NDN Blog

The Emerging Political Agenda from the Bottom Up

The bar just keeps getting higher when it comes to all the innovative ways new tools are being used in politics, and now, government. I’m referring to two very recent developments where average people are given opportunities to contribute their own ideas on what to  do about issues for a candidate, and for a sitting governor.

The first is Obama’s new feature on his campaign website where he gives people the opportunity to submit their ideas about what to do about the national health care problem. The ideas, and the supportive contributions, can take many forms: a written idea blurb, a written personal story, a video that sheds light on the issue, or a recorded audio message that people can  make with any computer with a microphone, which is most decent ones. The audio contribution was something I had not seen done before. But taken all together, the package opportunity is different too.

This appears to be just the beginning of many other tool rollouts for Obama. Healthcare is just the first issues of many that will soon appear but also the website indicates that there will be opportunities to collaborate in other ways too. Collaboration, after all, is the essence of the new power of what is called Web 2.0.

Then there’s Deval Patrick’s morphed campaign site. The new governor of Massachusetts, who rode the new tools and much bottom-up energy to his election victory, is now trying to harness them in governing. His nascent attempt gives residents a chance to propose and support issues that the governor should take up and try to enact.

It’s very early days in both these efforts, but they are telegraphing a trend that is bound to pick up steam in the months ahead. If this country is truly going to take on the new challenges of the 21st century in effective ways, then people in politics will need to tap into the creativity and brainpower of millions of Americans who have been shut out of politics and governing – until now.

Peter Leyden  

MySpace Primary: Social Networking Gone Wild

Social networking is going to play a big role in the politics of this cycle, but I think having a primary on MySpace might be going a bit far. We’ll see.

The MySpace primary seems to me to be gimmicky at this point, and I hope that does not turn off political people from the idea that social networking tools can be a powerful way to do what politics has always been about – connecting up people and their “social networks” of family and friends behind a campaign or candidate.

I made that point in an interview I did today around the breaking news. Separate the importance of social networking from the potential relevance of the MySpace primary. They should be evaluated on their own terms as two separate things.

There is no question that social networking will be big in politics – not the least because it is a critical medium to reach the Millennial Generation, that increasingly important young constituency.

There are a lot of questions about how a MySpace primary will fare in a real-world primary world. But you never know. I could be wrong….

Peter Leyden   

The Eventual Merging of the Online and Offline Advertising Worlds

Google’s attempts to evolve its advertising offering from the online into the offline worlds got a promising review in the New York Times. The short version of what’s going on is that Google is taking its online targeting ability, enhanced by technology, and trying to evolve it into the advertising world of traditional media.

One frontier is traditional radio, otherwise known as terrestrial radio (because  of the various new kinds like web-based radio and satellite radio). The Times piece interviews some of the early clients in the experiments and shows that they are encouraged that is seems to be working, thought the jury is still out. There is also a lot of worry from the traditional players and some legitimate concerns about whether it will ultimately work in a significant way.

Another frontier is the newspaper world, and those experiments seem to be going even better than radio. That makes sense because newspapers are text based and more fully integrated into the online world anyhow. But it’s interesting to see many of the top papers and chains talking about how it seems to be working.

The final frontier is the biggest one, television. Here’s one paragraph that gives you the sense of what is at stake:

Television advertising could prove particularly fruitful for Google, because the company might be able to combine its technology with that of cable systems to show different ads to different viewers based on demographics or personal interests. The company has said it is conducting a small trial with a few partners.

The point for politics is that all of the traditional broadcast media are evolving to take on more of the targeting capabilities of online advertising. This might take a long while to transition, but the trend is taking shape.

This is a good thing for those political people who take advantage early. It will allow you to use more effective, less expensive advertising to reach the people you need to reach.

Peter Leyden  

Ringtones as the Tip of the Mobile Media Iceberg

This week the Associated Press moved a story on how an environmental group is using ringtones of endangered species to raise awareness of this extinction  issue among people with mobile phones. You know, wolves in the wild or blue whales. I was quoted in the story as showing how this is just the tip of the iceberg of the ways that mobile media will be used in politics in the next couple years.

