Posted by: Ian Bruk | August 18, 2006

The Evolution of Open Government

From the EchoDitto Blog:

Woodrow Wilson once said, “Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.” And while he couldn’t have foreseen the boom of interconnectivity the Internet has been bestowing on the 21st century, the quote seems apropos.

The Internet, with its abundance of social networking sites, message boards and forums, is the seat of an entirely new power. This power was fairly clearly demonstrated by the blogosphere’s takedown of Dan Rather during the National Guard Fiasco and in the more recent recall by Reuter’s of doctored photographs. But these successes emerged in large part spontaneously from amidst the groups involved. There is generally no central guiding force behind the efforts of web communities. That’s not to say, however, that the power of the Internet is beyond harnessing.

As a pseudo-news pundit, Stephen Colbert would traditionally have sway over a large audience. But he is an excellent example of a direct harnessing of the webs collective forces. On more than one occasion Colbert has directed his audience to directly affect a website (first editing the Wikipedia entry on elephants, then to vote on the Hungarian Bridge name, and to submit names for a team mascot. The simple effectiveness of these commands (Colbert increased traffic to the mascot site by tenfold) stands as a testament to the power of directed masses.

If you take this lesson and apply it to the web then, the possibilities seem endless.

In the political sphere, the sheer level of activity of the web demographic makes it an ideal target, an example dramatized by the Lamont-Lieberman race in Connecticut. Lamont’s web presence was far superior, and the tech-consciousness of his campaign stood in sharp contrast to Lieberman’s, which accused opponents of a denial of service attack when in fact their own service was inadequate. Future politicians can’t afford to ignore the latent power of the web.

With the rapid assent of Social Networking Sites, they seem to be the most logical place to begin to tap the human resources of the web. It seems only natural that all too soon Candidate X will be sending voters friend requests on MySpace, or broadcasting their speeches through YouTube.

Recognizing this potential is the first of two steps to harnessing it. The second is simply starting to organize. Any active member of a web-community has at their fingertips a potential pool for a fundraiser, food-drive, or political demonstration. It’s nice to know that the power really is with the people, so long as they don’t get stuck in the tubes.

( categories: Organizing )


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