New Tools

Offering Up a New Version of our Presentation, the Dawn of a New Politics, Friday Lunchtime

If have 45 minutes or so this Friday at lunch feel free to come by our DC offices or watch me try out a new version of our powerful presentation, The Dawn of a New Politics, newly updated to include the very latest information and a look back at the 2008 elections.  You can find info on how to watch the live webcast or come by our office for lunch and a good show here.   Feel free to invite others and spread through your networks.  The livecast starts at 12:45 eastern.  We will begin taking questions, including from our web audience at 1:30pm, and end at 1:45pm or so. 

Hope you can make it.  Will be worth your time on a spring Friday.  Thanks to Sam Dupont and Dan Boscov-Ellen for all their hard work in helping produce this new edition of our compelling look at the big structural changes driving American politics today.

Thursday New Tools Feature: Federal Digitial Data Dump

In its continuing effort to bring our government into the 21st century along with the rest of us (excepting Republicans, who really put the OLD in G.O.P. these days), the Obama administration today launched a transparency and open government initiative. Check out this video of Valerie Jarrett introducing the initiative today: 

As one of the first "featured innovations" of this initiative, the Obama administration also launched a new Web site, According to the introductory blurb on this new site,

The purpose of is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Although the initial launch of provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available, we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data. Visit today with us, but come back often. With your help, will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Strictly speaking, there isn't really any *new* information here, but even though it is somewhat limited in scope at this point, is already a very powerful set of tools that makes it much easier to mine the vast depths of data generated by the government. They have already aggregated and indexed a staggering amount of information, and made it easily and instantly searchable.

Unless you've been desperately searching for all of the most current statistics on marriage and divorce rates in the U.S., you may have trouble getting too excited about this. But here's why it matters:

A former teacher of constitutional law, President Obama has so far received mixed marks on government openness and transparency. In particular, his decisions to keep past abuses covered up (see recent decisions not to release detainee abuse photos or the missing Bush emails), and even to continue controversial Bush-era policies on state-secret privilige, warrantless wiretapping, "national security letters", rendition and the use of black sites, tribunals, and indefinite detention, have been (justly) criticized by progressives.

But Obama has also done a lot to open up government, from his bottom-up campaign style to his virtual press conferences and citizens' briefing book. And while doesn't tell us anything new per se, it is a very powerful rejoinder to the myth that government need always be an inefficient, bureaucratic nightmare (one of the chief conservative rationales for privatizing everything). The government of the 21st century can be very different from that of the 20th, and with tools like, Obama is showing us how.

Simon Rosenberg Presents: The New Dawn

Please join us this Friday, May 29, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

Simon Rosenberg has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

This engaging, highly-produced presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has recently updated the presentations with new arguments and slides, including new analysis of the forces behind the 2008 election. Even if you've seen the presentation before, this new version will be fresh and engaging!

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to be among the first to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

The event will begin at 12:15, and the Web cast will start at 12:45p.m. Follow this link to watch the Web cast.

Please RSVP for the event (if you'll be coming to the offices... no need to RSVP for the Web cast).


NDN Event Space
729 15th St. NW 1st Floor
Washington, DC 20005
United States

Thursday New Tools Feature: Google Universe

Today's brief Google outage notwithstanding, it's pretty good these days for people who like finding things on the internet.

In its ongoing quest to index the universe, Google has just announced several advanced new search features. The most immediately obvious for Google users is the new “Show Options” feature, which allows you to refine your search results in real-time, instead of doing a separate advanced search. It also includes several ways to view your search and related searches, including the “magic wheel,” pictured here, and "timeline" views. They are also working on some experimental features, including “Google Squared,” which returns your results in tables, the most important information coupled with each result.

Google isn't the only one making it easier to quickly find what you're searching for. Twitter's search feature has undergone some improvements over the last few months, making it much easier to pick the social network's collective brain. And cool new tools like Twitscoop allow a virtual real-time cross-section of what people on the world's third-largest social network are thinking and talking about.