However, I elaborated on that concept this week in the public radio show Future Tense that airs on about 100 stations.  I talked about how those little snippets of sounds can actually have an impact on how people think. Remember that it goes off every time the phone rings, and that all of the person’s social network of friends and family who are around them will also hear the sounds and spark a conversation. And all those little sparks can add up to start a fire...

You can listen to the 5 minute podcast here.

Peter Leyden  

Fighting Misinformation in this Out-of-Control World

One of the beauties, and the dangers, of the new wide open world of the people-powered, bottom-up internet is that it’s out of anybody’s control. Politics,  which has long been about control from the center, has to radically adapt to this new reality.

There’s a whole argument that this trend ultimately benefits progressives, since conservatives have long prided themselves on their highly organized, highly controlled, highly packaged political campaigns that won’t work anymore. Progressives, on the other hand, are much more used to the art of herding cats.

Anyway, there is a bottom-up tool that helps combat the persistent false rumors and misinformation that so easily arise on the internet. It’s Snopes.com, which does about as good a job as can be done in chasing down urban legends and other wild viral  email chains.

Someone recently pointed out the page that has to do with misinformation about the political issue of Immigration. It’s worth checking it out as an example of where to look the next time some progressive is  swift-boated.

Peter Leyden   

The shifting norms of video advertising

A couple articles in the New York Times in the last couple days show how the world of advertising applied to motion media or video  is morphing. Today a story talks about the “surprising” fact that a decent proportion of people with Digital Video Recorders like Tivo do not skip ads. They make a big point about  a recent Nielsen Company report that shows that 42 percent of those who watch their programs at a time-shifted time, do, in fact, watch the commercials. The general assumption is that the percentage of those who watch ads is much lower, like very few. However, as Simon points out elsewhere on this blog, that number is more a creature of the transition to new habits. For 40 years people watched TV with ads and those habits will not change overnight. But change they will as the new options become easier and more ingrained in new habits.

The second story is about some of the new ways that video on the web is being supported by advertising. The piece does an overview of the various ways, and specific companies, that are spreading the wealth of advertising revenues to bottom-up content creators. Right now all the attention goes to YouTube videos, but in that system the creators get nothing except fame. A competing company called Revver, actually attaches the ads to viral video, and give the creators of the content as cut of the revenue that is generated.

Anyhow, taking these two stories together, you see two trends coming together. The demise (albeit slower than expected transitional demise) of the old system of 30-second ads on traditional TV. And the rise of new forms of ads attached to video on the web. At some point in the next five years, a new system of advertising attached to video content will emerge, and more clarity will come.

Peter Leyden  

Supercomputer in a chip: the inexorable march of computing power

Today in San Francisco, Intel will present their newest chip breakthrough to an industry conference. They now have a microchip the size of someone’s fingertip that has the same computational power as room-size supercomputer of just 11 years ago.

The chip is five years out from commercial use, and there are some software barriers that have to be overcome in the meantime, but the basic model has been cracked on how to get there. So we will have supercomputers able to fit in our cellphones in the span of five years.

This is just the latest example of a process of that has been going on for more than 30 years in Silicon Valley – about every 18 months a new generation of computer chips shrinks in size, roughly doubles in power and drops in price.

For those who want a lay person’s explanation of this process and what this new chip means, check out Tom Abate’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle. For those who want a more geeky explanation, check out the New York Times story by John Markoff, the dean of tech reporters out here.

And for those who want more on how these tech changes fit into the larger political transformation, check out the New Politics Institute website, and especially our talk, The New Politics Begins.

Peter Leyden

Customizing Ads down to the Individual Consumer/Voter

A good article in the New York Times  today on a trend that is picking up steam in the private sector advertising world, and could easily port over to politics soon. The story lays out how the combination of advanced digital tools and the internet are allowing mass customization in the production and distribution of advertising.

