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May 30, 2009

The YouTube election … in Iran

Hamid Tehrani at GlobalVoices posts about how Iranian candidates for the presidency are using YouTube…including controversies about jokes and ad hoc footage…

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January 20, 2009

New WhiteHouse.gov

Within minutes, the new WhiteHouse.gov went up. (Here’s the before and after.) The first blog post (yes, blog post) promises communication, transparency and participation. At the moment, though, there’s no way to participate, including no comments on the blog. I do admit that it’s not obvious how best to enable conversation on this site. (There’s a page that promises more participation.)

All the original content is copyright free, of course. Third-party content is posted under a CreativeCommons license.

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December 21, 2008

Trippi on Obama’s direction connection

Joe Trippi is doing a chat at FireDogLake. Here’s one of his responses:

I think we are about to see the first “Connected” presidency. JFK was the first Television president — Obama will be first “connected” president — and congress is going to be the big loser in all this — because I think we are going to see a President directly connected to more Americans than any other President in history — and when 25 members of Congress are standing in the way of health care reform — they are going to find themselves standing between Barack and a hard place — between the President and millions of Americans organizing to pass his agenda. On the other hand the Obama administration is the Wright Brothers now — no one has ever done this before and there is a lot they could get wrong — being too careful and listening too much to the Washington establishment.

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November 10, 2008

Can the White House blog?

I like the fact that the Obama administration put up a site – Change.gov – for the transition within a couple of days of winning the elections. I like that it has a blog. But it isn’t yet a real blog. It’s a news page, written in the safe voice of the trained professional.

It’s early days, so I mainly want to appreciate it, not criticize. But there are reasons to think a White House blog is always going to tend towards the bland.

A president could blog, speaking in his or her own voice. But, have you seen the list of what President Obama has to deal with? If he has time to blog, he’s not paying attention.

But maybe the White House could blog. The problem is that America is a big and diverse country. Some of us are Democrats and some are Republicans. Some of us like our news straight up, and some of us don’t respect it without a side order of snark. Some of us think the world is too serious to be made fun of, and some of us think the world is too serious not to be made fun of. Some of us want lists and footnotes, and some of us want videos and typos. So what do you do? Come up with an informative-but-bland blog that offends no one?

Or perhaps you offer a full plate of bloggers. A White House online magazine, so to speak. Lots of voices, opinions, and styles. A Greek chorus for the President, made up of divergent voices. How divergent? For an official White House blog, I would think it’d have to be pretty mainstream, because it’d be speaking for the President’s administration. Even so, knowing that this blogger is an amazing font of facts about telecom policy, and that one is able to put industrial policy into an historical context, and that other one is capable of occasional crackling sarcasm when discussing energy policy, well, that’d be extremely cool.

It’d take courage … and some grade-A metadata to remind people that bloggers speak more loosely than the press secretary does. But by having, say, a dozen in-house people blogging to start, the administration would have a unique way to keep citizens informed, would continue to build trust and intimacy with the American people, and would be able to try out and improve ideas in the cauldron of public conversation…for comments would definitely have to be turned on.

This may be a terrible idea. In any case, I think it is a very unlikely idea. The risk would be high: Political opponents would certainly seize on posts at every opportunity. But how long can we live in fear of being taken out of context? At some point, don’t we just have to trust the American people to understand that it’s important to be able to talk like human beings amongst ourselves?

I dunno. I’d love to see it. Or, preferably, a much better idea. [Tags: ]

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October 28, 2008

Crowdsourcing a fair election

Just a reminder: MyFairElection.com is asking people to sign up to report on the conditions they find at their local polling place so that the site can create a “weather map” of electoral fairness.

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October 23, 2008

Twittering for fair elections

Volunteer programmers, designers and activists across the country will coordinate in online chat rooms and at real-world coding parties on Friday to build Twitter Vote Report, a groundbreaking web election monitoring system to fight voter suppression and disruption efforts. Anyone with a Twitter.com account will be able to use their cell phones or computers to send a message notifying voters, election monitors, and the media of problems around the country. A web map will display incidents in real-time.

For more info about how you can help, here. And if you want to help out on Friday’s code jam, go here. [Tags: ]

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September 27, 2008

Washington Post debate mashup

The Washington Post has a nice set of interactive features for “decoding” the debates.

