new tools

Conservatives Level the Playing Field in Political Technology

NDN and the affiliated New Politics Institute, have a long history of talking, thinking, and writing about the role of technology in politics. Indeed, that's how we got into this Global Mobile space way back in naught-six.  And all the "New Tools" papers NDN & NPI published back in the day are actually still an incredibly valuable resource for a campaign worker trying to figure out how to guide their candidate through a jungle of new technology: mobile, cable, blogs, search, social networking...

One of the assumed truths about technology in politics was that it inherently favored Democrats. Many early bloggers had a progressive bent, Silicon Valley has always been a lefty hotbed, and disruptive new technologies generaly seem to favor the party that is looking forward to a better future, rather than back at a better past.  Whatever the reason for the Dems' early advantage, it's quickly disappearing. As I've said before, all these tools are just that-- tools-- and they don't tend to take sides in any fight. 

Last week, the Dallas Morning News ran "Gov. Rick Perry's campaign is more text than talk." Perry, the incumbent in the Texas gubernatorial race, is skipping the yard signs, the phone banks, and pimply teenagers knocking on your door in favor of Twitter, e-mail, and pimply teenagers sending you Facebook messages. With more Millennials coming into the electorate and a growing number of Hispanics in the Texas population who are better reached via mobile web than landlines or door-knocking-- it only makes sense to run a tech-savvy campaign, and it was only a matter of time before the Republicans began to figure it out.

In the U.K., similar things are happening.  David Cameron's insurgent Conservatives are reaching voters via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other web apps, and, as our friend James Crabtree wrote in the FT last week, they're mastering search, e-mail, and databases-- all perhaps even more powerful than the aforementioned social networking tools. At an NDN/NPI/Global Mobile event a few weeks back, Crabtree explained how the Conservatives' very progressive-- even radical-- open government and open data proposals are leading the way and forcing Labour to keep up. And if you've got access to Wired UK, Crabtree has a 6,000 word bohoemoth that looks deep into the Conservatives' digital strategy.

All this is just to say-- the playing field is now flat.

GOP Making Significant Advances on the Web

In his Mass winners and losers column today, Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza lists this "winner:"

Republican Netroots: If one of the stories of the last decade in politics was the rise of the liberal online community, the Brown election suggests that the story of this decade -- or at least the first years of it -- may be how Republicans found their mojo online. Not only did Brown use the web to fuel his massive fundraising in the final weeks of the campaign but in every measure of the social networking world he far outdistanced Coakley -- nine times as many views of his You Tube videos, five times as many Facebook friend and three times as many followers on Twitter. Did his dominance in this arena win Brown the election? No. But, it gave his supporters productive vehicles in which to channel their energy and enthusiasm for the candidate. For Democrats who pooh-pooh Republicans' efforts online, the Massachusetts race should serve as a major wake-up call.

And it raises obvious questions about how, one year after the inspirational bottom-up Obama victory, it is possible for a Democrat to get beat on-line anywhere.

Iran Threatens Significant Punishment of Mobile, Web Users

Iranian government characterizes the murder of their own people in the streets as "mercy:" 

SANA, Yemen — Iran’s national police chief issued a stark warning to the country’s opposition on Friday, saying that the era of “mercy” was over and that the authorities would begin cracking down more harshly not only on street protests but also on anyone who used cellphones and e-mail messages to publicize them.

The opposition has relied heavily on e-mail, cellphones and the Internet to organize protests ever since the disputed June 12 presidential election, which set off the worst domestic unrest in decades. The government has shut down opposition newspapers and blocked Web sites, and has grown increasingly frustrated with the protesters’ continuing ability to elude its restraints.

The police chief, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said at a news conference on Friday that those who used e-mail and cellphones to organize protests would be punished even more severely than the protesters themselves.

“After all the evidence we saw on Ashura, our tolerance has come to an end, and both the police force and the judiciary will be confronting them with full force,” Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam said, according to Iran’s semiofficial news service ILNA.

More here.  Be interesting to see how Secretary Clinton will address this, and the China Google attack, in her speech this Thursday on Internet freedom.

Screens, Screens, Everywhere

The last few months it sure has felt like we are hitting one of those technology lift-off moments.  We’ve seen wild innovation in small mobile devices  -  things we used to call phones – with Droids, Nexus Ones and more fighting to keep up with Apple’s slew of path-breaking and super cool offerings.  We’ve seen the emergence of two whole new categories – slate/readers (Kindles, etc) and smartbooks (between a smart phone and netbook).   Twitter use has exploded, AppStores are an every day fixture and Amazon sold more e-books on Christmas day than regular books.  Just as we were all figuring out the last wave a new and even more powerful one has come along, upending everything.  Again.

