NDN Blog

Worldchanging: the community, the website, the new book

To finish up my theme of the week, about the explosion of  new ideas to deal  with our 21st century problems, I point out Worldchanging.

I have watched this effort from the very beginning, and I know the founders, Alex Steffen and Jamais Casio, well. It pretty much started as a two person blog with the idea of pointing out all the new tools and ideas and people who are already creating a 21st century world that is sustainable and works for all, in their language, one that is bright green. Worldchanging is a positive place, with none of the gloom and doom talk that so many traditional environmental sites have. As their tag line says: “Another world is here.” The solutions are all around us, we just need to catalyze them, scale them up, and make it all work for everyone.

Over the years they have grown from the two of them to a vibrant worldwide community. They got a boost a couple years ago  when the elite TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference chose them as one of three places for their affluent attendees to support. Since then they have taken off and are building a national infrastructure to spread their ideas into the mainstream.

Their most recent effort is a book, Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century. It acts more like a reference book, not something you would read cover to cover. But you can flip through it and find all kinds of new ideas and heartening developments. It is broken up into sections that pertain to huge areas that need to be radically reworked, like the business world, cities, and, yes, politics. The politics they talk  about is more people-powered and less about inside legislation. And it also has a very global viewpoint, as do the solutions throughout the book. But it is well worth reading for those in DC and state government and politics. This is particularly true for those who want to focus on solutions that deal with  our myriad environmental challenges, like climate change.

It’s a heartening book, one that hopefully will  inspire other similar efforts.  A good gift for the holidays…

Peter Leyden

Government Doesn’t have to Lead, but Align

The Wall Street Journal had a nice story today about the shift in mindset in the Venture Capital sector from investing in startup companies dealing wit the Internet to those dealing with clean energy. It came in the form of an interview with two top Kleiner Perkins partners, the legendary John Doerr, and Ray Lane.

What’s interesting from the political perspective is that it shows that many actors in the private sector and the world outside of politics already are moving headlong towards 21st century solutions to our problems. Like the smart money of Silicon Valley.

Smart progressive government needs to help catalyze those efforts and align them. It needs to draw them together, and highlight the best of them, building popular consensus around a clear way forward. Government also needs to fill in the gaps, stimulate efforts and solutions where none exist now.

What we don’t need is some one candidate to step forth with all the answers. That can’t happen, and waiting for it paralyzes our politics and government. Washington and old style politics in general is so caught up in commander-in-chief mode. Look to the president for all the answers. Wait for the guy at the apex of the hierarchy to give orders. That is so 20th century. The future is all about enabling and coordinating many, many actors.

Anyhow, back to  the WSJ story, which you can read in full here (they generously opened up the link to those without an online subscription). Here is a choice section to pull you in:

WSJ: Why is there so much interest in clean tech now?

Mr. Lane: We have always said that we do well by focusing on sectors, not companies. So when we saw changes happening in the semiconductor and microprocessor industry, and when we saw changes happening around the Internet, [we knew] these were major sectoral changes that occurred that would essentially displace the economics that were in place at the time.

The Internet is an example. Billions were made, billions were lost. You take that cataclysmic change that occurred over the last 10 years and you say, 'This looks like it could occur in energy.' Now we are dealing not with a sector of billions, but we're dealing with a sector of trillions. The venture business does well if it gets involved early because we're willing to take the risk.

It's a natural thing for Silicon Valley. We like very large markets. It doesn't make sense to go into small markets. It is huge sectoral change in one of the biggest industries on Earth, if not the biggest, and then it's being driven by technology, hot technology change.

Does this look to be bigger than the Internet or as big?

Mr. Lane: This is bigger than the Internet, I think by an order of magnitude. Maybe two.

If you thought the 1990s was a ride, hold on for this one….

Peter Leyden

First Draft of a National Health Care Plan – In California

This falls in the theme I have put out here before about California being the incubator of a progressive future. The State Senate’s top Democrat, and probably the second most powerful elected official in the state, announced a comprehensive plan to make sure all workers in the state have health insurance in the next few years. That’s 6.6 million uninsured, at an annual cost of about $7 billion.

Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it was “fantastic” that the majority Democrats that control both legislative houses wanted to join him in overhauling health care. He’s been devising his own plan to really take the problem on first thing in the next session.

So now you have the progressive Democrats who control both houses putting concrete, comprehensive proposals on modernizing health care to the front of the debate. And you have the lone powerful Republican in the state, Arnold, trying to outdo them. I have argued elsewhere that Arnold can best be seen as a new kind of Republican that we have not seen for a long time, a progressive Republican. He’s making the early moves of what a progressive Republican will look like in the 21st century.

This could all be taken as idle talk if there had not been tremendous strides taken last session around a progressive agenda that really started to take on the  true challenges of the 21st century. The San Francisco Chronicle story of today put it this way:

Last year, Schwarzenegger and Democrats worked together on landmark  legislation to restrict greenhouse gases, raise the minimum wage and provide discounts on prescription drugs. If they can work together as well on changes in health care law, some believe the product could serve as a national model.

