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NYSIA: Government By The People, 2.0 | blog.deanland.com

NYSIA: Government By The People, 2.0

NYSIA: Government By The People, 2.0

The New York Software Industry Association (NYSIA)  holds monthly general meetings, in which a panel of experts on a given topic holds a conversation, followed by a Q&A session from the audience.  On Monday January 12, 2009 the topic was "Government By The People, 2.0."  The venue was a meeting room provided by JP Morgan-Chase at their World Headquarters in Midtown, NYC.  Note that this session took place eight days before the Inauguration.

I took extensive notes during the discussion and offer them here for your edification and comment.

Howard Greenstein, President of The Harbrooke Group and Director of Programs and Special Interest Groups for NYSIA, moderated the panel.  Howard did his usual excellent job moderating and guiding the discussion, and last night he assembled a panel of experts who cover the field, participate in it, and offered significant comment on the impact of  New Tech and Social Networking on the 2008 election process, and how this might indicate politics in times to come.  Howard guided and participated with them in an illuminating conversation.

The panelists :

  * Josh Levy, Managing Editor, Change.org

   * Rachel Sterne, CEO, GroundReport

   * Tom Watson, Managing Partner, Cause Wired, LLC

   * Micah Sifry, Co-Founder & Executive Editor, Personal Democracy Forum

My notes from the session: 

Howard Greenstein introduced the panelists and described the topic: Government By The People, 2.0 -- Is there really potential for significant changes?  Is this real or just perception?  How can we make Govt. 2.0 work for us.  How can we take the New Tech and Social Media and Networking tools used by the campaigns in 2008 and apply these principles for the benefit of NGOs, Non-Profits, future campaigns on all scales, and can these tools be used for small company advantage?

Howard then began by asking, Did Social Media and Tech influence the outcome of the 2008 election?

Micah:  We need first to define "Social media" and "New Media?" Do we mean as opposed to capital intensive broadcast media?  If we mean Social Networking, YouTube, created and shared content, then the answer is  obviously yes.  Barack Obama won the Democratic Primary battles due to his campaign's astute use of internet based technologoes in the development of communities. They saw the wave of mass participation growing, they rode it as they needed to; this helped raise more money faster than anyone else.  It was the campaign's mantra: "get the primary political actors, political officials and union people on our side."   At first in the early stages of the Primaries, the feeling was that Hillary Clinton already had them.  But Obamaís small base helped attack and keep the advantage in all-important caucus states, The plan was to get the delegates.  This was innovative: they organized a massive base of potential support into pyramid shaped cells of preceint level organizations (but not in NY, which was considered HRC territory) in red states & swing states, and ind California and other important ìmust winîstates.  They used internal systems to mobilize pople beyond basic grass roots activity.  The web and tech aspect of this was the engine and the power.

Josh: Yes, thatís specifically how they got ahead.  The Barack Obama for President tech team presented charts on how to best use of YouTube.  Barack Obama was all over YouTube & viewed more than the other candidates.  His speech in Philadelphia on race, which was a long speech, scored millions of views.  User generated videos and mashups from the campaign and by supporters (sometimes hosting hosting news broadcasts as mashups) allowed stories & platform issues to remain as stories both online and across MainStream Media.

Tom: Agreed,and this was a campaign from the bottom up.  There was benefit early and late in the campaign from a core of savvy supporters who did stuff for Obama, and did so on their own initiative.  The success of Barack Obamaís Soclal Networking infuenced MainStream Media.  It was a self perpetuating circle of activity that let MainStrea Media know early on that he was for real.

Rachel: This is like a mirror of what goes on in "actual media."  Everyone can participate, be a part of the conversation.  Small citizen journalism abounded (such as Newsvine, Ground Report) with reports from people on the ground, from all over.  Another example, crossing over to MSM is iReports CNN.  We see tech and politics converging online.

Howard asked the panel if the media is now routed around, and thus more decentralized.  Obama was everywhere, shouted like "Bingo!" in all quarters.  What about McCain?  It seems his name was barely used at all (in local citizen media); how did Republican efforts do at this?  It was always said earlier (2004) that the GOP had a better data base and ground level operation.

