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Formats for civil online debate I – inspired by the Talmud

[ by Charles Cameron — hypertext, rhetoric, Talmud, civility ]


I have been thinking quite a bit recently about formats for online debate, and posted a comment on Jean Goodwin‘s blog yesterday, in which I commented on the Talmudic page (see R Eliezar Segal‘s excellent hypertext version for an explanation of how it works). It’s a topic that has interested me since before the turn of the millennium, and one I’ve discussed and prototyped a bit in some of Howard Rheingold‘s class forums.

Yesterday in my comment on JG’s blog, I said:

My guiding principle here is that devising suitable forms may well elevate the content poured into them…

I said this because, in my view, constraint facilitates excellence.


Part of the key here is captured very nicely in this quote from Jean Toomer:

In this multiple simultaneous world words only dole out one thing at a time.

So we need polyphony, we need forms that capture many voices, many points of view, the perspectives of many stakeholders, simultaneously — not a linear progression from premise to conclusion.  And since we’re talking argumentation here, this simultaneity can be captured in a graphical form, as in this diagram based on Toulmin:



In that spirit, I thought I’d post a couple of my own experimental formats.  The first is based fairly closely on the Talmudic page — and I put it together in March of this year, so things in Libya have moved along a bit since then, though not quite enough as yet:


My second format is a variant on the “Dart Board” sometimes used for playing my HipBone Games (see, for instance, my solo game War is Sexy, says Dawn).

I shall present it in a follow up post of its own.


For your convenience, here’s a blank template for the kind of Talmudic debate-page I used above, available for download.  It can be filled with any graphical software that allows text and a choice of fonts & sizes.  I recommend using larger type for the main text, medium for the commentary, and small print for annotations and footnotes:


4 Responses to “Formats for civil online debate I – inspired by the Talmud”

  1. Jean Goodwin Says:

    Hi, Charles!  I look forward to seeing what you come up with.   In Argumentation Studies, there are several research groups building software to represent visually multiple interacting positions in large debates:
    I’m not sure if any of them have web interfaces, though.  Here’s one that does, although I’ve never played with it:
    Or check this out for a massive argument map, done by hand:
    Good luck!

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Honored to have you with us!  I have admired Robert Horn‘s work for quite a while now, as I mentioned to my friend Joseph Fouche.  As I say there, I’m interested in "tight form" variants of mind-mapping, as the sonnet is to prose, and originally developed my game format as a digital artform under the inspiration of Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game.

  3. Bryan Alexander Says:

    Very neat tool, Charles.  I think this would be good in analog media, too – flip board, chalk board, sand on a beach.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Bryan.
    By all means share it with some of your edu friends…

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