The story highlighted how several  companies are providing the means for giant corporations all the way down to small business owners like individual real estate agents to tailor commercials using a wide range of stock material. So a local car dealer can go on the web and use these services to easily create car commercials targeting his or her local audience.

The companies also help place the ads in cable  niches (and soon other arenas like mobile phones) so that the tailored messages actually reach the individuals they were designed for.

And since the internet ties this all  together, an advertiser can adjust the message within minutes before it will air. The story gave an example of Wendy’s tweaking halftime commercials on NFL football games to reflect how the games were going.

This “molecular marketing” is still very new in the business world, but you can see the obvious implications for politics. With time, you can see a wide range of political ads targeting a wide range of constituencies, and getting placed in media that gets closer and closer to connecting with individual voters.

Some political media consultancy or  campaign is going to leverage these pioneering companies, or emulate their model and start the migration of political advertising into this micro-targeting space. Keep watching for this.

Peter Leyden   

The coming acceleration of mobile media into politics

I had a conversation with a political person the other day in which she doubted whether mobile media would really have an effect on politics for a long while. She said texting just didn’t seem to have the heft to make a dent on the richer media that comes at people from other sectors, including many of the traditional ones. That’s true, for now, but it does not take into account the forward trajectory of this rapidly moving space. Consider two pieces of recent evidence:

The New York Times on Saturday has a very interesting piece on Madison Avenue-level ads already starting to appear on cell phones. With the broadband that’s coming to the phone infrastructure, some very sophisticated ads are able to move through it. Once the private sector blazes that trail, political ads won’t be far behind them. Definitely in 08.

The other piece of evidence to consider is the iPhone. I know there was a lot of buzz around this announcement a couple weeks ago, but only last night did I get to watch the web video of Apple CEO Steve Job’s keynote performance that introduced the phone and explained its many features (click on the "iPhone Introduction," not Keynote). It’s worth just watching Jobs do his demo – he’s a master that political people could study just for tips on creating suspense. But the more important point is that he demoed this phone in great detail, live, on the actual cell phone grid, and the phone’s performance was spectacular. I was really astounded at how good it was, and I have been watching this space for a while.

You can’t think of the mobile phone as a land-line-like voice device that allows you to walk around in the world. That has been the paradigm up until now. You really have to think of these as very small yet powerful computers, with almost all the capabilities of current desktops and laptops, now in your hands. That is the iPhone. It’s not a phone, but a Apple computer that fits in your hand. Oh, and it is, indeed, a phone, a super smart one at that.

So everything you see on YouTube and all the craziness of the web, and the myriad ways that is impacting politics, is also coming to phones. Like, within the year. Certainly in the 08 political cycle. The iPhone comes out in June, and like with the iPod, all the competition will follow.

That’s why this space is one that the New Politics Institute will be deeply focused on in the months ahead.

Peter Leyden

The Tipping Point for Web Video

“The Tipping Point” is the name of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book that studies when social phenomena move from outsider status to mass happenings. Though Gladwell draws on all kinds of science and research, the bottom line is that these flips are unpredictable. They just kind of happen, leaving many experts scratching their heads, trying to explain why.

We appear to have crossed a tipping point in the use of web video in politics, and it happened this past week. A lot of  groundwork had been laid before now, but all the pieces seemed to come together in the space of a few days. Some of that groundwork came from pioneers in the medium who labored for a long time in obscurity. And some came from the presidential campaigns that readied themselves for their recent tech kickoffs. For whatever reasons, it’s coming together now.

The icing on the cake is the validation from the mainstream media. Many pieces and TV news segments are coming out of this, but the Washington Post did a particularly good job in giving an overview and analysis. Here’s one excerpt:   

If last year was the year of the rogue videographers, the already-underway 2008 presidential campaign is likely to be remembered as the point where Web video became central to the communications strategy of every serious presidential candidate.

Playing defense is only one use of Web video. Equally important, the candidates and their staffs see Web-based video as an inexpensive and potentially significant tool for telling their campaign story without the filters of the traditional media.

Call it the YouTube effect, and it is only growing.


Peter Leyden

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