Micah: I was amazed to see GOP field fold back from their strong '04 effort.  Wís re-election campaign was seamless in its  use of the web.  Hundreds of thousands of GOP supporters had "walk lists," and knew how to generate activity in their own neighborhoods.  His campaign in '04 knew how to merge voter lists and neighborhoods, this effort was far better in 2004 than the Democrats'.  Kerryís tools were a mess.  In 2008 the Democrats innovated, they had to. The Republican field effort seemed to be all over the place, but not in focus.  Oddly enough, Ron Paul was the star of their field.  He enabled tremendous amounts of creativity.  The term ìMoney Bombî originated in his campaign.  His team developed the "Virtuous Circle of People" who said, "let's get together and all donate on same day."  That was The Money Bomb. On Nov 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, Ron Paul raised over $5M.  Then on December 16th, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, there was another tremendous raise for Ron Paul.  McCain, "the last grown up standing," seemed as though either he did not ìget it" or care enough about the internet. 

The Republicans made astute use of targeted ad placement.  Thousands of keywords were bought on Google, but we live in the age of mass participaton in politics.  The tools are easy to use, and not just by the early adopters.  Comments [on the net] were made all over.  1 of every 4 voters saw home made video, 1 of 5 created their own content  This is the environment everybodyís swimming in now.  There were 150 million online views of campaign videos.  For Obama there were 120M views, for McCain only 30M.  Itís a no-brainer that you must have a full service operation centered on one's own own website as well as other platforms.  The Democrats were far ahead of the Republicans on this.

Rachel: We must ask about consumption & participation patterns. Are those on The Left more active than Republicans?  Who are people who were NOT involved in that round? Those not engaged?

Josh: The McCain camp acknowledged that they dropped the ball on using the web.  Use of web is equal, on both sides.  Everyone watches YouTube  Entertainment.  The tools are available to all, and have been since the 80s & the 90s.  The Republicans use talk radio more than the Democrats, but usage of the web by regular people is not tipped toward either side.

Howard asked if the campaign staffs were limited by campaign officials in how much they could blog or post,and exactly how much control was exerted.  Was it top-down control?

Tom: Yes. But understand that so many people (outside the campaign's inner circle) had access to tools, and that they, as outsiders not under the banner of the campaign,  could not be controlled.  Obama was well organized in the individual and critical states during primaries when stakes were critical.  They managed and delivered a tightly controlled message from top to bottom.  And we can  expect the new administration to have a tightly controlled message.  Driving for a single vote is different from pushing for legislation.

Micah: Too much time is being spent discussing message versus organization.  Obama's field people wouldn't talk during campaign (rather, they stayed "on message") but will talk now.  They had a massive resource to tap. They could have responded to tens of thousands of doorknob volunteers ñ they understood that would be wasting energy and creativity, so the organizing model evolved: How to get the most talents out of their people and turn them into organizders?  The answer: Find a leader, hand out responsibility.  It was all about Control - one couldnít get "on the record" quotes from the Obama staff, as there was tight control.  Yet at the ground level they were giving the responsibility of rounding up 5,000 votes per district in OH (for example) to get districts organized.  Usage of this capacity to organize, despite the intense top down, control is HUGE.

Howard asked the panel their opinions on how people would make use this technology for themselves or their businesses.  What can we learn from the Obama campaign? Have the panelists learned from this, is it effective in what they do?

Rachel: Look at the trade-off between bottom up/top down: it is structure!  They were totally open when they began Ground Report ñ this was a mistake.  They've learned not to accept everything, but in fact to get rid of bad stuff, let good stuff rise to the top.  Example: The Huffington Post's "Off The Bus" (Amanda Rachel) was true Citizen Journalism. The viewers rewarded some of them (the posts on GroundReport), and this made them feel invested in the project.  It is now open -- but structured.  Like Linux and Wikipedia, it is a created and participatory sytem but it rewards creative levels of content. 

Josh:  Yes, it is most applicable.  The basic idea for Change in America, as in change.org, arose from this.  Obama signaled that he wanted to hear from you and is listening.  So at change.org those issues with the most votes win.  The top 10 ideas will be presented to the administration.  We'll know the winners as of Friday.  This effort was totally a social endeavor: free for all.  Simply submit an idea, get the word out, vote for favorites.  Various groups that might have been considered latent were able to get organized.  For instance, NORML was very organized (isn't that ironic?!) so they are there, at the top of the competition. 

This model works for all. profit or non profit. You can lobby the Obama administration.  Will this NORML effort work?  Well, if it does, it will probably manifest via medical marijuana.  In a sort of "wisdom of crowdî manner, and it must be a diverse crowd (race religion, color, class) in order to obtain a wide range of ideas.  This is actual and interesting participation, not to be hijacked.  In this case a well organized group can partipate in the democratic process.

Tom: Everybody is equal?  This is not true ó the most talented, organized passionate ones may or may not have time on their hands.  What we see in these in these cases, in "cause campaigns", is that the cream rises to top, and then we see the tools being used by those who are organizers, and they empower the leaders.  Even in the best causes the reality is that not just everybody gives $10.  To maximixze effort one needs a cadre of leaders.

