Global Mobile

In Kashmir Uprising, Government Bans SMS

Kashmir, the restive and contested region divided between India and Pakistan, has in recent weeks seen a surge in violence after a long period of relative calm.  Kashmir has been the flashpoint of three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947, and Indian-controlled Kashmir saw brutal, persistent violence from 1989 up until the early part of this decade, as the Indian government tried to crush an independence movement, with Pakistan-based terror groups throwing fuel on the fire. The past few years, however, have been characterized by relative calm, with violence abating, tourism returning, and tensions relaxing.

KashmirIn the past few weeks, a great deal of that progress has evaporated.  On June 11, a 17-year old Kashmiri student was killed by an exploding tear gas shell during an independence demonstration in Srinagar.  Since then, at least 11 more Kashmiri civilians have been killed, as Indian forces have shot and beaten protesters after being pelted with stones.  In their latest move, the Indian Army has instituted a lockdown on the cities where protests have occurred, and, as of yesterday, the Indian government has banned text messaging.

Back in November, I wrote about the Indian government's ban of pre-paid cell phones in Kashmir-- a part of their effort to diminish the photos, videos, and other first-hand accounts of the disproportionate, often unprovoked violence of the Indian army. This new ban of SMS messaging is not cloaked in any excuse about fighting terror-- it's simply part of an effort to prevent protesters from organizing themselves while under citywide lockdown.

India certainly has legitimate security concerns in Kashmir; Pakistani terrorist groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba have exploited the situation to stage attacks on Indian forces. But banning text messages is just the latest iteration of the Indian government violating the rights of all people in these cities to quell violence that began with their own army's misconduct.  Increasingly, tools like SMS and pre-paid cell phones are vital tools for information access and communication, and denying access to these tools has to be seen as a violation of the right of equal access to information. 

What's more, this episode is evidence that mobile phones-- which put extraordinary power in the hands of individuals-- tend to empower groups of individuals, rather than centralized authority.  Yes, the government has the power to switch off the network, but that's an extreme move.  Maybe the most accurate way to say it is that the advent of the mobile phone makes it harder to be "just a little autocratic." If you're going to crack down, you've got to crack down all the way, or the power of the network will remain.

To some degree, that's what's happened in Iran since last year's fraudulent election.  A government that used to be "somewhat authoritarian," was faced with an increasingly well-organized opposition, and forced to either let the opposition movement continue to gain steam, or crack down hard.  The government opted for the latter, and in so doing, lost an awful lot of legitimacy in their own country and around the world.

Ultimately, I do think this growing global network will be a force for freedom rather than oppression.  In the shorter term, I think it is likely to widen the chasm between democracies and dictatorships, as it will force the countries in between to choose one path or another.

The World is Going Wireless

The world is going wireless.

- Barack Obama, June 28, 2010

At least, that's what the press release said.  In a few more words, the White House outlined yesterday a general plan to release 500 mHz of spectrum for use in mobile & wireless broadband.  The plan didn't get into the nitty gritty specifics-- where exactly all the spectrum will come from, whether some will be reserved for smaller carriers-- but it offered a mandate for Congress and federal agency heads to go forward with updating our spectrum allocation. 

Really, I don't have a lot to add to the President's memo:

Few technological developments hold as much potential to enhance America's economic competitiveness, create jobs, and improve the quality of our lives as wireless high-speed access to the Internet. Innovative new mobile technologies hold the promise for a virtuous cycle -- millions of consumers gain faster access to more services at less cost, spurring innovation, and then a new round of consumers benefit from new services. The wireless revolution has already begun with millions of Americans taking advantage of wireless access to the Internet.

Expanded wireless broadband access will trigger the creation of innovative new businesses, provide cost-effective connections in rural areas, increase productivity, improve public safety, and allow for the development of mobile telemedicine, telework, distance learning, and other new applications that will transform Americans' lives.

In the past couple years, mobile video has been driving innovation and adoption of mobile broadband.  It's also been choking up networks-- mobile data traffic has been increasing by over 130% annually-- and it's only going to get more congested without additional spectrum. This is important leadership on an important issue, and I'm glad to see the White House pushing the ball forward.

Mobile Technology and Land Dispute Resolution in Afghanistan

We're all familiar with "mHealth," "mCommerce," and "mGovernment," but what about "mLand Management"? While the name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, it's exactly what Ruha Devanesan, the Executive Director of the Internet Bar Association, intends to introduce to Afghan communities in the near future. IBO's latest program, the Internet Silk Road Initiative, seeks to "use technology to bring the the rule of law to developing countries in fields where legal intervention is necessary." Specifically, it empowers citizens to use their mobile phones to report land disputes and monitor the progress of arbitration panels.

