Technology and Competitive Debate

I have been involved with competitive debate since 2004, and the last 9 years have probably seen more technological advancement in debate than the last 100 years.  When I started, most evidence didn't exist in an electronic form at all, so it was advantageous for debaters to go to different camps to get a wide variety of paper copies of evidence.  Then, most camps started having PDFs of paper files.  Then, most camps started having text documents available.  Now, virtually every camp participates in the NDCA Open Evidence Project, so every school can get all the evidence from every camp with a free download.  Also, there is now a general expectation that every judge will post their judging philosophy on a wiki and that every debater will disclose their arguments and evidence on a wiki (after they have broken that strategy, of course).  

That said, there is definitely a lot that remains to be done regarding technology and debate.  A few of my ideas:

  • An evidence wiki.  A lot of research is repetitive from year to year and school to school because there isn't really a central place for things like backfiles.  The NDCA Open Evidence Project is a good start, but it only has camp files, it isn't collaborative, and the level of granularity is the file rather than the card.  I also like this idea because it would help small schools get started with backfiles, and it could help new debaters think more precisely about their arguments.  It would also be relatively easy to make it useful even without the collaborative aspects -- I could easily choose between multiple levels of highlighting, I could have it automatically generate an expected time for the evidence based on how fast I speak, I could have it automatically generate a file, it could be searchable, it could automatically incorporate version control, etc.  
  • An online debate class.  Right now, the resources for learning debate are fairly low fidelity (peer education at, a couple of online handbooks that provide a lexicon of terms and maybe a list of drills, and maybe some lectures posted from camps).  I imagine that some of the hundreds of debate coaches around the country would be interested in posting online lectures on introductory content (eg, person on the cliff lecture, what is a perm) and advanced content (eg, Deleuze, how to run the delay CP) that would be timeless.  Camps would probably also be interested in posting at least one lecture each per year as a way to advertise their camp to debaters across the country, and this would probably get a decent amount of topic-specific analysis.  Then, we would just have to collect a set of drills and a series of lesson plans, and we would make it much easier for folks without established programs to learn debate.
  • Higher fidelity online debates (eg, debate over Skype).  One big thing preventing poor (economically) kids from being more competitive in debate is travel costs.  If we could start having high quality electronic debates, that could help a lot.  I imagine that the technology would be pretty easy, but to make a splash, we would have to organize and promote an electronic tournament.
  • Good open-source tab software.  Right now, I believe that all tab software is closed source.  I haven't tabbed much, so I'm not sure if this is true, but I get the impression that most of it also has a moderately bad user interface, especially for folks running a tournament for the first time.  The DebateResults (see, for instance, and "How to Tab"), Joy of Tournaments, and Whitman College are working pretty actively on tab software, and they have added some very nice features (eg, see debaters' records and points as they get entered online; see pairings online; enter ballots online), but I don't think that the space is too crowded for free and intuitive software to help a lot of folks.

If you're interested in any of these and want to work on them, let me know!