New Tools

All the Insights of the New Tools, New Audiences Forum Live On

We now have video of almost all the talks and breakout sessions from the all-day event on May 9th that the New Politics Institute and NDN put on. It’s all housed in an easily accessible form on the NPI website at There are several ways into the material:

The front page features an anchor area for the ongoing New Tools Campaign, and the blurb there has links to four series of video. You can also see the Technology Panel right off the front page as the featured video of the whole site.

The dedicated video page also has those four series laid out: The Framing of the Forum, The Technology Panel, The Demography Panel, and The Breakout Sessions. Each of the breakout sessions has their own video module which also can be seen on the individual pages for each tool: Go Mobile, Reimagine Video, Target Your Marketing, Leverage Social Networks, Buy Cable, Speak in Spanish, and Advertise Online.

So now we have hours of new video explaining these new tools and new audiences in addition to all the memos and previous video from events already housed there. This really is becoming a node of great information for those in organizations or campaigns who want to get up to speed on how to use these new tools in advocacy and politics. Please send around the links to those who might find them useful. Thanks.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute


New Media informs Chinese quake response

In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in central China last week, the western media has reported on the role that new media – blogs, mobile phones, and instant messages – have played in communicating news of the earthquake around China. These communications mark a vast change in the flow of information surrounding a disaster from previous disasters in China.

From Cara Anna of the Associated Press:

Almost nonstop, the uncensored opinions of Chinese citizens are popping up online, sent by text and instant message across a country shaken by its worst earthquake in three decades.

"Why were most of those killed in the earthquake children?" one post asked Thursday on FanFou, a microblogging site.

"How many donations will really reach the disaster area? This is doubtful," read another.

China is now home to the world's largest number of Internet and mobile phone users, and their hunger for quake news is forcing the government to let information flow in ways it hasn't before.

A fast-moving network of text messages, instant messages and blogs has been a powerful source of firsthand accounts of the disaster, as well as pleas for help and even passionate criticism of rescue efforts.

"I don't want to use the word transparent, but it's less censored, an almost free flow of discussion," said Xiao Qiang, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the China Internet Project, which monitors and translates Chinese Web sites.

China is well known for controlling the flow of information.

"We didn't know that hundreds of thousands of lives passed away during the Tangshan earthquake in 1976 until many years after the disaster took place," sociologist Zheng Yefu said in a commentary last week in the Southern Metropolis News.

But word about Monday's magnitude 7.9 quake spread quickly on Web sites and microblogging services, in which users share short bursts of information through text and instant messages. The services also publish the messages online.

"It all depends on the users; we don't edit it," FanFou founder Wang Xin said. "We just gather their words together."

A string of crises over the last few months — including crippling snowstorms and Tibetan protests — has taught the government a few lessons, Berkeley's Xiao said.

Government officials held a rare, real-time online exchange with ordinary Chinese on Friday to answer angry questions about why so many schools collapsed in the quake.

"They understand better now that to react slowly or to cover up in the Internet age is a bad idea," Xiao said in a telephone interview.

But the government is still monitoring the online conversation. Seventeen people have been detained since the earthquake, warned or forced to write apologies for online messages that "spread false information, made sensational statements and sapped public confidence," the state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported Thursday.

Even as recently as the SARS crisis, the Chinese government did not seem to understand the beneficial role of an uncensored press. Instead of allowing the media to report on the public health crisis, Chinese officials censored reports of the disease. This new media, particularly text messages via mobile communications devices, exist in great degree outside of the government’s ability to censor. NDN has written about the impact these devices are having on Chinese political movements and the power of mobile bring about major societal changes – from governance to public health.

The impact that these mobile phones has on communications in China will be far reaching. The Chinese government has been realizing that a free(er) press and communications flow serves an important role in distributing reliable information in the wake of disasters. While the blogging and texting has been valuable, rumors circulated wildly in these unrestricted media. The introduction of these technologies to the information market in China will have a profound effect on its openness going forward, as new media will doubtless improve both government responsiveness and the ability of, and necessity for, traditional media to function.

Gordon goes to the people

You've probably seen the British Prime Minister's Questions on C-Span. (If you haven't, check them out because they can get rough.) The question time essentially gives Members of Parliament from all parties about 30 minutes to question the PM on any subject. It has provided those who watch it both an interesting look at government and transparency. Now, PM Gordon Brown is building upon its success and making his office more transparent to the citizens it serves.

Thanks to the help of YouTube, the Prime Minister is taking questions directly from the people via 10 Downing Street's channel. In the video below, Gordon Brown introduces "Ask the PM" and says viewers can ask questions about Globalization, Climate Change, Housing, Jobs, Health and Public Services, etc. It looks like they've got a neat submission tool, so if you're a resident of the UK check it out and let us know how it works.