Speaking last week with a panel of experts hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace, Devanesan proposed the Silk Road initiative as a means to tackle the "complex land situation" in Afghanistan which is riddled with unsettled property disputes. Land ownership is as important in Afghan society as it is a source of conflict, exacerbated by the recent return of thousands of refugees who find their property occupied by others during their absence. This is compounded in light of the fact that 80% of Afghans rely on the land's resources as their primary source of living, and the recent discovery of a trillion dollars of lithium and other resources in Afghanistan only magnifies the issue. Most importantly, explains Devanesan, landowners "face inaccessibility to the judicial system," which itself is plagued with disorganization and a lack of proper administration, and many Afghans are too afraid of the threat of interference by the Taliban or warlords to bring their disputes to the proper authorities.

The Internet Silk Road provides a "bounded crowdsourcing" resolution to this pervasive issue. Led by Devanesan, the initiative trains Afghans to visit land disputants and send information about the conflicts via SMS to a central command center, which will forward them on for arbitration. The disputants then receive news on the final decision directly on their mobile phones. These dispute-reporters, who work in the field and are "trained in dispute resolution, land ownership, and Shari'ah law," record GPS coordinates, take photos of boundaries, and note information about the properties, sending them to the Silk Road's main hub for processing. Every dispute, including these photos and relevant information, is kept in a digital repository available with free and open access.

The primary goal of this initiative is not to solve these disputes, many of which are rooted deep over the course of generations. But the service it provides should facilitate the conflict resolution process by increasing transparency in the judicial process and making more data available both to arbiters and to the public. Whether or not the adjudication process takes advantage of the information depends largely on the quality of the database the Internet Silk Road seeks to amass. The quality, of course, depends on the citizens' willingness and ability to embrace mobile technology in order to tackle their social and economic problems.

Mobile Banking in Afghanistan - Experts' Insight on Cultural Differences

While the longest tennis match of all time was being contested at Wimbledon, I was at an equally fascinating (though admittedly far less athletic) event exploring the role of mobile technology in peacebuilding in Afghanistan. Hosted by the U.S. Institute for Peace, the panel featured fifteen experts bringing a range of perspectives and field experience to the table. Speakers included representatives from USAID, the World Bank, the Department of Defense, Ushahidi, Global Voices, MobileActive.org, UNICEF, Mobile Accord (the workhorse behind the "Text HAITI to 90999" campaign), and Roshan (the largest mobile service provider in Afghanistan).

The speakers' CV's were impressive, but even more remarkable was the scope of our discussion. Over the course of the four hours, the panelists engaged in insightful dialogue, and occasionally debate, about a wide array of mobile tech issues, examples, possibilities, and challenges in Afghanistan. I'll probably post about other topics later, but for now I wanted to highlight one mobile technology initiative brought up by Shainoor Khoja, the Managing Director of Roshan's Corporate Social Responsibility division.

In order to fight corruption and malgovernance, Roshan worked in the Wardak province with the Afghan National Police to arrange for the delivery of monthly salaries via mobile phones, similar to the M-Pesa program popular in Kenya. Immediately after the fifty policemen in the pilot program received their initial payments, they called into headquarters in confusion. They couldn't believe the sum of money they had received; it was significantly larger than previous months'. As Khoja clarified, "the old way of handling physical money allowed higher-ups to scab some off the top," meaning higher-ups would swipe some cash off the top of the pile and the policemen never really received the full amount they were due. With these SMS transactions, employees received their full sum in documented, digital form.

The new technology offered by Roshan could prove a powerful force to defend against this corruption and to build the local economy in several ways. First, the transactions are much speedier than traditional methods, which involved the supervisors literally stacking up bills in their office, dividing up salaries, and calling employees in one-by-one to administer payments. Second, SMS transactions allow for greater accountability, because each one leaves a digital footprint which can be tracked and can't easily be tampered with. Khoja also points out that this method brings financial inclusion to the economic landscape. Without any minimum transaction amount, users are able to make micropayments easily to help develop small businesses.

