Posts from November 2003

You WILL join a community because I said so!

You WILL join a community because I said so!
: Martyn Perks at Spiked [via Smart Mobs] tears into the BBC’s community venture iCan in a rich and telling analysis.

iCan is supposed to let people start movements.

Perks complains that there are too many rules: “Surely iCan should be renamed iCan’t. No wonder the current featured campaign is about banning chewing gum.”

He also complains about the anonymity of it, which he says will actually lead to much flouting of those rules and nasty chatter rather than real and constructive movements.

He complains about people meeting online rather than in person. I disagree with that one. I’m now more likely to meet and join up with fellow citizens online than I am at some tedious town meeting or political event.

But here are his most interesting complaints. First:

Here the BBC is addressing its future role, taking its cue from a political elite that is unable to connect with an uninterested population. From voter apathy to the police struggling to prove their accountability, we must suffer more attempts to coerce us into playing ball.

Right. Communities can be coercive. Back in the early days of online, executives of this new medium fretted about how to get everyone involved and if everyone didn’t start chatting with everyone else, they thought it all a failure. That’s clearly wrong-headed. But it’s a problem online and politicians and news people often share: They want to define what “involved” means. But they cannot and should not. We’ll get involved when we bloody well want to. And don’t insult us by assuming we’re dolts if we don’t do what you think we should do.

Perks’ last complaint is his most intriguing:

Also, reducing the effort needed to start a campaign will greatly reduce its impact. As if there aren’t enough charities and single-issue campaigns to deal with, iCan would continue to personalise and individualise our experience of the world…. Imagine it – a new campaign for every day of the year. In reality, iCan can’t deliver what it promises. The faith some have in iCan avoids tackling real issues head-on and belittles us with a safe, comfortable idyll. By playing village politics we will lose sight of how to better society through considered debate and, when necessary, confrontation.

Well, it’s not all about storming the barricades. Perks should not, in turn, belittle those who fight for an issue that matters to them in their town. But what interests me is the idea that you need some barrier, some speedbump to make a movement worthwhile and I think that’s true: Even with every new tool of this networked world, if you don’t convince people to join you and create a critical mass, you don’t have a movement; you have only blather.

The cure to the TV news blues

The cure to the TV news blues
: Here’s the real cure to the TV news problem (see the post below): be your own producer. MSN has up a beta of its pick-your-own-news video service. It’s pretty good. They offer 10 stories. I watched two. I’m happy. Iwatched their commercial. They’re happy.

Think of this as a video blog.

Or think of it as the video GoogleNews.

It’s TV news on my terms. I can skip that stupid busiest-travel-day-of-the-year story today. And I can skip those stupid busiest-shopping-days-of-the-year on Friday and the day after Christmas. I’ll also skip most city-digs-out-after-blizzard stories, thank you. And I’ll admit that I’m not getting much out of the conjoined-twins-separated-in-long-and-risky-operation stories, either.

Give it a try. [via Lost Remote]

: UPDATE: See also Terry Heaton’s column that adds to this citizens’ video.

I’m working on just that now.

The at-home primary

The at-home primary
: Fred Wilson wasn’t sure whether he supported Dean or Clark. So he invited Clark — and 70 close friends — over to his house. How does it feel to be Iowa, Fred?

Now Fred is backing Clark.

When Clark announced, I had hopes for him. But those hopes keep getting dashed.

I’m appalled by his promise to sign a Consitutional amendment banning flag burning. During Vietnam, authorities in New York started arresting people for displaying the peace-sign-American-flag button. My father — a staunch Republican, a veteran, a proud patriot — was so incensed at this violation of Constitutional rights of free speech that he asked me to give him one of my buttons and he wore it with defiance: Arrest me! I was so proud of him for that. I’m not proud of Clark’s stand. It’s Constitutionally naive and dangerous. It’s pandering that will get him nowhere.

I’m quite unimpressed with his “plan” for Iraq: pull the hell out and hand it over to Iraq now, with minor help. That is downright irresponsible. We have a moral duty to help the Iraqi people build a strong democracy and economy. Pulling out, Vietnam-like, won’t do that. This, too, is pandering.

