Selectricity/Justin Sharps UROP Proposal

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Project Description[edit]

I’m proposing to work on a project known as Selectricity for Summer 2007. I will be working at the Media Lab within the Computing Culture group, under the direct supervision of Benjamin Mako Hill and faculty supervisor Chris Csikszentmihalyi. Selectricity is an enhanced version of RubyVote, a collection of voting libraries developed at an earlier time by Mako to enhance the decision making experience in the open source software community. Selectricity uses software and a simple web interface (Ruby and Ruby on Rails) to bring complex voting algorithms into the everyday decision making process. Selectricity will be developed as a free and open source program, and will be distributed under the GNU GPL. It emphasizes preferential algorithms but offers access to plurality and majority methods as well. Selectricity also offers cryptographic means of voter verifiability, ensuring a fair decision making process.

While Selectricity is primarily web-based, in response to indicated interest, there are plans to work with a cell phone accessible version as well. An early model of Selectricity is available at

Selectricity was recently selected to receive a grant from mtvU and Cisco as part of the Digital Incubator project. The exposure will help bring innovative advances in the decision making process to many people in contexts important to them (a possibility could be American Idol!). Hopefully, working with a democratic decision making process everyday will help everyone make better decisions in all parts of their lives.

Personal Responsibilities[edit]

After familiarizing myself with both Ruby and Ruby on Rails, I will begin to identify sub-projects within Selectricity that need improvement, and eventually design modules and expansions to Selectricity of my own. A detailed plan has yet to be finalized, but there are several areas where I hope to make a contribution. A major part of the project will consist of making Selectricity more widely accessible by completing the interface that will allow it to be integrated completely into other sites across the Internet.

Personal Interest/Reasons for Involvement[edit]

I’m very interested in the project itself because I think it’s a novel approach to solving some of the hidden problems that plague people on a daily basis. Namely, "What do we do next?" I’m also looking forward to learning both Ruby and Ruby and Ruby on Rails to enhance my object oriented and web programming skills. My interest in programming was sparked during high school, and I believe this summer will prove an ideal time to truly follow up on that interest. As an aspiring chemical engineer, I believe knowledge in computer science and programming will ensure an understanding of the work that goes into advanced modeling of chemical systems as well.

My first year at MIT has also helped me learn about the existence and importance of the open source community, and I can’t wait to get involved in an open source project of my own.

Work Plan/Outline[edit]

I plan to work approximately 40 hours a week for 10 weeks to accomplish my work for this project.