This is yet another example of where the new tools can take us. We saw the CNN-YouTube debates and the potential that video has shown in opening up the process, allowing so many to participate. We've also seen it give more people the chance to weigh in on critical conversations. So I can't wait to see how this goes. As always though, we must remember that not everyone will have the chance to participate, a problem in and of itself...

The Blossoming Field of Data Visualization

Now for a brief break from hardcore politics, to something tangentially related. Take a moment this weekend to play around at the website FlowingData. It’s a very nice nexus that points out many great examples of data visualization that are appearing these days. Most of them do not have to do with politics or advocacy, but I expect we soon will start seeing more visualization examples in that space.

I have been tracking data visualization techniques for years now, well before I became involved as director of the New Politics Institute. The field is important, and increasingly so, because of the mushrooming of data and information that our modern society is getting filled with due to the proliferation of computers and all things digital. Fortunately, the same technology that is helping cause the proliferation is also creating new ways for humans to process the information in efficient and powerful ways.

The Flowing Data site is one way into this increasingly fascinating world. (Kudos to Carlos Bakota who just pointed it out to me.) You can just start at the homepage and start clicking on the graphics that run down the middle of the page. They all lead to blog posts that explain and show some visual effort to make better sense of information. Today’s lead post shows a great example of how the Boston Globe figured out a way to chart each of Manny Ramirez's career homers on the path to his hitting 500. I mean they showed exactly where each ball was hit, in each stadium, off which pitcher, etc., etc. Yet they do this is a fun, simple, and very visual way. Check it out.

Another way into the material is through their archives, which break down examples by various categories. Here would be several that I would check out, here, here, and here. They also spotlight one of the great creators in this space, Jonathan Harris, a young innovator who is more like an artist. Early on, I connected with him and have been following him for years. To give you a sense of his work, check out this We Feel Fine website on tracking feelings around the world. It’s very hard to explain in mere words, which is the point of the whole field. Sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

50 State Blogger Corps Announced for the Democratic Convention

My company is the "Official Website Producer" of the 2008 Democratic Convention site, and a new announcement just occured on that that ties into NDN's advice on engaging the blogs.

They just announced the credentaling of a formal "State Blogger Corps."Here is a snippet of the story:

"Months ago, we began the process of credentialing bloggers who cover state and local politics, as part of the DemConvention State Blogger Corps.  More than 400 blogs applied for the program.  And they’re incredible.  Some blogs are the work of dedicated groups of activists, a few are full-time professional endeavors, and many others are the products of busy individuals blogging about local politics in their free time.  Those selected to be part of our State Blogger Corps were announced today.  And in every case, these bloggers have become experts on the political happenings in their states....

They’ll be seated with their respective delegations at the Convention.  These bloggers will have some of the best seats in the house and they’ll be the eyes and ears of local audiences online around the country."

You can see the full list of the 50 State Blogs chosen at the site.

Open discussion: Google does Social Networking

This past Tuesday, Peter Whoriskey wrote a thought-provoking article in the Washington Post about Google's new social networking service, Friend Connect. Here at NDN and NPI, we're very interested in new tools like these, so we wanted to open up the blog to hear what others think of Friend Connect, keeping in mind the issues Whoriskey presents.

Some of us at NDN have already weighed in with our opinioin in the comments section, but we want to hear what you think. So, if you'd like to add your voice, you can post a comment. If you don't already have an existing account, you can register by clicking here.

If you have any trouble doing this, please don't hesitate to contact me at I'll be happy to help, especially if it means that we'll hear from you!

(Note: if you click on the link to register and it takes you to an empty page, that means you already have an account. E-mail me at the address above if you need help finding your username.) 

Mobile Phones fuel protests on the environment in China

China’s poor stewardship of the environment in pursuit of economic gain has gotten to the point that the World Bank estimates that damage to the environment costs China 5.8% of its GDP annually. However, the costs of poor environmental stewardship are also political. China's leaders are starting to feel the wrath of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, as Chinese people rise up to protest polluted water and dangerous factories. Recent noted protests have been covered closely by the western media, the first in a New York Times article by Edward Wong over a multibillion dollar PetroChina plant in Chengdu and the second in the Economist over heavily polluted Tai Lake, the third largest lake in China.

These protests are significant, not only because the Chinese people are rejecting their government’s poor environmental record, but because of how they are organizing protests. These, like other political protests in Egypt and Tibet, are being put together by blogs and mobile phones. Mobile phones, especially, allow organizers to put together spur of the moment action in political issues in a way that the Chinese government cannot monitor in the same way it monitors the internet.

From the New York Times:

The recent protest, which was peaceful, was organized through Web sites, blogs and cellphone text messages, illustrating how some Chinese are using digital technology to start civic movements, which are usually banned by the police. Organizers also used text messages to publicize their cause nationally.