And as a test of leadership ability, thinking on his feet, and just being smart, Clark failed bigtime with his waffling on whether he would or would not have signed the Iraq resolution.

Fred: Can you have a few other candidates over for coffee?

: Fred answers me and I answer him in his comments. I won’t get into the specifics of our back-and-forth here; go give him the page views.

But I do want to repeat this:

Damn, this is fun. It’s practically making politics engaging again.

Thanks to this crazy medium, I’m only a degree of separation away from a man who would be President.

When I covered the New Hampshire primary, lo, many years ago, I got close; I asked them questions and shook their hands and reported what they said. But I did not to get into a discussion of issues. Here, I’m playing issue tennis with the guy who is influential enough to have Wes over to his place. You can, too. Smaller circles. More substance. More influence. For more people.

There’s something important going on in this campaign that we haven’t been able to grok yet. We’ve all noted it: the Dean blog; the Dean comment community; the catch-up candidates’ blogs; Meet-up; voters’ blogs….

This, I believe, could be the rebirth of true bottom-up politics.

What the BBC is doing (see the iCan post above) and what news sites do when they create what they call “interactive” games that let you push buttons and act as if you’re in power (see the post below) are still top-down: The powerful let you play as if power were a toy.

Real power is about being heard by power. Real power is about having real influence. And one way or another, a bit at a time, real people can gain real power here. I even think there’s a business in this.

It’s way, way too soon to know whether it’s really working. But I smell the barely budding flower of change.

: Note, separately, that Andrew Sullivan supports Wesley Clark over George Bush on the matter of government and God.

If you already know it, is it news?

If you already know it, is it news?
: If I ran a TV news operation (not likely), I’d come on the air on this day every year and say: “People, you know and I know that there’s going to be a lot of traffic today, right? Busy roads, busy airport. Been there, done that story a million times. So I’m not going to insult your intelligence and do it again. I’m not going to waste my precious resources and do it again. I’m going to give you the news, instead.”

You wonder why young people don’t watch or read the news much? Could it be that they often turn on the TV and say, “I already knew that.” What’s the value in telling me what I already know? Is that news? Or is it just a waste of my time?

Blogging Times

Blogging Times
: If I were editor Len Apcar or president Martin Nisenholtz or NY Times Public Editor Dan Okrent, I’d feel like the only atheist in Alabama: bait for every evangelist in sight. We bloggers are going after them with religious fervor, trying to get the Times to blog, trying to convert them to the Church of Blog (what are we, Bloggists?).

I’ve personally gone after all three of them. That might seem odd; you’d think I’d want to keep this living-in-two-faiths, big-media/nanomedia schizo thing to myself and a small fraternity of fellow religionists. But no, like any evangelist, I subscribe to the view: the more the merrier. Once The Times blogs, we won’t have to explain what blogging is anymore; we won’t have to put up with conference-haunting journalists dismissing this phenom as a fad; we’ll all get more readers and more to read. Once The Times blogs, everyone will. And no, that won’t coopt the form; that will explode the form. That will be good for blogging. And what’s good for blogging is good for the citizens.

(I’m just a Populist in the temple of the Bloggists, you see.)

: Now Jay Rosen goes after Okrent to start a blog as the perfect form for his ombudsmanian duties. Rosen’s right: A weblog lets Okrent note and respond to (or not respond to) criticism and comment about the Times: “The weblog becomes the place where voices from the reading public, and voices from the editorial staff, are placed artfully into conversation by the presiding voice of the editor.” I can see that the blog also presents a few issues for someone in that position, for every word will be dissected (a frightening prospect in a medium of such immediacy). Weblogs are a personal medium with a personal voice and that needs to be squared with speaking for an institution (and an industry). But I agree with Jay: Weblogs are a good way to meet the public editor’s and The Times’ goals. Weblogs are also the right voice for a public editor, as I advised here. And Okrent would be an awesome weblogger because he’s damned smart, has a great voice, and lives in interesting Times.

: A prediction: I’ll bet you’ll be seeing weblogs from The Times sooner than you think….