by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VII, No. XVIII

This Week's Clue: Real Internet Politics

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This Week's Clue: Real Internet Politics
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Reports Of Internet Radio Death Somewhat Exaggerated
Geeks In An Unreal World
Unfunded Mandates
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 5, 2003

Some events have occurred in my own life that have moved me to re-evaluate what I have been writing about Internet politics.

In the short run it appears the Internet can prove its value quickly in local politics. But it will also take local groups time to learn the use of the Internet.

There is a training gap. The groups that close this gap most effectively, and win local battles in 2003, will have a big advantage in 2004.

What got me thinking about this was a proposal by DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones to (depending on how you feel about it) coordinate or take over youth sports in the county . Let me mention here that I live in DeKalb County. Both my kids play soccer with TYSA , a youth sports group that runs Henderson Park in Tucker, central DeKalb.

On April 21, about 1,100 TYSA parents were sent a cryptic e-mail, using the group's logo, urging them to attend a "Citizens' Advisory Board" (CAB) meeting the next evening at a former elementary school. About 40 out of the 1,100 showed up at 6 PM the next evening, only to be told by TYSA officials that the public portion of the meeting wouldn't happen for another hour.

There followed a disjointed session of rumor mongering. TYSA was about to be kicked out of the parks. TYSA would have to drop recreation soccer. DeKalb County wanted to tax TYSA, or seize its budget. It's all laid-out on the DeKalb County Web site (it isn't). At this point a DeKalb employee invited us into a small classroom, where the "private" CAB meeting was ongoing, so we might learn some truth.

It turns out the county has issues. Some groups (like TYSA) are good with paperwork and have volunteers to keep their parks clean. Others fail on one or both counts. I'm of two minds regarding this. When my son plays baseball in the summer for the local YMCA, we're treated as second-class by the Medlock Youth Baseball Association, which "runs" the park where we try to play. Now that his soccer is played for TYSA, I see their point. The Y does nothing to maintain the fields, yet insists on the right to use them.

What I emphasized to TYSA was how the Internet can be used to further their position, and that of other youth sports groups, with the county. This won't cost money, I pointed out. Simply use a shared list of directors from all the youth sports groups to learn exactly what the county is up to, and set a strategy for changing or stopping it. Then each member of the leadership list can use their own mailing list (like the TYSA list) to activate their members, with one-click access to a plain-English explanation of the issues, an online petition, and the e-mail addresses of county commissioners (and chairman Jones). Buttress this effort with a phone tree, to reach those who aren't Internet-active.

I received fulsome thanks. What I didn't receive was a follow-up.

Just because you have a working tool doesn't mean you know how to use it. This is why productivity jumped over the last few years even while investment in Information Technology was slowing. It's not just a question of learning to use the computer. It's a question of learning to get the most from the system. When you automate this, what does it do to that, and can you (perhaps) do without someone? Can you (perhaps) do something new?

The same thing is true in politics, only more so, since 99.9% of the people involved are amateurs. I got an e-mail just yesterday from my kids' school, complaining about a bill in Congress that would, it's feared, keep kids with ADD (like mine) from getting a public education. They wanted me to complain to Congress, but they didn't provide enough information. They said "this is bad, fight it" but didn't say why. Given that the bill's advocates seem to own the media on this issue I would look pretty stupid doing that. I'd be merely supporting a piece of "Astroturf," a fake grassroots campaign.

What the interest group (CHADD in this case) should do instead is e-mail its friends regularly, keeping them up to date on arguments, so that when its friends' friends need to be activated then its friends know what they're talking about. CHADD needs training and a better database, my son's school needs training in communicating with parents and the parents need training in communicating with their representatives.

That's a lot of training. The tools are there but few know how to use them.

So here is an opportunity. Someone should build an online training center. Someone needs to teach activists how to win on the local level, using Internet resources, so they can be activated at higher levels of government next year, and in years to come.

If a national political organization put in $10 million it could activate hundreds of local organizations that might then support national goals. The money would send trained Web facilitators into local communities, who would win local battles, and leave Web-based organizations in place. The technology in all cases would be compatible. You're talking then about democratic "sleeper cells" who could be awakened in the fall of 2004, transforming national politics based on a formula that is known to work.

The first political party to use this Clue wins the future. Right now the advantage is with the Republicans. They have the money. They dominate the blogosphere. They have the local organizations on the ground. But they have little incentive to try something new. Democrats have issues and over a half-dozen viable, independent national campaigns that don't have to wait for headquarters approval to move.

History is waiting. Let's see who seizes it.


SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

The reviews (well, some of them) are in. "Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame.

Find out what the excitement is about. Buy The Blankenhorn Effect at Amazon.Com , then go back and say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.

If you can convince some more published reviewers to read The Blankenhorn Effect and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond. This is a collection of columns from, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.