As we absorb this whole new layer of innovation and change, I think I see where all this could be headed now.  Driven by a great degree by the iphone’s historic touchscreen, which liberated mobile devices from clunky keyboards, the mid-term future will be a world of screens wired to each other through various networks and ultimately all connected together through whatever we ultimately call the single global communications network.  It won’t be computers or phones per se, but intelligent screens.  

These screens will have many uses and be customized.  The one you have for your recipes and cooking video clips will be splatter proof, large and without a keyboard.  The one you carry with you will be small, maybe even roll or fold up, and a keyboard will be optional.  The screen coaches use on the field to talk to their players, show video replays, draw a new play will be built and marketed by Nike.  The screen you use to read your daily stuff and watch your morning video will as big and as powerful as you want it, as it will come in dozens of different options.  The computer you use to write will of course have a screen and a keyboard. 

it is possible these things will no longer be called phones or computers and be called screens because the value added will increasingly be in the screen size, purpose and design and not in the computing, networked part.  The computing, networked part will be (and already is to some degree) commoditized, meaning that it won’t really be an important part of your device.  The important part will be its narrow, intelligent pairing of form and function, ease of use by messy hands, durability and resilience, size, weight, all that.  

The key will be the screen.  Of course it will be mobile, always on, loaded with computing power.  That’s a given.  But what will make it powerful will be the front-end, the consumer interface, its narrow, targeted utility.

Or will it?

Huff Post Launches New Section With Jose Vargas

Our friend, Jose Antonio Vargas, is in the process of launching a new initiative at Huffington Post.  Here is his description of it right from the Huff Po website:

HuffPostTech -- a new HuffPost section that launches next Monday -- will cover how technology in general, and the Internet in particular, is changing the way we live our lives, from politics, education to entertainment. The iPhone 3GS and new Nokia N96 aren't just cell phones or communications devices; for many, they are primary sources of entertainment. Facebook is no mere social networking site; it's a democracy of its own, with a population that rivals some of the world's biggest countries. Indeed, the new section's overlaying concern is the thinking that technology is anthropology. It's not the gear, it's the people.

Looks super interesting.  We will be checking back to see how it evolves in the weeks to come.

For Demos and Open Left: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century

Demos, a London-based think tank, asked me to contribute a short essay on what it means to be on the center-left today.  It is one of a series of essays running as a part of a new Demos project called Open Left.  You can find the essay, Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century, and other interesting essays here.  I've also posted it below.  Feedback, as always, is welcome.

I’m on the left because only the progressive moments in our history, and the progressive leaders who forge them, ensure that prosperity is shared more broadly and our country more prepared to face the future. The last century has seen an ebb and flow between right and left. In America we’ve had three broad periods. The first ran between the two Roosevelts: a battle to lock-down a new reform-minded politics born in the aftermath of economic upheaval in the “progressive era.” It was eventually captured by the Democrats. The second went from FDR to Reagan: an era of Democratic consolidation, which built America’s (still unfinished) social contract. The third began in 1980: a conservative ascendancy that saw its greatest triumphs in 1994 and 2004.

It’s worth remembering that until 2007 the conservative movement had achieved more political and ideological control over my country than at any time since the 1920s. Under President Obama that moment is passing, we hope for good – although battles, such as those being fought over the economy, healthcare, climate changes and immigration as I write, must be won to truly turn back the two-decade march. But the most important question from America’s recent past was – would conservatism mature to provide a credible alternative governing philosophy to replace 20th century progressivism? The Bush era answered that question. The answer is no. It is a lesson that the United Kingdom should learn carefully, as it toys with returning a once-discredited party of the right to political office.

But this next progressive era will not be dominated by the two-tired conservative and liberal ideologies of the past. So it falls to the progressive side to build a reinvented governing agenda capable of tackling the challenges of our time, and new political arrangements built around the capabilities of our fast-changing economy, media and people. Three challenges standout; three that are quite different from those we faced even a few decades ago when Bill Clinton and Tony Blair rethought what it meant to be on the centre-left.

