Phil Reiman


Building a set of rules for operating an ordered, effective online association is the first step toward building virtual communities and the first step toward a democratic "e-government." Disputes online are not rare; they are just rarely resolved. Currently, online forums are watched over by a moderator, who is charged with keeping the discussion on track, and to keeping the debate from getting personal. Almost everyone who has been in an online discussion is aware of "Netiquette", the informal rules that govern chat room conversations. Everyone is equally aware that these rules are often ignored. While the exchange of ideas is present, online groups have no framework by which to develop a consensus. In most forums, the idea is to gather information and swap opinions on topics of mutual interest. When the members tire of a topic they drop it, without reaching any resolution. Besides, since the effort needed to enter or exit any given discussion is minimal; those who disagree simply leave the forum. From this, it appears that there are elements of digital communication that will inhibit the direct translation of our parliamentary procedure to the new medium. Therefore, an online form of parliamentary procedure is necessary to build the bonds that create lasting communities and ensure that our new form of government reflects our traditional belief in popular sovereignty and public deliberation. The focus of this Comment is to suggest how Robert's Rules might be applied to online associations and to foster the deliberative process in our new communities. It offers a brief outline of parliamentary procedure as embodied in Robert's Rules and a short discussion of the undemocratic features of digital communication. Then there is a suggestion that a system based on a centralized clock and on information unit could make Robert's Rules work in an online association.