The CHOICE System

The CHOICE System offers a means for people to find, screen and contact other corresponding people who they may yet not know of. Correspondence means when both correspondents, at the same time, give suitable answers to each other's questions.

This promises to be much more effective than existing recruitment or introduction services, while being more secure by very nature. Social networking services lets people see public aspects of others who are connected. The CHOICE System instead let people find correspondents, whether or not they are connected, based on what matters to them, whether or not that is public.

The number of questions that could be relevant is vast. The CHOICE System gives a way of creating and managing these question collectively and transparently (quite the opposite of recent AI), so that people can ask and answer just those questions most relevant to their being.

The most exciting potential lies beyond recruitment and dating. The CHOICE System provides a straightforward way of finding people with a common interest in anything at all, including such significant areas as sharing engaging visions and starting new ventures. It fills a gap in supporting the time before an enterprise has been set up. And it caters very well for individuals acting free lance and offering services to others for money – an area which is currently both fragmented and exploited.

The ideas on which the CHOICE System are based originally surfaced around 1993 at City University London. Querying a database for things is fine, as things do not care who is looking. But people often care greatly, and it quickly became clear that what is needed, for people to find other people, is a system where the search happens both ways round at the same time.

People often don't manage to ask for what they really want first time round. Particularly when searching for other people, there may be a lot of uncertainty about exactly who one is looking for. The CHOICE System gives very precise feedback about which of the existing questions it is most helpful to ask and to answer, to find people who correspond well.

Originally, it was envisaged that this kind of system would provide all the questions, and the users would answer them as they came up. It still makes sense to provide a basic set of common questions, but no one can expect to compile all the questions people may count as important. The CHOICE System has been reconceived to allow users to create their own questions. The range and scope of questions and answers is limited only by people's imagination.

A broad range and scope is needed to address personal values and identity, often so important in finding suitable people. While there do exist questionnaires designed to elicit people's personal values, there is no clearly agreed definition of what personal values are, no fixed questionnaire covers everyone's values. The CHOICE System lets people ask the questions they naturally ask of one another, and the values implicit in those questions can be subtly effective in finding others who fit.

This subtle approach is specially important for sensitive identities. Minority opinions or values are frequently withheld from public display, as the owner does not want to be subject to adverse discrimination. The closer a value is to one's core identity, the more important it is only to disclose it to the right people. The CHOICE System ensures this, as the only people who ever see the sensitive information are those whose answers correspond to the sensitive user's own questions.

Trust is a vital factor in turning strangers to known and valued peers. People may not initially tell the truth about themselves, but the system keeps a track of all changed answers, and records when other correspondents doubt something that someone claims about themselves. The CHOICE System motivates honesty about oneself both through ensuring appropriate privacy, and through feedback on the reliability of answers from people who have been contacted.

The symmetry of the system embodies equality and fairness. Both sides can start out asking for what they really want. They may find someone corresponding immediately, or if not, they may wait for someone who has what they want, and wants what they have. Alternatively, they can make their wants more realistic, until they find someone who is already there. The same choices exist on both sides.

Personal effort is not wasted. Once a question is asked by one, it is available for all to ask. Once a question is answered, the answer is available for all enquiries. The system helps people to find and reuse questions as much as possible, so that the total number of questions asked is kept to a minimum. The CHOICE System prompts the user to answer questions that are most relevant to finding correspondents.

Three processes will help manage the rich diversity expected from letting people ask their own questions.

  1. Interested people can propose improvements to the wording and the structure of user-defined questions. These will be put to other interested parties, and where it seems that there is general agreement on a proposed improvement, it will be adopted.
  2. The CHOICE System itself will monitor the performance of questions, measuring the information generated. Questions that generate most information will rise to the top of the list of questions to ask and answer. This will use entropy measures in ways related to machine learning.
  3. Questions that are unused for a long time will drop out of the system.

Since the time that the CHOICE System was conceived, first the Internet, and now the use of mobile phones and other devices have become ubiquitous, vastly increasing the numbers of people who can easily access this kind of system. Processing power is ever cheaper. There was never a better time to put this system into action, particularly now that people are increasingly searching for values that are not dictated by a fragmenting world order.

People will be able to find others to come together, helping each other to renew their hopes and lives, with very little risk of being found by the "wrong" people.

How might this all actually work? A set of pages outlining a user's interactions with the system shows an evolving conception of some of the details. As currently envisaged, the system groups enquiries into six major areas:

The first and the last of these will cover the highly lucrative market for jobs and personal ads, revitalised with the ideas set out above. The first two areas split sharing living arrangements from the personal interests, as personal relationships of interest are not necessarily tied to sharing living space, whether flats, houses, communal living or broader communities. Living space is tied to location, while personal relationship may or may not be.

For those of a more technical interest, there are separate pages on the architecture of the system as a whole, and the information structures within it. Here is an index to these.

The original name "CHOICES" was devised as an acronym standing for "Common Human Online Information Correspondence Enquiry System". Perhaps this is as accurate and relevant now as it was right at the beginning.