Just as FDR tamed America’s industrial society, so now we must make the transition to a low carbon society-a societal transformation which if anything has been understated by our leaders. Everything from how we build and drive to how we power our mobile devices must change. This transformation will requires a great deal of money, innovations yet unimagined, and a public ready and willing not just to follow but to lead. It also needs a strong moral vision, and a role for the state unsuited to conservativism. And while the proposals offered by Ed Miliband and the Brown government this month are a good start, managing this transformation over the next three decades will make or break political careers and parties. Getting this right is a prerequisite for center-left success in the 21st century.

Second, we must re-imagine politics and government for an age when we are all connected. At some point in the next ten years just about everyone in the world will become knitted together through mobile devices and online. All that we know – communications, commerce, learning, socialising, politics, governing, even the concept of free and open societies themselves-will be changed by this powerful and ever more ubiquitous network. Harnessing the promise of this new age of mobile, and the radical democratization of information, knowledge and power it offers will be one of our the great projects of the center-left in the years to come.

Finally, we must come to terms with “the rise of the rest” as Fareed Zakaria has defined the emergent geopolitical reality of our day, this inexorable trend of developing nations like China, India, Mexico and Brazil taking their seat at the global table. In the years ahead these countries will surely produce Chinese Microsofts and Indian Nokias. Their economic maturation will mean that our countries will compete with both their inexpensive workers and a whole new set of globally competitive corporations, further intensifying already virulent global competition for our businesses, workers and students. Producing rising standards of living in the West will require much more investment in infrastructure, knowledge, skills and schools, and our people’s full partnership in understanding that success will require us to do more, to raise our game, or risk being left behind.

This “rise of the rest” will also require a remaking of the global institutions of governance and power. We have seen this process play out this year as the G20 begins to replace the G8, and the debate over how to remake the International Money Fund has begun in earnest. With only about 15 percent of the world’s people today of European descent, the ability for the governments of the West to be the primary managers of global affairs is coming to an end, a process that will not be easy for our governments to manage, or perhaps our people to accept.

The challenges in front of the center-left political parties of the West today are extraordinary, the greatest we have faced since the rise of European fascism seventy years ago. Today, as in the past, only a progressive vision is fit to meet them. Facing them forthrightly, and showing the courage to tackle them head-on will be perhaps the greatest test of them all.

Kristof: "Tear Down This Cyberwall!"

From Nick Kristof's NYTimes column today:

The unrest unfolding in Iran is the quintessential 21st-century conflict. On one side are government thugs firing bullets. On the other side are young protesters firing “tweets.”

The protesters’ arsenal, such as those tweets on, depends on the Internet or other communications channels. So the Iranian government is blocking certain Web sites and evicting foreign reporters or keeping them away from the action.

The push to remove witnesses may be the prelude to a Tehran Tiananmen. Yet a secret Internet lifeline remains, and it’s a tribute to the crazy, globalized world we live in. The lifeline was designed by Chinese computer engineers in America to evade Communist Party censorship of a repressed Chinese spiritual group, the Falun Gong.

Today, it is these Chinese supporters of Falun Gong who are the best hope for Iranians trying to reach blocked sites.

“We don’t have the heart to cut off the Iranians,” said Shiyu Zhou, a computer scientist and leader in the Chinese effort, called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. “But if our servers overload too much, we may have to cut down the traffic.”

Mr. Zhou said that usage of the consortium’s software has tripled in the last week. It set a record on Wednesday of more than 200 million hits from Iran, representing more than 400,000 people.

If President Obama wants to support democratic movements on a shoestring, he should support an “Internet freedom initiative” pending in Congress. This would include $50 million in the appropriations bill for these censorship-evasion technologies. The 21st-century equivalent of the Berlin wall is a cyberbarrier, and we can help puncture it.

I had more on this yesterday.

More On Iran and the Global Politics of the Mobile Age

In 2007, Alec Ross and I wrote a paper called A Laptop in Every Backpack, which called for a new national committment in America to give every child a laptop computer.   In that paper he and I write:

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and
satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core
premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events
of the early 21st century.  Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications,
media and information are flowing through this network.  Half of the world’s 6 billion
people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive
mobile phones.  Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network,
its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do. 
Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an
essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and
fulfillment for the people of the world. 
We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s
people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life
success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of
commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring.  Bringing
this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be
one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.  

