ut 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:
ADVERTISEMENT § 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
§ 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
Nor has it been coming from
politicians, not until recently.