Instant access to so much information, and along with it the ability to have one's own voice heard by others around the world, have already altered politics forever, making it easier both to be informed and to participate, which is one of the biggest arguments that NDN and the New Politics Institute have been making for years.

But these developments are not just changing our politics -- they're changing us, too. A recent article in The American Scene, "Your Brain is an Index," explores the way that instant searchable access to so much information is rewiring our neurons. Citing the same Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr I wrote about a few weeks ago, the author of the American Scene piece speculates that,

Reading on the web is almost certainly affecting the way we process information, but it’s not making us stupid. Instead, it’s changing the way we’re smart. Rather than storehouses of in-depth information, the web is turning our brains into indexes. These days, it’s not what you know — it’s what you know you can access, and cross reference.

The comments at the bottom are are pretty great. Some of my favorites:

"I could barely get to the end of this article before Tweeting and sending some emails. True Story and great read."

"This reminds me of a Richard Feynman anecdote. I don’t recall all the details (though I could look them up!) but basically he was auditing a graduate-level biology class and did a presentation on some topic of anatomy. He got a lukewarm response because it turns out he was just presenting a bunch of info that the “real” bio students had already had to memorize. His reaction was basically that it seemed like a waste of brain cells to memorize stuff that’s just as easily looked up."

Kevin Drum from Mother Jones is less optimistic, saying that he likes this argument, but,

...unfortunately, I can't think of any evidence at all to suggest it's true. Understanding "broader categories" — the context into which individual pieces of knowledge fit — requires you to read books. Full stop. Maybe someday it won't, but it does now...I'd love to be wrong about this. But I'm not. If you want to understand the world, not just collect endless factlets, you still need to read books. If you do, the internet makes you smarter. If you don't, it makes you dumber.

I think both sides of this argument have some merit. I definitely agree that constantly searching for indexed information can make it harder to focus on single topics for sustained periods, but I also think the benefits probably outweigh the costs. Furthermore, there isn't really anything about the physical, bound-paper book that possesses magical intelligence-imbuing properties; Devices like Amazon's new, larger Kindle, which will be used to display textbooks as well as newspapers and blogs, may be a sign of where learning is headed in the digital age.

One thing is for sure. There is no use railing against this trend; rather, we need to work to better understand it and how it is changing our minds, our societies, and our politics. I'll close with a quote from the most recent New Yorker about the rise of "neuroenhancing" study drugs:

...But it’s not the mind-expanding sixties anymore. Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become, and the more we need help in order to focus.

Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency


"He’s run a campaign where he’s used very modern tools, spoke to a new coalition, talked about new issues, and along the way, he’s reinvented the way campaigns are run," says Simon Rosenberg...

Thursday New Tools Feature: The New Politics Institute New Tools Kit

Just a brief new tools update for today (I'm busy working on an exciting project for NDN, to be revealed soon!). NDN and NPI created the New Tools series as an easy-to-understand crash course in new media for progressives of all stripes. With that in mind, we have assembled all of our New Tools papers in one place, organized by subject, to make things even easier. You can now find them all at

On a related note, we're updating and expanding the New Tools series for 2009. In addition to revisiting some of our older papers, we'll be adding a few to the roster. We've got some ideas, but we'd also like to know: what new media tools are you most interested in learning about or using more effectively? Please send your ideas for the next generation of new tools papers to, or leave them as comments below this post, and help us help progressives stay ahead of the curve!


President Obama's Weekly Address Focuses on H1N1 Flu

In is weekly YouTube address, President Barack Obama explains what the federal government is doing to combat the spread of H1N1 and why they are doing it.


Obama also notes the very Web 2.0 steps the White House is taking to keep the American people informed about the spreak of H1N1. These very practical applications of social networking and twitter have been a great way to demonstrate the applicability of these new political tools to governing. Good information is key to both combatting the spread of disease and avoiding panic about it.

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