Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Another way to look at the crisis

Digital Planet
Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

London protesters (PA)
A self-regulating and moderated forum can bring calm to a heated debate
A new web tool is being used to help foster sensible debate about the conflict in Gaza.

Debategraph is a browser-based web application that gives a visual representation of the intricate arguments and issues in a heated debate - more recently being used to create order from the chaos surrounding the crisis in Gaza.

The site operates like a wiki, where people can modify information and make their own contributions.

Visual arguments

A strength of the site's "Explorer view" for a given issue is that the arguments can be laid out visually, in contrast to other wikis such as Wikipedia.

David Price, one of the founders of the tool, spoke to BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"There are spheres with arrows connecting them and each of the spheres on the screen represents one small meaningful chunk of the debate or the argument," said Mr Price.

An image of spheres and arrows depicting a debate on the Gaza crisis
The spheres represent various questions that are raised in a debate
"By clicking on the spheres, you can move through a complex multi-dimensional structure, which is trying to match all of the issues that are live in the public debate around the crisis in Gaza.

"That includes the motives for the Israeli and Hamas attacks, questions around how the conflict can be resolved, and whether the Israeli military action is justifiable," he said.

"One of the points about the structure is that anyone can add new spheres to it and anyone can edit the text and reasons," said Mr Price.

"The arguments can also be rated, so that you begin to sift and get a cumulative distillation of everyone's thinking about the subject, which hopefully will embody everyone's perspective.

"With a debate map you are trying to capture all of the arguments that people are talking about and trying to represent those as succinctly and fairly as you can do.

"The community weighting for those arguments begins to be reflected in the visual display of the map, through the thickness of the arrows connecting the spheres," he added.

Sensible debate

Each of the spheres has a different colour, representing different structural components in the debate.

Blue spheres indicate that a user has suggested an answer to a question that has been asked.

Red and green spheres indicate respectively opposing and supportive arguments for the positions being suggested.

Although no website can remain immune to hackers or overzealous ideologues, David Price feels that it does have advantages over other debate platforms such as blogs and forums.

The question becomes, 'Can you improve that argument or can you respond to it and challenge that argument?'
David Price

"In comparison to comments on a forum or a blog, the same arguments are often repeated over and over again, and then the debate would descend into a slagging match after a certain number of iterations," said Mr Price.

"The way that the map works is that once an argument is being represented on the map, it's there and everyone can see that that argument is being heard.

"Then the question becomes, can you improve that argument or can you respond to it and challenge that argument?

"This tends to lead to more constructive discussion," he said.

Along with topical issues such as the Gaza conflict, Debategraph hosts discussions on many other topics such as the legalisation of drugs and road congestion.

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday at 1232 GMT and repeated at 1632 GMT, 2032 GMT and on Wednesday at 0032 GMT.

You can listen onlineor download the podcast.

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