, the subswarm will know the kind of things you say and be able to send out a press release with quotes in your name without needing you as a bottleneck. You’ll be amazed at how smart you can sound when you let other people make up the quotes you say without asking you first.

Several who? In the Berlin 2011 election campaign I'd argue we had an effect that runs counter to this thinking. We surprised the oldmedia audience by having lots of colorful faces all say the same intelligent things. We came across as being a very conscious political group rather than a crowd following a leader (the way M5S usually is portrayed). Unfortunately that impression fell apart soon after. Success grew over our heads, we all felt empowered to state our personal views rather than to follow our old mantra of always giving out the Pirate message, nothing but the Pirate message. Oldmedia quickly figured out how to expose our inconsistencies and make us look like dweebs. It was only the nasty ones at first, the ones that had been desperately trying to harm us all along, but suddenly they found a style that caught on with the mainstream of well-intended journalists and the whole thing turned around against us.

As much as possible, you will want to be on location where the most important things to your swarm happen. “Sending somebody” is not enough — the avatar faces of the swarm, typically you, have to be at the most important events.

“I was there, and you weren’t” wins major points in any debate.

You’ll want your own media footage of important events, with the swarm’s avatar face in it, to make such footage available as stock cutaways for oldmedia later.

If there are TV news crews there, is that those TV crews will be looking for some footage worth their while. They will likely have set up their camera well in advance, trimming light and sound, and then doing nothing but waiting for whatever-it-is to happen. If your swarm is seen as owning the issue of what’s happening at this location, getting TV time is usually as easy as walking up to the TV crews, introducing yourself, handing over a business card, and saying, “If you’d like me to comment on what’s happening here, I’d be happy to do so.”

[interesting tips about op-eds skipped]

Beyond Success

The problems arrive when everybody in the swarm takes for granted that the current popularity, visibility, sales, or whatever your measure of success is will keep on for the next year or two. When that happens, they will stop working extrovertedly, and start fighting between themselves for all the riches and resources and fame that they see coming the swarm’s way on the expected continued success: everything from lavish jobs to expensive toys to personal visibility. As an inevitable result, the swarm’s success will collapse in months — and it won’t be a temporary glitch, it will be a deep structural problem based on faulty expectations of individual reward that takes time and effort to repair.

At that point in time, the swarm has two of its toughest challenges ever to overcome — to remain steadfast on the extroverted track, despite the distracting glimmering riches on the horizon, and the fact that the visibility and success will fade even if the swarm continues exactly on its current course of action, and this can be a very tough thing to face emotionally.

The Swedish and German Pirate Parties both fell for this predictable but treacherous mechanism.

Sigh. We lost the humility we had until the bang. This I am afraid has to be compensated by harsher structures. Shitstorms must not be tolerated, they are the breeding ground for the trouble. In all the years I have never seen a legitimate shitstorm. People are cruel at folks that are just trying to do a good job and quite frequently the attackers didn't even fully understand what happened. If you elected the person, next time elect another. If the person is already in parliament, you can promote a motion to the parliamentary group to have somebody else speak in public.

This is painful for everybody involved. So keep the swarm on track, and do remind them of that saying in the entertainment business: no time is as tough as the year after the year you’re hot — and that year will come around, as certainly as the calendar tells you it will.

While we were disappointed with our first election result of 0.6 percent, everybody else was very impressed and had never expected that.

When the German Pirates made roughly 1% at the 2009 European elections it blew my mind. I immediately understood that all the years of net activism wouldn't achieve half as much as joining the Pirate Party. It took me several months from quiet potential supporter to actually figuring out how I could contribute. My first contribution was convincing the owner of one of Berlin's largest techno clubs to host a Pirate election party for free (if enough people order drinks) and talking several rock bands, live acts and deejays into performing for free for 2009's Piraten campaign party that went by the motto "INTERNET IST SCHULD" ("It's the Internet's fault"). In the end it was the biggest cultural event I ever organized, together with a crew of great helpful new friends from the Piratenpartei. Later I filled out the membership papers myself.


Paragraphs extracted from the book "Swarmwise" are CC-BY-NC by Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Movement.

Last Change: 2019-03-22

My pages.

Go have a chat.
Use Tor.
Use IRC.
Use IRC over Tor.

But, if you already sold your
soul to the surveillance
market, you can . . .  

Tweet this.
Share on Facebook.
Stumble upon this.
Find it delicious.
Digg this.

Follow tweets in
Deutsch, Italiano
and English.

Follow on Facebook in
Deutsch, Italiano
and English.

CC-BY-SA, carlo von lynX