Not quite, Times

The Times — like many people in power — seems to have trouble grasping the full impact of the internet handing control over to the people. They have real trouble turning their personal prisms around to look at the world from the bottom up instead of their usual top down. Or to put it another way, they can’t figure out anymore who’s the dog, who’s the tail, and who’s wagging whom.

Today’s quaintly late story about the internet changing politics is exhibit A; another story that’s just shocked at big things not coming from big corporations is exhibit B; and throw in there the story about the shrinking digital divide, which I wrote about below, and the paper’s amazement that the internet is growing on its own.

The problem is that they still think the internet is something the powerful use to affect the rest of us. Wrong. It’s what the rest of us use to affect the powerful.

See this, the second graph, from Adam Nagourney’s political story:

Democrats and Republicans are sharply increasing their use of e-mail, interactive Web sites, candidate and party blogs, and text-messaging to raise money, organize get-out-the-vote efforts and assemble crowds for a rallies. The Internet, they said, appears to be far more efficient, and less costly, than the traditional tools of politics, notably door knocking and telephone banks.

Note how he portrays the internet: as a tool for politicians in power. But way lower down in the story, there’s this anectode — which is the real lead — about people who won’t be used and now wield power of their own:

On the left in particular, bloggers have emerged as something of a police force guarding against disloyalty among Democrats, as Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic consultant, learned after he told The Washington Post that bloggers and online donors “are not representative of the majority you need to win elections.”

A Daily Kos blogger wrote: “Not one dime, ladies and gentlemen, to anything connected with Steve Elmendorf. Anyone stupid enough to actually give a quote like that deserves to have every single one of his funding sources dry up.”

That’s the real story, Times, and it’s only just beginning: Politics are changing not because those in power are learning to use these tools but because the people finally have these tools.

Now shift to the business story, in which Richard Siklos simply can’t compute the idea that people create things on their own because they can and want to and not because they’re hired to. He can’t comprehend the scale — the small is the new big — of bottom-up business.

There is another breed of rival lurking online for traditional media, and it is perhaps the most vexing yet: call it purpose-driven media, with a shout-out to Rick Warren, the author of “A Purpose-Driven Life,” for borrowing his catchphrase.

These are new-media ventures that leave the competition scratching their heads because they don’t really aim to compete in the first place; their creators are merely taking advantage of the economics of the online medium to do something that they feel good about. They would certainly like to cover their costs and maybe make a buck or two, but really, they’re not in it for the money. By purely commercial measures, they are illogical. If your name were, say, Rupert or Sumner, they would represent the kind of terror that might keep you up at night: death by smiley face.

Probably the best-known practitioner is, the online listing site….

But this isn’t just do-goooder business. It is, instead, the realization that the politicians never owned politics and the businesses never owned the market and journalists never owned the news. The people do. And that’s damned hard for some to get their heads around. It’s especially hard for the the politicians, the reporters, the moguls — the powerful.

: LATER: Eric Norlin responds with a smart analysis. I think he’s right on all points. And he makes a point I meant to: that the reason to be cheap is to grow your network as fast and large as possible and good things will come of that. Google was free and became huge. Craigslist ditto. Eric says:

If you look at the crop of startups, you'll see two common themes: filtering and aggregation. "Value lies at the aggregation point." - I forget who said it, but it rings in my head daily. Newspapers' value lies in aggregating readers for advertisers (not in some high-horsed journalistic elite). Google's value lies in aggregating viewers. Conferences aggregate audiences. MySpace aggregates teens. Facebook aggregates college students. O'Reilly aggregates developers. Aggregation is where the value lies. As Seth Godin said recently -- its not that the power of "mass" has lost its value, its that its much harder to find mass. Filtering: Pure "news" (items being pulled off the AP wire) are along the same lines as stock prices, they're commodities. But filtering, perspective, a trusted voice -- that brings tremendous value. And people flock to the filters that appeal to them. Podshow filters. Newsvine provides community filtering. Digg filters. Memerandum filters. Hell, Rush Limbaugh filters. And the *filtering* layers value onto the aggregation. The world of new media keeps focusing on "who's producing the content" -- journalists or bloggers, users or professionals, etc -- but its not about "content," its about filtering and aggregation. Therein lies the current keys to value (not that that won't change).