Howard asked Rachel if she would  be specific on how GroundReport figured out who created good content and to determine which participants have leadership powers to rise to top?  Also, what were her best experiences, and how she would advise others to use such tools and knowledge. 

Rachel:  Basically, we began with a ratings system (like Digg), and that evolved to 5 star system.  Only highly rated content makes it to the front page.  Abuse is reported (everyone polices it), and if copyright infringement occurs it is immediately ousted.  To become an editor we follow the Wikipedia editor rules.  So users can point to a  profile and it will show the editor's track record and expertise, their credentials, training, where they went to schooland so forth.  Once someone becomes an editor they can flag content, rate things highly and go and edit any pece on the site (using the Wikipedia versioning method).  But the  biggest carrot of all: we pay our contributors.  We issue revenue shares based on the volume of unique traffic.  So we combine a financial and a reputation incentive.  The editors are arbiters of taste as well as audience.  Steve Mann from SAP spoke about this, SAPís online community has over 1M users , 800,000 of which are active, and yet just a few people maage the community.  The highly rated people in the community get stolen by companies.  A high rating becomes valuable currency in one's career path.

Micah: We are kidding ourselves if we think that those sorts of features work for everybody.  Right now we are sitting on the tip of a volcano.  For instance on the Change.gov site: it experiments faster than the GSA, inviting people to post questions to the Obama transition team.  People can vote on those questions.  So it is completely organic, there's little or no national media exposure.   100,000 people voted on 9,000 questions, that added up to over 4 million votes.  This will grow exponentially when he is President.  Nothing that works this well on that scale has been invented to this date.  We are at the early stages, learning how to use these tools.

An audience member expressed an interest in the nutsíníbolts, how to help create forums for business.  Does it  only takes 2 or 3 people to manage a million people?  How many people will it take, how long does it take?

Tom: for small organizations it is absolutely crucial that head of the organization has to be a true believer and carve out the time to do it, to participate in the process.  They cannot outsource it, must be authentic.  Authenticity is crucial.  It has to start from the top, it canít be farmed out.

Howard mentioned examples from Inc Magazine articles on how CEOs market small businesses.  Mentions of this appeared in the start-up blog, as well as five other articles.

Tom: Barack Obama's devotion to his Blackberry is practical and hugely symbolic.  He's fighting for it, offering yet another signal to that cadre of online supporters that he is plugged in.

Josh: ChangeAmerica is similar to change.gov -- it is the same narrow role they're working in.  There are two assumptions we should discuss regarding these forums:

    1) That the target (in this case Obama as President) will absolutely yield to will of people and answer questions asked on the site.

But the truth of the matter is that he's not obligated.  Change.org does not represent an obligatory institution. 

    2) That anything voted on and posted will have to be responded to [by the Administration].

Again, there is no obligation.  But is can be a voice of many people, in some cases many strident people with narrow concerns as well as those putting voice to concerns of the many. 

There are lots of questions regarding prosecuting the outgoing administration for for war crimes, and then there are  questions and discussions regarding whether or not September 11th was an inside job, and so forth.  The  language on change.gov looks forward, not backward.  You'll find much of the same language on both sites, there's much overlap.  Moderators must keep things civil, keep it democratic.  It requires heavy moderation.

Rachel: It is important to think about who built the platform, whatís the motivation and intent?  Changing politics and changing government are two very  different things.  How effective will it be if it is not in line with the Administrationís goals & strategy? 

Micah: There's another question worth asking: What is Democracy 1.0? I'm still waiting for it.  The President of The United Stated is under no obligation to answer questions at any time.  Press conferences are held at the whim of the President.  Freedom of the Press is okay, but there's no specific or mandated obligation to answer the questions of The Press. 

So when people are calling for a special prosecutor, they're trying to force action by using this process.

Barack Obama is trying to be more transparent, more searchable, to find influence from the process.  The transition team has been remarkably transparent.  They've promised they'll be using wikis and blogs and have committed to being more interactive.  It could be we'll see YouTube Fireside Chats.  But there's absolutely no guaranty that change will come or that it will be more than what we have now.

Letís not kid ourselves.  Just because we have new tools, and can be more visible, and this is less costly than ever. it doesn't mean there are fewer gatekeepers.  It is a healthy change, but what we get is more up to us than to expect that this is what the elected(s) will do.

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A spirited Q&A session followed, and Howard spoke of some very interesting Special Interest Group meetings to be held in January by NYSIA.  Looks like 2009 will be a great year for NYSIA with Howard running the monthly meetings and coordinating the SIG sessions.