In these early stages of mobile development in Afghanistan, it's important to be wary of the costs and risks involved in services such as these. Several limitations apply to Roshan's pilot program. The process might make sense for business relationships, but it's difficult to see this method catching within the household, where few families have more than one mobile phone. Additionally, Khoja acknowledges the immense task of digitizing the administrative processes behind this technology in a country with weak telecommunications infrastructure. Then there's the problem of digital literacy. "It takes a lot of training, explaining, and reinforcement" for people to become familiar enough with these technologies to trust them with their finances, explains Khoja, and this is an expensive administrative process. Perhaps most crucially, the payment officials have to be on board. Considering that they pocketed more without this technology, programs like this one may find institutional opposition in local communities.

I want to close with the most fundamental concern with this new form of technology. It touches on an broad theme that underwrote today's entire conversation. In this example of mCommerce, as with many other examples of the adoption of new mobile innovations in Afghanistan, there are serious, broad cultural themes which must be taken into consideration. Adam Kaplan, Media and Senior Field Advisor at USAID, explained how these new forms of payments are drastically altering traditional forms of community in local villages.

Traditionally, payments and remittances were sent home as a wad of cash in an envelope, accompanied with a letter outlining its contents. However, with a 15% literacy rate, families were expected to bring their packages to community elders and leaders, who would be responsible for reading the note and allocating the money to the family, to a communal fund, and to neighbors to whom a debt was owed. The entire community knew the family's salary and financial situation. According to a gentleman in the audience who lived in Afghanistan all his life and was studying in the States on a Fulbright, what Kaplan describes was and remains the cultural norm in many rural communities.

In contrast, Roshan's SMS banking brings an element of privacy to the entire process. Families can keep their finances to themselves, and neighborhood trips to the nearest bank are replaced with brief text messages and electronic banking. As Kaplan describes, "We're bringing a sense of individuality they never had before. That changes the societal structures."

There is a general assumption that, in the words of panelist Jake Schaffner, a Senior Adviser for Science and Technology in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, we in developed countries "cannot help but benefit from other people being connected." While there's no doubting this, it's clear that the way in which we approach this connectivity is going to be just as important. The common theme behind today's panel was that deploying mobile technology in Afghanistan is not the same as it is in the United States. Each has distinct societal structures, and the stories of Khoja and Kaplan remind us that if we are to fully embrace these new technologies' power, we must be aware of the cultural effects they could have in developing countries.

Innovation in Learning: Lessons from the Slums

Charles Leadbeater is a researcher at British think tank Demos who focuses his work on innovation. He recently delivered a TED talk about innovation in education, and he challenges his audience to think beyond the places we typically look for new ideas in education-- places like Finland, where prosperity and homogeneity contribute to success that is difficult to replicate.

Leadbeater knocks the "19th century Bismarckian school system" that still prevails in most of the world as increasingly irrelevant to students and to the world they live in.  And he encourages people to look for innovation in the places where that system is least relevant: the favelas of Rio, the slums of Patna, or Kibera in Nairobi.  In these places, where a teacher in a traditional classroom delivers lessons based on a tight curriculum, forcing students to memorize the kings and queens of England, the education system couldn't more more irrelevant for children. 

For these students, more relevant learning would cover topics like "how not to contract HIV," or "carpentry 101," that would help them stay alive and find a job.  But even this "extrinsic" motivation for going to school, based on a long-term payoff, is not enough for the slum-dwelling poor-- the "long-term" is just too long.  And so the most successful innovations in education have also included some intrinsic motivation, making learning relevant, fun and accessible.  Put another way, if the Bismarckian education system was based on a "push" of knowledge to students, a new model needs to be based on a "pull" toward learning.

Not surprisingly, many of the most successful innovations in education have introduced technology to technology-poor regions.  Leadbeater talks about programs that have brought computer labs into Rio's favelas, or installed single computers at the entrances to the slums in India's megacities. These projects have gone a long way toward pulling children and adults alike toward learning by making it relevant and accessible. 

Why is this important here in the US? Because here, also, students are increasingly finding the schools they visit everyday disconnected and unrelated to the world they live in.  This is particularly true with regards to technology. More and more students have cell phones, and they're texting up a storm.  Increasingly, they won't find a job after graduation if they're not computer-literate. So when they go into a classroom in which a 19th century schoolhouse teacher would feel at home, it's a bad disconnect from the outside world.

Innovation in EducationLeadbeater broke down innovation in education into a two-by two box, which I've replicated at right.  Most of the innovation we see today occurs in the top-left box: sustaining innovation based in formal classroom settings that, at best, improves what we have.  He argues that we need a lot more innovation in the other three boxes-- particularly in the bottom right, where disruptive innovation in informal, non-classroom settings will lead to a transformation of learning.