Been thinking a lot about these words these past few days.  Recall that among the first thing the Iranian Government did after the election ended was turn off text messaging, shut down Facebook and radically interrupt internet access.   Today they are attempting to shut down all global reporting from Tehran, and have been blocking Twitter and other sites not already shut off. I know Alec has been thinking about all this too as he is now senior advisor to Secretary Clinton on innovation and all things digital.

What should be the proper reaction of the UN, leading nations, NGOs to the turning off of basic communication services in a nation?  Isn't the ability to use these tools something approaching but not quite a human right of the 21st century, one that should not be denied to any person, anywhere?  Can one any longer imagine the concept of political freedom in a civil society without one's mobile device? Should the UN Secretary be calling on Iran to let reporters report, turn back on the internet, text messages and other web sites and social media?

Whatever one believes about what has and will happen in Iran, it seems like we should all agree that intefering with every day people's use of the modern global communications network should be more roundly condemned by the world's leaders, and the future price for such action should be high.

More on the State Department and Social Media

The New York Times has a very good account of State and its social media strategy:

The Obama administration says it has tried to avoid words or deeds that could be portrayed as American meddling in Iran’s presidential election and its tumultuous aftermath.

Yet on Monday afternoon, a 27-year-old State Department official, Jared Cohen, e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran.

The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.

“This was just a call to say: ‘It appears Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran. Could you keep it going?’ ” said P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

Twitter complied with the request, saying in a blog post on Monday that it put off the upgrade until late Tuesday afternoon — 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Tehran — because its partners recognized “the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.” The network was working normally again by Tuesday evening.

The State Department said its request did not amount to meddling. Mr. Cohen, they noted, did not contact Twitter until three days after the vote was held and well after the protests had begun.

“This is completely consistent with our national policy,” Mr. Crowley said. “We are proponents of freedom of expression. Information should be used as a way to promote freedom of expression.”

The episode demonstrates the extent to which the administration views social networking as a new arrow in its diplomatic quiver. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talks regularly about the power of e-diplomacy, particularly in places where the mass media are repressed.

Mr. Cohen, a Stanford University graduate who is the youngest member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, has been working with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other services to harness their reach for diplomatic initiatives in Iraq and elsewhere.

Last month, he organized a visit to Baghdad by Mr. Dorsey and other executives from Silicon Valley and New York’s equivalent, Silicon Alley. They met with Iraq’s deputy prime minister to discuss how to rebuild the country’s information network and to sell the virtues of Twitter.

Referring to Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main Iranian opposition candidate, Mr. Crowley said, “We watched closely how Moussavi has used Facebook to keep his supporters informed of his activities.”

Tehran has been buzzing with tweets, the posts of Twitter subscribers, sharing news on rallies, police crackdowns on protesters, and analysis of how the White House is responding to the drama.

With the authorities blocking text-messaging on cellphones, Twitter has become a handy alternative for information-hungry Iranians. While Iran has also tried to block Twitter posts, Iranians are skilled at using proxy sites or other methods to circumvent the official barriers.

It is a new political day indeed.

Hats Off to Nico

Hats off to Nico Pitney at Huffington Post for his sleepless liveblogging on the events unfolding in Iran.  He is doing great work.  Check in with him often.   From one of his overnight posts:

2:01 AM ET -- Aslan: Rafsanjani calls "emergency" meeting of Assembly of Experts. If true, this is a bombshell. Appearing on CNN last night (video below), Iran expert Reza Aslan reported this:

There are very interesting things that are taking place right now. Some of my sources in Iran have told me that Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who is the head of the Assembly of Experts -- the eighty-six member clerical body that decides who will be the next Supreme Leader, and is, by the way, the only group that is empowered to remove the Supreme Leader from power -- that they have issued an emergency meeting in Qom.

Now, Anderson, I have to tell you, there's only one reason for the Assembly of Experts to meet at this point, and that is to actually talk about what to do about Khamenei. So, this is what I'm saying, is that we're talking about the very legitimacy, the very foundation of the Islamic Republic is up in the air right now. It's hard to say what this is going to go.

Aslan's scoop is also reported by the Farsi-language Rooyeh.

The reader in Iran who tipped me off to this sent a follow-up note:

jesus christ dude,

I'm [in my 30s] and never thought of it, let alone witnessing it as it unfolds.

I'm going nuts.


An informed Iranian-American had a different take. "I think Rafasanjani is not going to ask for Khamenei's removal, but is bluffing to force Khamenei to drop support of Ahmadinejad."

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