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Pre-liveblogging my talk at Politics Web 2.0 (heh)

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, April 18 2008

Here are my notes for the talk I'm about to give at Politics Web 2.0 on "The Revolution Will Be Networked: How Open Source Politics is Emerging in America.”

--What do I mean by “open source politics”?

Back in 2004, I wrote a piece for The Nation called “The Rise of Open Source Politics” where I said:

“The term "open source" specifically refers to allowing any software developer to see the underlying source code of a program, so that anyone can analyze it and improve it; better code trumps bad code, and programmers who have proven their smarts have greater credibility and status. Applied to political organizing, open source would mean opening up participation in planning and implementation to the community, letting competing actors evaluate the value of your plans and actions, being able to shift resources away from bad plans and bad planners and toward better ones, and expecting more of participants in return. It would mean moving away from egocentric organizations and toward network-centric organizing.”Now, I don’t think we have achieved a full-blown version of OSP in America, nor is it clear if we ever will. But something new is emerging alongside the old, top-down, capital-intensive, big-donor and big-media dominated process -- something far more open and people-driven.

I would argue that what we are seeing isn’t so much a transition from a so-called web 1.0 to a web 2.0 model – let’s face it, these are mainly marketing terms – but the emergence of mass participation in the creative side of politics. Voters are no longer solely subjects of marketing campaigns aimed at obtaining their money, their time and ultimately their votes.

They are co-creaters of the political campaign now, and it is their ability to initiate their own messages, or actions, or groups AND to make those efforts salient by networking together that is the new factor in American politics.

[OK, this is where my notes turn into notes:]

Voter-generated content is the wild card of 2008:
-Message, Field, Money

-We can make and spread messages as well or better than they can:
(“Vote Different,”—5m views; “Yes We Can”—14m views (about 4x the # of visits to Obama’s website in February vs. “Hillary and the Band”—400K views)
--ParkRidge47 set out to make a “bold statement” about the primary race by “culture jacking a famous commercial….for people familiar with the ad and the race it has obviously struck a chord.” Phil later wrote on the Huffington Post: “I made the "Vote Different" ad because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary, and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process…. This shows that the future of American politics rests in the hands of ordinary citizens. This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last. The game has changed.”

-We can self-organize into salient grassroots networks that challenge the campaigns authority.
(Joe Anthony’s MySpace page for Obama; Farouk olu Aregbe’s Million Strong for Obama on Facebook; Huck’s Army recruited nearly 20K people for his campaign; Ron Paul’s supporters self-organized on Meetup.com: more than 100K active members at its height…Eventful politics as aggregating bottom-up demand for candidate appearances.)

We can challenge the dominance of big money in elections:
(Ron Paul’s money bombs were spurred by open fundraising; Obama’s sharing of the total number of donors with a live widget + matching new donors with prior donors; MoveOn’s support for DNC when threatened by Clinton big donors)

We can inject our stories into the mainstream
(Mayhill Fowler’s report on the Huffington Post as latest example)

We can reward content and punish fluff
(The Sound-blast is competing with the sound-bite)
--in the TV era, presidential soundbites on network news shows has dropped in length from 43 seconds in 1968 to just around 10 seconds in 2004. ;
--but online, the average length of Obama’s top ten videos on YouTube is more than 13 minutes

Lessons:
-The network is more powerful than the list:
(Which would you rather have: a million names on a list and Bill Clinton as the sender, or 1000 bloggers?)
(“Our people look like caucus-goers, their people look like Facebook.”)

-Networks are resilient, but not nimble
(Yes We Can interrupted a more important campaign message.)

-People-powered Networks and top-down campaigns can be allies, but they have crosspurposes, too.
(ex. Ron Paul blimp project…campaigns still don’t share authority with their supporters or seek their input on policy.)