It's a really interesting talk, and now that you've spent half an hour reading me gush about it, you might as well spend the 20 minutes to watch it yourself. 

(h/t Jason)

There’s an App for Government Too

Even as the nation's capital remains consumed by the continuing controversy of over how best to contain the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history, the Obama administration is attempting to highlight the work they are doing to bring the workings of government into the 21st century. As someone who labored for four years to make the government work better and cost less, I can only salute their efforts and wish them well.

When Vice President Gore and his NPR team were reinventing government in the 90s, we highlighted the potential of the Internet to completely transform government's relationship to its citizens and established the first federal government portal to provide access to its online information. But the data was sparse and the formats discouraged interactivity.  Today, the Obama administration has made enormous strides in making data on the performance of government both available and user friendly. Coupled with the rising popularity of smart phone technology, these efforts hold out the promise that citizens will soon be able to take advantage of a wide variety of applications built on this government data.

As OMB Director Peter Orszag pointed out, data.gov now offers over 270,000 data sets that provide information ranging from work site safety statistics to the safety ratings on different children's car seats.  But the key to unlocking the values of such information is making all of it as open and transparent as possible so that developers, not government, can create citizen friendly applications for its use. Just as the iPhone and mobile phones built off of the Android operating system have educated consumers on the value of having data customized to their needs, the Obama administration is working hard to put its data in machine readable formats with open APIs that accomplish the same purpose.

The potential for application-based government has already been demonstrated at the local level. For instance, NDN member Hylan Dixon relates this wonderful story about how the Massachusetts Department of Transportation created an application to tell Bostonians when the next bus would arrive at a given stop. They announced their decision to provide the GPS data from buses on an open source basis at a web developers' conference before lunch and by the time they got back someone had already put the data into Google maps.  Within two days the information was on a website and within a week it was posted as an Apple widget. Within five weeks it was an application available on both iPhones and Android phones without any further government effort or expenditure. The key to such rapid gains in government's productivity and value is to make more and more data available for the public to use as it sees fit.

While the administration's efforts in this area are admirable, they would be even more effective if Congress would pass  H.R.4858- Public Online Information Act of 2010 which establishes an advisory committee to issue nonbinding government-wide guidelines for  making public information available on the Internet, requires publicly available Government information held by the executive branch to be made available on the Internet, and expresses the sense of Congress that publicly available information held by the legislative and judicial branches should also be made available on the Internet. The bill incorporates all eight principles for making government data open including ensuring it is  complete, timely, accessible, machine readable, and license-free. Unfortunately, the bill has not attracted enough sponsors to make it the priority it should be with Democrats in Congress.

Twenty-first century America will not look like or behave the way the country did in the last century. Technology, particularly broadband mobile computing, will enable us to be connected to billions of people throughout the globe and conduct our lives with increased efficiency and effectiveness as a result. It is imperative for government to keep pace with these changes and not fall so far behind that people conclude it is inherently wasteful and inefficient. As Vice President Gore used to say, there was a time when being "good enough for government work" was a compliment not a dismissive criticism. If those of us who believe in the good that government can do to create economic opportunity and greater social equity want to gain the support of the nation's 21st century electorate for our ideas, then we all need to join the Obama administration's efforts to make citizen's daily experiences with government as good as anything Google or Apple deliver. Government by application promises to make such a future come true sooner rather than later.

The World Cup: The World's First Truly Globalized Media Event

We're soccer fans here at NDN, in case you haven't noticed, and we're currently addicted to the World Cup in a bad way.  As the Cup approached, I wrote a couple short posts on how the World's Greatest Sporting Event might affect global connectivity-- whether it would drive adoption or innovation-- particularly in the mobile space.  And it has, no doubt.  If you've been watching on ESPN, you've heard the announcers remind you that you can "follow all the action online, on your TV or on your mobile phone" (with British accent-emphasis on the mow-boile phoune).

In addition, it turns out all this football madness has had an impact on this here internet.  Post Tech reports that the opening day of the World Cup saw the highest web traffic ever, with over 12 million visitors every minute around noon EST.  That's a good 50% higher than the second-highest peak in history of 8 million visitors/minute, which occurred on the evening of November 4, 2008.  Note that the third-highest peak ever was also a World Cup moment-- it happened around the time the US was eliminated from the 2006 Cup by Ghana. Akamai has the numbers.