I’m one of those who thinks that California should be viewed as a model of what happens when progressives do take control of government in the early 21st century. With Arnold’s recent progressive shift, the whole state is controlled by progressives who are increasingly getting emboldened. They’re just really starting to catalyze the full agenda, and there are many missing parts. Plus their efforts are far from perfect and many things about California politics should not necessarily be emulated.

That said, there’s no better place to look to when we think about how, on a national stage, a Democratic progressive Congress might work with a new (progressive?) president to solve the real challenges of our times.

Peter Leyden

The Problem is Not Lack of Ideas

The Sunday New York Times magazine ran its 6th annual Year In ideas edition, which is the full magazine devoted to some of the most intriguing ideas to surface in the United States in the last year. Of course, the list is not comprehensive, and rather idiosyncratic. But what it does show each year is how fertile the intellectual terrain is out there in America.

This insight is not inconsequential for politics right now. Some of the frequent laments you hear is that no one in politics knows how to solve all these problems we face, or the Democrats have no agenda, or where are the big ideas? This is more a function of the state of Washington politics rather that the actual dearth of new ideas, or big ideas, or big solutions out there. Ideas and solutions are out there, they just haven’t permeated our political world yet. So the big progressive political ideas are to raise the minimum wage, or save social security – ideas that were innovative in the middle of last century. That’s not to say that we don’t raise the minimum wage, but we need to throw the net wider on possible solutions to the economic challenges of our time.

That’s where the Times edition is refreshing. It is not about  politics, though it  does have some applicable political entries, like “The Myth of the Southern Strategy,” or “The New Inequality.” But it shows how irrepressible American brains are as they try to figure out the 21st century, improve our lives, and reengineer the system to work better over time.

The good news is that the people-powered politics that is emerging is tapping into that same resource for politics. We’re starting to feel the effects too.

Peter Leyden

A Video from the Future on How to Solve Climate Change

People often get stuck when they try to contemplate how we can solve an array of intractable 21st century problems, like climate change. The problems are often very different from the 20th century problems, and the solutions have not yet permeated our politics. However, in fields outside of politics, there are many great emerging ideas about how to solve these problems. I’m going to talk more about these in coming weeks.

For now I want to point out a very interesting video that lays out a positive scenario about how the United States and the world can tackle climate change. It was created by an innovative firm called Free Range, which does great work using animation to help move social and  political issues. In this case, they created a mini documentary from 2050 that looks back on how the world solved this most difficult of problems. It’s a very effective use of how to use scenarios to get people to see alterative ways forward. Plus it’s just an enjoyable and heartening thing to watch. We could do this.

Peter Leyden

The Evolution of Mainstream Journalism with Citizen Journalism

The New York Times has a nice piece on a recent effort by Yahoo and Reuters to take advantage of the explosion of bottom-up media being captured and produced by amateurs. They will start showcasing  photos and videos shot by everyday people using their cell-phones. From the article:

“The project is among the most ambitious efforts in what has become known as citizen journalism, attempts by bloggers, start-up local news sites and by global news organizations like CNN and the BBC to see if readers can also become reporters.

Many news organizations turned to photographs taken by amateurs to supplement coverage of events like the London subway bombing and the Asian tsunami. Yahoo’s news division has already used images that were originally posted on Flickr, the company’s photo-sharing site. For example, it created a slide show of images from Thailand after the coup there in September.

Camera phone videos are increasingly making news themselves. Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” was recorded last month responding to hecklers in a nightclub with racially charged epithets. The video was posted on TMZ, the celebrity news site.”

The journalism business is in the midst of a real crisis as the old advertising models that supported newspapers and television news are fundamentally shifting. This evolution towards using average citizens to help cover the world might be one piece of solving the puzzle of how journalism works in the 21st century world. Keep an eye on it.

Peter Leyden

Conservatives, Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

I am writing this from Rootscamp DC, a gathering of about 350 progressives involved in the last campaign who could be broadly categorized as part of the netroots. It really was an amazing group of people from all over the country and from many different groups. There also is a healthy number of people from organizations of the progressive establishment, like the DNC, House and Senate staffs, unions, America Votes, etc.

The conference takes the form of what has been called an “unconference,” one that has none of the sessions or speakers set before the start of the conference. Those who gather propose sessions that they stick on a grid on the wall that lines up rooms and times. In the Rootscamp case, there were slots for about 180 sessions over two days, which, remarkably, have all been filled out.

The New Politics Institute ran two of these sessions. Simon and I did a version of a talk we give, this time on Defining the Overarching Narrative of this Election. It took a big picture look at the overall strategic terrain and made our argument that this is the beginning of a new politics. The election only validated that thesis that we have been pushing for the last year.

The feeling and energy at this Rootscamp conference also bolsters the New Politics frame. Everyone here is extremely energized and excited about transforming government and politics for the long run. One session is about carrying out the progressive revolution for the next 50 years. Most of the people here are relatively young and have a long career ahead of them.