You know what would be even better? The open access Larry Lessig and a left-right coalition is calling for.

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September 23, 2008

Public comment on bail-out bills

PublicMarkUp lets you — yes, you — comment on the Paulson and Dodd proposals…

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September 20, 2008

Democracy’s susceptibility to software

I want to propose an hypothesis.

Suppose our new president gets serious about using the Internet as a tool of governance. So, he takes his email list and uses it to kickstart a new e-gov social network. In fact, his opponent provides his email list, too. So, let’s say we have 5M on this network. Let’s say it prominently features blogs and forums. Let’s say after two years there are 30M registered users, and some good percentage of those are at least occasionally active. Of course, I’m making all of this up.

Now, the problem the Internet has faced almost from the beginning is how to scale conversations. We’ve solved it time after time, whether it’s threading and forking Usenet discussions or Amazon’s reviews of reviews. So, let’s imagine that this new social network solves the problem through a combination of forking (or recursive conversations … see orgware [Disclosure: I’m an adviser]) and reputation, more or less along the DailyKos lines.

So, 30M people are engaged in vital conversations. Some people gain prominence in discussions on particular issues. The administration notices this. The relevant government policy makers want to engage in these conversations, because otherwise the 30M citizens feel like they’re being ignored. The emergent discussion leaders become the online points of contact between the administration and the conversations, because that’s how those conversations scale.

For example, PolarKing111 gains an enormous reputation because he writes about polar warming so knowledgeably and passionately, because he engages with all sides in the discussion with respect, and because he’s so good at representing all the various opinions. Administration officials engage with him on the site, often in a spirited back-and-forth. He ably represents the concerns emerging from the many discussions on the site. It’s a public dialogue with just enough structure, one unlike any our democracy has seen.

Inevitably, one day in early 2011, the media will discover that PolarKing111 is a 15 year old girl, but that’s not my point. My point is that the emergent online discussion leaders play a role unprecedented in our democracy. They are not elected yet they represent us. They are not members of the government yet they directly affect government. They have some power but the power comes from an emergent process. We don’t even have a word for this role.

Of course, I’m making all of this up. It’s just an hypothesis. Yet, it’s easy to imagine something like this happening, while it simultaneously being impossible to predict exactly what will happen. Nevertheless, there’s a strong possibility that some form of e-gov social network will emerge, either from the government or from the people. This social network could create new roles or processes of democracy that could well turn out to be quite important. But, just as Facebook can alter the nature of privacy by deciding whether or not to set a checkbox on or off by default, the roles and processes of this new layer of democracy will depend to a large degree on small decisions about how the software happens to work.

Democracy is susceptible to software.

Personally, I think that’s likely to be a good thing. But, who knows?

No one, that’s who.

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September 8, 2008

Canadian election gets down and redolent of loam

The tag line at the Canadian Conservative Party’s Web site, attacking the liberal candidate Stéphane Dion — as you know, the PM just called for an election — seems oddly 19th century:

“Canada cannot afford risky experiments at a time of uncertainty”

It’s as if Obama were to say, “My opponent’s steadiness of purpose is challenged by recent announcements seemingly at odds with this character,” or if McCain were to say, “To what end shall our nation proceed if driven by hands untested by trial?”

The Conservative site does feature “MyCampaign,” a “virtual campaign office,” that lets you write letters to editors, recruit friends, call talk radio, and engage in other acts of personal broadcasting. As far as I can see, there’s no actual social networking available.


The Liberal party site does some Ajax-y launch-on-hover things, and has a prominent link to Facebook where Dion has 12,000 supporters. The page was updated on Dec. 14, June 19, and Aug. 19. The Liberal’s YouTube page leads with a video of a slow clap for nature, posted two months ago.

The NDP’s Facebook page has 13,000 supporters and a campaign video uploaded yesterday, although the updates have been about monthly. And the NDP has been twittering. Well, to be exact, they’ve tweeted three times, but once was six minutes ago. They have 169 followers, but are following 151, creating an amazing following-to-follower relationship that they can only hope will not be sustainable in the long run.

(And, yes, although I’m being snarky about the Canadian Web sites’ campaign rhetoric, I do prefer it to America’s.) [Tags: ]

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