Maurice Edu Scored That GoalWhat's driving all this? A few facts, followed by a few theories: Numbers this big are necessarily driven by North American internet users.  While every other continent is over 100% above usual internet usage (North America is at about 90% above typical usage), all those continents combined don't equal the number of viewers in North America.  So despite the canard that Americans don't care about soccer (popularized by Europeans, adopted by American conservatives)... they do.

But, if the numbers are driven by the U.S., why does the World Cup cause a bigger spike than, say, the Super Bowl? Or Michael Phelps? Or the Christmas Day bomber?  Part of the explanation, at least, has to be that the Cup, unlike most sporting events, happens at odd hours, while Americans are at work, rather than on their couch, so they're depending on the internet, more than television. But I think there's also a more interesting explanation...

As NDN has noted time and again, we live in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world-- and this trend has accelerated as connectivity has expanded to include the over 4.5 billion people on earth with a mobile phone. Increased web activity around this truly global event is echoing beyond borders, and the passions of foreign football fanatics are driving greater activity of American web-users. 

What I'm saying is that World Cup frenzy in the US is being driven not just by soccer-maniacs, but by regular people who are responding to the global obsession. Though Stanley McChrystal snuck into Twitter's Trending Topics today, the top-ten list has been absolutely dominated by World Cup-related items over the past two weeks.  Media produced around the world is being gobbled up by Americans. And who could have imagined the word Vuvuzela on the lips of so many Americans this week?

Global football madness is driving Americans' activity on the web, whether they know it or not. I can think of a few examples of American media driving global activity, but this may be the first time it's gone in the other direction. Does that make this World Cup the first truly globalized media event?  I'd say so.

Crowdsourcing Election Monitoring in Guinea with Mobile Technology

Samhir is a Summer Researcher working with the Global Mobile Technology Initiatve at NDN & the New Policy Institute. We're glad to have him onboard, and excited to have his voice contributing to the Global Mobile blog. I hope you enjoy this post, his first, and check back for more in the coming weeks and months. -Sam

This month, the World Cup isn't the only event in Africa promising major international attention. On June 27, Guinea will host democratic elections for the first time in its independent history. To ensure fair elections and a smooth transition, a coalition of state, civil, and international actors launched Guinea Vote 2010 Witness (GV10) earlier last week. The program, spearheaded by the nonpartisan human rights group Alliance Guinea in cooperation with the African Elections Project, the CENI (National Independent Election Committee), and major telecom companies, is a "high-tech citizen election monitoring system" which uses SMS and Internet to increase transparency and accountability at the polling booths in Guinea.

For Guineans, this initiative carries particular importance in light of the country's tumultuous recent history of violent regime transitions. In September 2009, hundreds of Guineans protesting the military coup of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara were massacred by his troops as they gathered in a local stadium. Following an assassination attempt by a military aide, Camara and other officials negotiated a resolution which would hold Camara in exile in Burkina Faso while establishing a transition government. While Guineans were pleased to hear this temporary government's announcement of elections to be held later this month, memories of 2009's violence linger in the volatile political landscape. This magnifies GV10's critical role in easing anxiety and fostering transparency during the elections.

As with similar initiatives in Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopa, and Lebanon, GV10 has two primary components. First, Guinean voters and observers send incident reports (ballot stuffing, intimidation, violence, etc.) from their mobile phones to GV10 via SMS, e-mail, and Twitter, where they'll be synthesized and displayed on an interactive map. This legwork is conducted by a team of volunteers from all over the world, who will filter, codify, and post these reports on the website. The platform used is Ushahidi, which played a major role in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

The second aspect involves "people monitoring the elections" to follow developments on the site and "respond quickly to any reports of malfeasance and violence." Theoretically, any reports of serious issues will "spur investigative reporting, inform and catalyze dialogue around the elections both in country and across the world, and increase and inform international media coverage" of these historic elections.

The first step relies on one fundamental principle: That those in Guinea who witness violations are connected. While less than 1% of the population has access to the Internet, mobile phones wield much more potential. In an interview last week, Sophia Moestrup, a Senior Program Manager for Central and Western African affairs at the National Democratic Institute (which has supported democratization efforts in Guinea since 2001), told me how cell phones have helped to "further open up spaces for participation and reduce distances" for Guinean activists. But Moestrup notes that the use of SMS in election monitoring still faces important challenges in terms of network reliability. She half-joked that it wouldn't be uncommon to enter a meeting in Guinea and "see people with two or three phones because they don't know which network will work." Regardless, as connectivity continues to boom in the region, the prospects for future iterations of GV10 are bright.

