Originally published on Medium here

Say hello to the Civil Registry.

The Civil Registry mockup design

Initial design of the Civil Registry, featuring Civil’s first fleet newsrooms, which have been carefully and thoughtfully selected by Civil for their alignment with the Civil Constitution. They will be on the initial Civil Registry and subject to community review like all other newsrooms when the Civil Registry launches.

It’s a core part of the overall Civil experience. The Civil Registry is the destination to which prospective Civil Newsrooms must apply to access publishing rights on the Civil platform. Inclusion in the Civil Registry means that the community has vetted a Newsroom and deemed it as having a credible, journalistic mission, and that it has pledged to adhere to the journalistic ethics outlined by the Civil Constitution.

Maintaining a whitelist of good actors is not an overly complicated concept on the surface. As the Civil Registry grows, so too does the value and utility of the larger network.

It’s a list which the community of CVL token holders is economically incentivized to curate for quality. It will feature approved Newsrooms (as visualized in the first image, featuring Civil’s First Fleet Newsrooms), as well as live applications, including active challenges, appeals and rejected Newsrooms:

Design mockup of newsroom applications in progress. Designs are not final. All copy is placeholder text.

Designs are not final. All copy is placeholder text.

In theory, most Newsrooms that apply to the Civil Registry should be able to demonstrate viable models. The community, recognizing this, will take no action when they’re notified of the new application, and the Newsroom will be listed on the Civil Registry shortly after applying (here’s a deeper primer on how Newsrooms will apply to launch on Civil).

But what happens when there’s a challenge?

Explaining the broader application process — including how and why applications are challenged, and the system of checks and balances we’ve implemented to ensure that Civil remains focused on promoting ethical journalism above all else — can be a bit more complicated, at least initially.

Why would citizens want to challenge a Newsroom? How do we notify the community of such a challenge, and why it was mounted? And when and how should community votes occur?

We designed a graphical representation of the challenge and appeals process, which is included in our white paper. It outlines this flow at a high level, identifying which outcomes yield which results, and when — and how it ultimately leads to a challenged Newsroom being listed on the CiviL Registry, or not.

Last week at the Ethereal New York summit, we delivered our first public demo of this process [editor’s note: we’ll be posting video from this demo once it’s available]. We recognized that simply presenting a graphical representation of the application flow, with accompanying screenshots, was not going to effectively convey how this process worked. Instead, we opted to get a bit more creative, and designed an interactive session that would walk through the various stages of the application / challenge / appeals process.

The experience quickly evolved into not only a demo, but a hugely valuable community prototyping exercise. It confirmed some existing assumptions about the Civil Registry, and it challenged others.

Community Prototyping Yields Valuable Insights

The Civil Registry is based on (and forked from) Mike Goldin’s token curated registry model. Token curated registries are predicated on the assumption that economic incentives are adequate drivers for people to make rational choices. Is that always true? The best way to test that assumption is by roleplaying — so we did just that.

Our approach involved the following items:

  • A Boston Red Sox cap
  • A New York Yankees cap
  • Several bags of candy (9 lbs worth, to be exact)
  • Red and green sticky notes
  • A gavel
Civil team roleplaying the TCR process at Ethereal Summit NYC; Pictured: Civil CEO Matthew Iles in a Boston Red Sox hat.

Civil team roleplaying the TCR process at Ethereal Summit NYC; Pictured: Civil CEO Matthew Iles in a Boston Red Sox hat.

We demonstrated the Civil Registry application and challenge process in the following manner:

  • A Boston sports-focused Newsroom applies to the Civil Registry: A prospective Newsmaker, played by Civil CEO Matthew Iles, submitted a Newsroom that would focus on Boston sports. He clearly stated its journalistic mission and roster of Newsroom participants, pledged to adhere to the Civil Constitution and staked the requisite amount of CVL tokens (in this instance, represented by a bag of candy) to state the seriousness of his Newsroom’s intent. With that, the Newsroom application was active and under community review.
  • A challenge is staked: A member of the community took issue with the Boston-focused nature of the Newsroom. He enacted a challenge by staking his own bag of candy. He also happened to be sporting a New York Yankees cap, Boston’s arch-rival baseball team. He cited his utter distaste for all things Boston as a motivating factor. He did not cite any lack of journalistic credibility or ethics in his challenge. Was his challenge valid, and grounded in the Boston sports Newsroom’s perceived inability to adhere to the Civil Constitution? Or was it fueled by a partisan distaste for the content the Newsroom would produce, even though it appeared to adhere to journalistic standards? It was up to the community to decide.
  • A community vote occurs: Each member of the “community” — the audience present for this demo — was given two sticky notes, one green and one red, upon entry. When the challenge was announced, they were asked to close their eyes and hold up one of the two sticky notes (to represent the PLCR process by which voting will occur on the Civil Registry). If they thought the Newsroom was a valid addition to the Civil marketplace, regardless of whether they themselves liked Boston sports or not, they were to hold up a green sticky note. If they felt it was a valid challenge that would successfully prevent a Newsroom that would clearly be in violation of the ethical journalism standards laid out in the Civil Constitution from joining the marketplace (and reduce its overall quality), they would hold up a red sticky note. The overwhelming consensus was green; the challenge failed, and the Boston Newsroom was confirmed as a quality addition to Civil. The Yankee cap-cladded challenger lost his tokens, which were distributed to the Newsroom applicant (who received a majority, as a reward for playing this economic game with good intent) and to the voters for the winning side (as a reward for upholding the journalistic values outlined by the Civil Constitution).
  • The vote is appealed to the Civil Council: The Yankee fan challenger (played with aplomb by Civil’s Jon Ferrer) was not satisfied with the vote, and still felt it necessary to pursue other means to keep the Boston sports Newsroom off of the Civil Registry. He staked an additional amount of CVL tokens / candy, and made his case to the Civil Council, an appeals body that exists to hear challenges to community votes that may not be carried out in the spirit of the Civil Constitution (it should be noted that the Civil Council’s decisions, in the real life iteration, can be overturned by a supermajority vote from CVL token holders). The Civil Council determined that this challenge was ultimately frivolous; a partisan-fueled distaste for an otherwise ethical Newsroom, they deemed, did not warrant keeping them off of the Civil Registry. The community’s vote was upheld, as signified by the banging of a gavel, and Jon lost his additional appeal stake / candy.

Some Assumptions Confirmed, Others Challenged

It was a fun and interactive process, and it yielded valuable insights around how complex community motivations can (and will) be. It goes far beyond basic economic assumptions — simply providing an economic incentive (CVL tokens, candy, etc.) does not ensure they’ll automatically act rationally. This isn’t an assumption you can truly confirm until you include others in the process. Civil is a decentralized marketplace, but it’s also a game. The game is called “spot the unethical Newsroom, and keep it off of the Civil Registry.” To design such a game, we need to better understand the extent of people’s motivation, and ensure there’s a rulebook (the Civil Constitution) in effect.

With that in mind, here are some high-level takeaways that have driven how we conceived the Civil Registry:

  • People like to play the antagonist. Even as we prepared this roleplaying exercise, there were more than a few of our team who were eager to play the agitator. It’s fun to be a contrarian, and to pour gasoline on a hyper-charged partisan issue. Given Ethereal’s New York location, the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry felt like an appropriate choice — but we could have just as easily selected Real Madrid/Barcelona, Democrats/Republicans, India/Pakistan or any other well-known, passion-inducing rivalry. If it happened in a simulated exercise, it will likely happen in real life.
  • Ask the right questions at the right time. This is a simplified way of describing the entire process outlined above; to make this model work, we need to introduce the right flow. Is this Newsroom valid, and good for the overall marketplace? Do you agree with the community consensus vote?
  • Clear roles and responsibilities must be established. If you possess CVL tokens, you’re signaling that you wish to be part of a cooperatively owned and operated network, and have a say in its governance. And because we recognize that economic incentive alone is not enough, and that there need to be rules, we must give citizens guidelines on how to act (e.g., a reference-able document for challenges). Some citizens may wish to initiate the challenge themselves, which carries a higher economic risk/reward, while others may simply wish to vote for/against challenges. Others, still, may wish to do neither of those things (not everybody in the audience raised a sticky note, after all). Parameters differ, and so does the associated economic risk/reward. And similarly, transparency matters. We will implement a PLCR model, but we believe it’s critical to know the results of a given vote.
  • Colors matter. We deliberately chose red and green for our sticky notes, as they’ll mirror the design scheme in the Civil Registry. They inspire strong emotions in users, and better underscore the choice you’re making in a given vote.
  • Give prompts that speak to the end goals, not the process. Instead of red or green signifying whether you agree with the challenger, it should focus on the bigger picture — whether a Newsroom should be listed on the Civil Registry, or not. That will inspire higher level of participation and more thoughtful votes.

To be clear, this is far from a completed process. The token curated registry concept, on which the Civil Registry is based, is a grand social experiment. There will be a lot of work and iteration involved; it’s a technology that is meant to bring people together and promote rational behavior, based on not only economic, but also social, incentive models.

And we think it might just be the key to helping power a new, more sustainable model for journalism at a time when it’s sorely needed.

Thanks to Matt Coolidge for his help on this post.