Photo by Cory Doctorow (gruntzooki; Flickr CC)
Following Exberliner's Pirate Night discussion last week (and the embarassing infighting on the highest levels of the German party – which are actually worrying Angela Merkel because Pirate voters might actually return to the opposition SPD and Greens), I've been trying to understand who the German Pirate Party really are and why anyone would vote for them.
We invited three very different members of the party to the panel discussion: two men and one woman. I've been tempted by the Pirates' message since they burst onto the scene a couple years ago: open government, democracy 2.0, transparency, etc. All great stuff in theory. But last week's real-life encounter with Pirates was a big turn-off for me.
Here is some unsolicited advice to the Pirates which I believe they might have to follow if they hope to survive till the Bundestag elections next autumn.
1. Switch off you phones. At the Exberliner event, the three Pirates on stage were permanently fiddling with their smart phones. Tweeting, messaging to friends across the room, or maybe just checking their email. While this might be considered normal behaviour at Piratenpartei gatherings and technology conferences, it's rude and childish among the rest of us. Who wants to vote for a bunch of freaks suffering from technology-induced Attention Deficit Disorder?
2. Stop the infantile practice of shit-storming. Every time some well-known Pirate does something that annoys the rest of the crew (like when Pirate leader Julia Schramm's publisher cracked down on illegal downloads of her book causing her to resign), they get strung up in the digital town square and splattered by the verbal diarrhoea of thousands of people on Twitter.
3. Make the "interactive democracy" software, i.e. liquid feedback usable. Go ahead. Have a look at the liquid feedback page for the Berlin Pirates and tell me if you think it looks like the user interface for the democracy of the next century. Pirates love calling themselves the "start-up of politics". The difference is that start-ups believe in user friendliness. In short: get a bloody front-end designer!
4. Nail down some ideas and fight for them. Our three panelists couldn't even agree whether the Pirates were left or right or just looking for a new paradigm. Whether you like it or not, people in politics need coherent ideas about the problems of this world. Crowdsourcing and wikis aren't the answer to everything. A political movement needs strong personalities who can sell those ideas to the broader public through their passion and persuasiveness. That's not going to change any time soon.