But what happens after the proper groups have been alerted? How effectively can the data be translated into actual intervention and change? What if election officials turn a blind eye to the reports? Is GV10 taking a risk by relying purely on volunteers to synthesize and accurately post data? Or, as Katrin Verclas of MobileActive.org worries, could Guineans fearful of a victory for an opposing party sway GV10's results by reporting "poison data"?

The answers to these concerns won't be known until after the elections (although Paul Currion gives it a shot), but it's important to be wary of them. GV10 certainly isn't a perfect solution to election monitoring, and it could easily be rendered mute if voters are intimidated or threatened by a return of the violence that ravaged Guinea last year. Nevertheless, GV10 is a step in the right direction. As NDI's Ian Schuler has written, SMS has an "impressive ability to help election-monitoring organizations overcome many logistical challenges to effective election oversight and protection of citizens' rights." With the help of mobile phones, this initiative brings a degree of legitimacy and security to a region aching for transparency and accountability, and it demonstrates how mobile technology like Internet, SMS, and e-mail continue to facilitate global citizenship.

Looking Back at the Iran Uprising & Social Technology

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Iranian presidential election that sparked the Green Revolution. In advance of the anniversary, a spate of articles have come out criticizing the excessive emphasis the media put on the role of Twitter in organizing the uprising. RFE's Golnaz Esfandiari writes in Foreign Policy that reports of a "Twitter Revolution" were massively overstated and misleading.  But, as she concludes: 

It's not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven't played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It's just not been the outsized role it's often been made out to be.

And in the Guardian, Hamid Tehrani, Persian editor of Global Voices, is quoted saying:

The west was focused not on the Iranian people but on the role of western technology. Twitter was important in publicizing what was happening, but its role was overemphasized.

Clearly, there was an awful lot of hype around the role of Twitter, which, it turns out, was used minimally for organizing and much more as a tool to bring news to the world outside Iran. But that global connectivity is, in itself, remarkable. The words, images, and videos broadcast to the world by iran's Green Revolutionthe Iranian people were far more powerful than the sanitized news reports we would have otherwise received from the few reporters allowed to stay by the government.

We're moving toward a world in which every person on earth has a direct connection to everyone else. Within Iran, SMS was used as a crucial organizing tool, and the video of Neda's death, circulated via e-mail, was recorded on a tiny cell phone camera. Twitter, YouTube, and other social media brought news beyond Iran's borders. Dictators and democrats alike will try to use these new technologies to their own benefit, but a network that diffuses organizing and communication power to the hands of every person is one that will tilt, if gently, toward freedom.

No, Twitter didn't bring democracy to Iran. As Tehrani said in the Guardian, "The cornerstone of this movement is not technology, it's people." Of course. But that technology is, ultimately, history's most potent tool to empower those people.

Dispatches from Personal Democracy Forum

Personal Democracy Forum 2K10 has been a great couple days with a lot of very cool people.  I just want to take a quick moment to highlight one of the big themes that I've seen coming out of session after session, and talk after talk.

The leading question of the conference, as I mentioned, is "Can the Internet Fix Politics?" And whether directly or indirectly, many of the speakers I've heard in the past couple days have refuted the principle of the question.  It's not about the internet, or cell phones, or technology at all-- it's about people. The potential of the technology lies in its ability to connect real people to one another, build communities, and use leverage their network to achieve their goals.

The best talk on this subject was from Scott Heiferman of Meetup. His killer line was "Use the internet to get off the internet."  Definitely recommend watching his video when it's posted at personaldemocracy.com.

There has also been a good deal of really interesting discussion on the trouble media is having in the new networked world, and the trouble we're having navigating the glut of information. Eli Pariser of MoveOn (who gave perhaps the best talk of the conference-- another one to watch once it's available), offered a mindblowing statistic: more information was created in 2009 than in all of human history up through 2008.

As I've written in the past, the next killer app will be the one that helps us navigate the endless flood of information and find what matters. In his talk, Pariser highlighted the efforts of Google and Facebook to solve this problem, focusing on the ways they narrow their content to give you what you want-- but not necessarily what we need.  In his words, these companes "do a good job of serving us as customers, but not as citizens," and he voiced concern that we're moving toward a network in which we're each surfing "an internet of one."  Solutions?  Not so much.  But lots of meaty stuff to think about.

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