The Rise of Open-Source Politics
But it is also true that insiderism and elitism have recently come under heavy attack, as everyone from Trent Lott to Dan Rather can attest. And it's not just Congress and big media whose hierarchies are being challenged; nonprofits and interest groups are feeling the ground shift too. "Members Unite! You have nothing to lose but your newsletters and crappy coffee-cup premiums," read the title of a recent post on WorldChanging.com, a blog devoted to fostering this movement. New web-based tools are facilitating a different way of doing politics, one in which we may all actually, not hypothetically, be equals; where transparency and accountability are more than slogans; and where anyone with few resources but a compelling message can be a community organizer, an ad-maker, a reporter, a publisher, a theorist, a money-raiser or a leader.
Consider these harbingers:
§ About two-thirds of American adults use the Internet, and more than 55 percent have access to a high-speed Internet connection at either home or work.
§ More than 53 million people have contributed material online, according to a spring 2003 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
§ More than 15 million have their own website.
§ A new blog, or online journal, is created every 5.3 seconds, according to Technorati.com, a site that tracks the known universe of these easily updated websites. As of November 1, there were almost 4.3 million blogs, a million more than three months before. More than half of them are regularly updated by their creators, producing more than 400,000 fresh postings every day. (Full disclosure: My brother David is the founder of Technorati.)
§ A well-written blog, Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo, gets more than 500,000 monthly visitors--as many as the entire website of The American Prospect, the magazine where Marshall used to work, at a fraction of the cost.
§ Of the approximately 400,000-500,000 people who attended a political meeting through the social-networking site Meetup.com this election season, half had never gone to a political meeting before. Sixty percent were under 40.
§ Attendees of Meetups for Democratic Party presidential candidates reported making an average of $312 in political contributions last year.
§ A two-minute political cartoon lampooning both Kerry and Bush, put out by JibJab.com this past summer, had 10 million viewings in the month of July--three times the number of hits on both presidential campaign websites combined--and has since been viewed another 55 million times.
But it isn't the quantity of interactions taking place that suggests the change under way; it is the quality of those conversations. If, as a New Yorker cartoon put it, "On the Internet, no one knows if you're a dog," on the Internet, no one likes it if you don't speak in a genuine human voice. Says Christopher Locke, one of the co-authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, a bible of sorts for business people trying to understand how the Internet is changing commerce:
Compared to this kind of personal, intimate, knowledgeable and highly engaged voice...top-down corporate communications come across as stale and stentorian--the boring, authoritarian voice of command and control. The glaring difference between these styles is the strange attractor that has brought tens of millions flocking to the Internet. There's new life passing along the wires. And it hasn't been coming from corporations.
Nor has it been coming from politicians, not until recently.