I have begun working full-time for MediaPost , but I have also written lately for BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of The Blankenhorn Effect on my "Moore's Lore" blog . I also contribute to NowEurope and GreaterDemocracy .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know . Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Shameless Promotion

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Takes on the News

Reports Of Internet Radio Death Somewhat Exaggerated

When the music industry imposed copyright payments on Internet radio there were a lot of predictions that Internet radio would die.

It didn't. But it did become more like real radio, which amounts to the same thing. Right now seven of the top 25 Internet radio "channels" belong to Clear Channel Communications, which dominates regular radio. The most popular way to find an Internet radio station, "Internet Radio Locator," is based on geography. Most Internet radio stations, in other words, are just piggy-backing on existing radio, and to make the numbers work you need the first to get the second. (That's really what the industry wanted in the copyright debate - no true cyber-competition.)

There is hope, however. Live365 lets you create your own playlist and, thus, your own station, which you can cybercast from their servers. Yahoo lets listeners create "LaunchCasts" based on titles in its collection. That's the kind of choice most people find acceptable. Most of us, in the end, are listeners, not DJs.

Still it's the failure (so far) to turn the Web into true competition for radio (and the industry's success in stomping out competition) that made Internet radio a quiet cul de sac on a noisy medium. If agents, bands, or clubs started using systems like Live365 to create custom streams they then advertised in the real world, we might get some change going. Find local bands without contracts, rip their music with their consent, and put together a few local "channels" that can then be played (royalty free) in local bars, clubs and restaurants, perhaps through a shared 802.11 system. Entrepreneurs are needed here, as well as entrepreneurial business models.


Geeks In An Unreal World

My wife had a problem with Paul Allen's "Experience Music Project." The headphones everyone wore turned a communal experience into an individual experience. Technology cut everyone off from their own humanity.

This year's O'Reilly conference went down that same rabbit hole. So many people were blogging, using Wikis, or IM'ing during the sessions that it seemed at times there was no audience at all.

Had anyone been listening, as opposed to broadcasting or playing reporter, they would have heard even more unreality coming from the stage. This was the conference where Howard Rheingold predicted progress would stop because governments and monopolies will it to stop . Those of us fighting the Copyright War (and losing it) have often used this argument, and defeat would seem to indicate we should still use it.

We shouldn't. Governments and corporations can't stop progress. They can only slow it and move it. They can move it underground, and they can move it overseas. They can slow it down mightily. But they can't stop it, unless people like Rheingold let it.

Instead of claiming "they won" (making the enemy feel better and us feel worse) conferences like this should be concentrating on finding ways around the law. If they won't let progress build a corporation build a conspiracy instead. And look to new paradigms, where government has yet to set its hand, in which you can build your fortune. Stop thinking about computers as being TV sets, tape recorders and typewriters bound together by wires - they're not. Computers are processing mediated by software. The network, not the chassis, is the base unit of computing in a wireless world.

There are still many ways to build the future, but none of these routes are easy. But nothing worth doing is easy. That is why it's wonderful.


Unfunded Mandates

The Bells and cable guys and FCC aren't killing independent ISPs.

Instead they're being killed by another broken promise of this Republican government, a rise of "unfunded mandates." When government demands that you save your traffic for their inspection, that is an unfunded mandate. When government demands that you narc on your users that is an unfunded mandate. When government expects you to give-up your users' identity whenever a big private company wants to hassle your customers, that is an unfunded mandate.

The problem isn't so much the cost - Bells and cable guys are equally subject to these unfunded mandates - as the hassle factor. In order to fulfill legal requirements, every ISP must build a bureaucracy that makes it no money, and that may be used seldom. The government isn't paying these costs but the government is imposing these costs. Bells and cable guys are accustomed to these bureaucratic processes. They're how they have kept out competitors for ages.

The real danger in all this is that, if unfunded mandates keep down wireless competition, there will be no real competition for the Bells and cable guys. The result in that case will be that other countries will have faster broadband take-up, a faster broadband learning curve, and more people trained to build and use the future than we do.

The irony is that all the independent ISPs I know of voted for this Administration. They feared the Clinton FCC, which was far kinder and gentler, because they had been taught to fear liberalism as one step removed from socialism and communism. They embraced Republican rhetoric as libertarian, ignoring the authoritarian impulse. And now they are paying at the hands of President Lud. What they need to do instead is organize, find (or create) politicians supporting their interests, and get busy. Instead, it seems most of them are rolling over. The word for that is unpatriotic.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is William Gibson for (believe it or not) giving up on blogging. Gibson's work is better when refined, not raw, and he needs to live in the future, not the present, to do his best work. His decision probably means something very good is coming this way.

Clueless was the decision forcing Verizon to give up its users' anonymity based on the music industry's say-so . Until this becomes a political issue, however, nothing will change. No one will give you your rights - you must take them.


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