From the Economist:

The same internet and mobile-telephone technology that is helping China's angry young nationalists organise protests and boycotts is also helping other aggrieved citizens to unite. The past year has seen the first large-scale, middle-class protests in China over environmental issues: in the southern coastal city of Xiamen in June over the construction of a chemical factory, and in January this year in Shanghai over plans to extend a magnetic levitation train line.

These Chinese political organizers are developing a movement of their own, one that will ultimately make their government answer hard questions about democracy, human rights, and the environment. In large part, new technology, especially mobile, will be responsible. Simon Rosenberg recently wrote about the power of mobile to reduce global poverty, one of the many exciting broader applications for mobile technology that will be able to bring an improved standard of living to people in developing nations in every corner of the globe.

MoveOn Learns to Herd the Cats of User-Generated Content

Much has been made about the wonders of user-generated video and other content that average people just spontaneously create for a candidate or a cause. But people in organizations and campaigns mostly think of these outbursts as random and impossible to initiate or influence. That’s why MoveOn’s “Obama in 30 Seconds” project is so important to watch. Once again MoveOn points the way towards how to effectively herd the cats of the viral world.

On Tuesday, MoveOn announces the finalists of the contest on the project’s dedicated website. The basic story, in case you have not heard, is that they asked average people to put together positive ads for Obama in the classic 30 second formula -- only via the web. In short order they had more than 1,000 submissions, which they then set up on a website that served up each of them one at a time for viewers to watch and rate. Each time you went to the site, you would be served up a different ad, or as many as you wanted served to you. Some were ok, as you would expect from any open contest (ever watch the early rounds of American Idol?), but some were terrific. Here is my favorite from my random troll.

The finalists in the voting will then be considered by an all-start panel of Hollywood types and other progressive heroes from Matt Damon to Moby and from Lawrence Lessig to Markos. The very top ad will be put on mainstream TV with MoveOn money. Already they have drawn 4.7 million votes, and they have not even begun the push that will come from having the top dozen examples or so.

The whole process is a deliberate attempt to solicit bottom-up media, structure a method to get to the ones with the most viral potential, and get everyone thinking about positive messages about Obama – and then sending them around the Web for their friends and family to see.

Other progressive organizations and campaigns should take note of this basic formula. It’s building on the truly innovative breakthrough that MoveOn did in the 2004 cycle with its “Bush in 30 Seconds” contest. That was a similar bottom-up video contest but done before YouTube even existed. It was truly visionary at the time.

This Obama in 30 Seconds does not have the breakthrough innovation, but it does refine and improve the process. And thankfully, they are encouraging not a negative spot on them, but a positive spot on us. It’s a much better direction to move towards. Congrats to MoveOn once again.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

NPI Event on Thursday: The transformation of television, and what it means for advocacy and politics

For most of the last 50 years, television has been the dominant medium of advocacy and politics in America. Partisan politics have been about 30-second spots and eight-second sound bites on the evening news. Most of the billions spent by advocacy groups, party committees and candidates every two years go on television, and most of that money, on traditional live broadcast television. Broadcast television was the filter through which politics was experienced by most Americans.

But that old world of traditional broadcast television is going through profound and historic change. The rise of a broadband-based global communications networks is challenging the monopolistic distribution of video long enjoyed by broadcast TV. Cable and satellite viewership overtook broadcast viewership seven years ago. Digital video recording devices, led by TiVO, are altering our basic relationship to TV in ways that are only beginning to be understood and are showing explosive growth. The day on which TV ads can be delivered to your cable or satellite box, individually tailored to you, is very near. And the velocity of this all this momentous change, is, if anything, increasing.

To reflect on all this and what it means for advocacy and politics, we've assembled three brilliant panelists, all with deep knowledge of the medium. For anyone in the business of progressive advocacy and communications, you won't want to miss this compelling NPI event this Thursday, April 24, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Joining me this Thursday for a lively discussion will be:

Todd Juenger, leader of TiVo's Audience Research and Measurement business, which provides detailed insight into how TiVo viewers consume and interact with television programming and advertisements.

Tara Walpert, President of Visible World, Inc., a company that uses new tools to customize and target advertisements so that the right message reaches the right audience at the right time.

Evan Tracey, the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, the leading custom media research company for politics and public affairs advertising expenditure data. 

We believe this event will provide you with a practical understanding of how to navigate the changing world of television and how to make the most effective use of new technologies. So please join us on Thursday, April 24, at 12 p.m., in the ballroom at the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 N. Capitol St., NW, Washington, DC.

Please make sure to RSVP here. If you have questions, please contact Courtney Markey at 202-544-9200 or

Finally, be sure to hold the date, Friday, May 9, for The New Tools and New Audiences of Campaign 2008, a day-long event on how to best harness the potential power of new technologies and demographic shifts.

For background, check out our Buy Cable Smart Memo, our New Tools Campaign Checklist, our paper on Viral Video in Politics, and our Study on Fundamental Shifts in the US Media and Advertising Industries.

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