For a sense of who is here check out the stream of photos coming out of flickr, posted there by random participants.

If I were part of the conservative moment, I would be worried. There is a structural, generational development going on here. This group is going to make a difference for a long time.

Peter Leyden

The Looming Scrum for $67 Billion in Advertising Dollars

This month’s Wired magazine has a cover story on YouTube that puts Google’s $1.65 billion buy more in a strategic context. The subhead of the story cuts to the chase: “TV advertising is broken, putting $67 billion up for grabs. Which explains why Google spent a billion and change on an online video startup.”

On the day they announcement came out I did a blog post here that had a similar quick hit that this purchase was more about putting the pieces in place for inventing the TV of the 21st century. Google is close to figuring out the advertising model that works in this new Internetized environment. And YouTube is onto something about how motion media might work in this space. Connect successful advertising and successful content and you might have a real formula that might work for a long run. By no means this is a done deal, but it does present some interesting possibilities.

All those developments come at a time when the traditional 30-second ad model for TV is breaking down with, among other things, the spread of digital video recorders like Tivo. In other words, the $67 billion dollars that currently is parked there will soon be looking for a new home….

Peter Leyden

Follow the TV Ad money this cycle towards more targeted buys

The National Journal has a fantastic article off its front page called “Follow The Money” that analyzes the record-breaking amount of money spent on TV ads in the 2006 cycle. The article is only available to subscribers so we will tease a bit of it for you to taste. The lede goes like this:

If couch potatoes thought that they were hit with an unusually high number of campaign ads in 2006, it's probably because they were. Analysts are reporting record spending on TV advertising during the midterm cycle. But perhaps more notable than the bombardment of ads was the rise of new strategies that helped candidates target voters more effectively, thus earning them more bang for their buck.

Total spending on broadcast TV political advertising surged to more than $2.1 billion in 2006, a $1 billion increase from the 2002 midterm election cycle, Evan Tracey of TNS Media Intelligence recently told AdWeek. A report by the non-partisan research firm PQ Media also found that political advertising hit a new record in 2006, fueled by the number of competitive races. TV "[a]dvertising expenditures will account for 69 percent of all political media spending in 2006, up from 67.5 percent in 2004," the report states.

The sheer numbers ($2.1 billion) and percentages (69 percent of all media spending) show how important it is to make sure progressives develop the best possible strategies to maximize their impact in this still critical television space. And the bulk of the piece explained how the shift to cable television buys is a central part of those new strategies.

This is something that the New Politics institute has been championing for the last year, most notably in our New Tools campaign in the fall. Our Buy Cable memo made the rounds during the fall and may have made some difference in changing habits, though there still is a long way to go. From the article:

The PQ Media report found that broadcast TV remains the dominant medium for political advertising and "will command the largest share of political media spending in 2006" with 50 percent. That is still lower than 2004, however, when campaigns spent about 53 percent of advertising expenditures on broadcast TV, and from 2002, when they spent 56 percent.

The whole piece is anchored by an extended quote from the NPI Buy Cable memo that sums up the trend:

"Advertising across an entire media market is a little like hammering a nail with a sledgehammer," a report [PDF] by the New Politics Institute, an offshoot of the Democratic group NDN, suggests. The report estimates that viewers of an ad for a New Jersey Senate candidate on Philadelphia broadcast TV will be viewed by almost three times as many voters in Pennsylvania and Delaware as in New Jersey. The report goes on to note that "cable allows you to ensure that almost all of your advertising dollars go into the targeted state or district -- in some cases down to the precinct or zip code."

Peter Leyden

The Virtual World of Second Life Becomes Real for Politics

This week I gave the strangest talk I have ever given, and it had nothing to do with what I said. It had to do with where I was. I was inside a virtual three-dimensional world, in the online game called Second Life.

The gathered group was made up of Netroots activists from all over the country who were gathering in this virtual setting, on the edge of a grassy hilly, on an island. They each were represented by an avatar, which can look like a person, but can also be made to look like animal-like beings too. There was a billboard with an agenda, and stumps to sit on, and free tee-shirts to wear. But it was all inside an interactive game. The talk was done through typing like in a chat room, with my words coming out line by line and others chiming in over my central narrative.

It this all seems like too much, then brace yourself. It probably will start to get more traction in politics in the coming years. After all, the private sector business world is going ga-ga over Second Life right now. There has been a flurry of mainstream news stories, several prominent ones in the New York Times, the cover of BusinessWeek, and the Reuters newswire has assigned a permanent reporter to cover what is going on in there.

The reason for all the attention is that Second Life now has more than 1.3 members and as much as $400,000 a day in real money changing hands through buying and selling in this virtual world. In fact, any of you can join for free and try it out in no time at all. Just go there and sign up.

And so, like the other media tools that have been pioneered and developed in the private sector, politics will follow into these virtual worlds too. In fact, I think gaming will become a significant area for politics in the next couple years, following in the footsteps of viral video, mobile media, and social networking. But more about that later. For now, go check it out.

Peter Leyden

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