New Tools

July 15: Twitter, Iran and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution

NDN and the New Politics Institute are excited to announce a cutting-edge event – an examination of how Twitter and the new media landscape are drastically changing government and journalism both in the United States and around the world, creating the possibility of a more bottom-up politics.

TwitterJoining NDN President Simon Rosenberg to discuss these seismic shifts will be Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky of Storefront Political Media and Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post. Jaye and Yedinsky are the new media masterminds behind Gavin Newsom’s pioneering gubernatorial campaign. Using Twitter as never before, they have helped Gavin accrue more than 700,000 followers, up from 250,000 just ten weeks ago. This explosive growth is raising questions about whether the model pioneered by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election has already become obsolete.

Twitter is also having a profound impact on politics around the world. Staying connected through Twitter and other new media, Nico Pitney has been providing real-time coverage of what has been happening inside Iran, and becoming himself a witness to the historic uprising there. His work, which quickly became the “blog of record” on Iran and has been closely followed by millions around the world, is an inspiring example of the paradigm shift that is now occurring in journalism. In a recent press conference, President Obama answered a question from Nico, a question he passed along from a reader inside Iran. The State Department even asked Twitter to postpone their scheduled maintenance to allow the Iranians to keep speaking to the world.

We hope you will be able to join us next Wednesday, July 15, at 12 p.m. Lunch will be served. Space is limited, so please click here to RSVP. For those unable to join us in person, the live webcast of the event will begin at 12:15 p.m. ET.

Friday New Tools Feature: Who Will Guard the Guards?

The internet continues to become an increasingly important part of many people's lives - there have been several studies showing that many people would rather give up sex than internet access, and with each day more of our communications, media consumption, and commerce are conducted online. And we have seen in Iran these last few weeks just how important the internet has become for political organizing and citizen journalism.

But as our lives become increasingly digitized, a number of fundamental questions are being raised. Who owns the internet? Who polices it? What constitutes acceptable or unacceptable behavior on the web? Many internet users are accustomed to thinking of it as a free and open communal place, something which seems integral to the very nature of the net itself. Yet there is no law guaranteeing this, and companies and governments have increasingly sophisticated ways of monitoring and controlling internet traffic.

A cyber war is being now waged, fortress walls now replaced with firewalls. China's hacking of U.S. agencies and companies is well-known, as is its strict censorship of internet content within its own borders. China even went so far as to crack down on Google this week, perhaps as a reaction to their perceived role in prolonging unrest in Iran. This despite the fact that Google has already made considerable concessions to China, removing a huge amount of political and pornographic content from their Chinese service.

The United States supposedly advocates freedom of speech on the internet, and we have invested millions of dollars in Iran over the last few years in technologies designed to circumvent the state's censorship efforts:

“Our goal was to promote freedom of speech for Iranians to communicate with each other and the outside world. We funded and supported innovative technologies to allow them to do this via the Internet, cell phones and other media,” former State Department Iran democracy program coordinator David Denehy tells Eli Lake of the Washington Times.

Forget the driven-by-DC mock-populism and the all-too-clever schemes; this is how America should be promoting democracy abroad. Give activists the tools — and then let them decide how and when to use ‘em.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the Voice of America and the Farsi-language Radio Farda, has a three-person anti-censorship team that focuses on China and Iran. “Iran has a growing audience of young activist Internet users and we have repurposed our tools to work in Farsi and make it available to Iranians,” BBG’s Ken Berman says. “We open up the channels so the Iranian blogosphere is more accessible to Iranians in Iran.”

However, there are questions about the U.S. Government's commitment in this space: FOIA requests have unearthed an incredible amount of abuses of spying powers at the NSA and the FBI, among others. And the front-runner for Obama's Cyber Security Czar, Tom Davis, is no champion of online rights. From a Wired profile of the former GOP Congressman: examination of Davis’ record in Congress shows that he’s been on the wrong side of key privacy issues, including the controversial REAL ID Act, which aims to turn state driver’s licenses into a de facto national identification card linked by shared databases and strict federal authentication standards.

“Given his role in REAL ID, Tom Davis would not be a good choice for privacy, which is something that President Obama specifically promised to protect in his remarks on the cyber security strategy,” says Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Many cyber security planners refer obliquely to ‘authentication’ and ‘identity management’ programs that would devastate privacy, anonymity and civil liberties. Davis would probably work to roll past these issues rather than solve them.”


In announcing the creation of the new position last month, Obama stressed that privacy was key to the government’s cyber security efforts. But Davis’ most notable action on privacy was his failed attempt to undo a measure that put a chief privacy officer in every major government agency.

The ACLU’s legislative scorecard on Davis shows he disagrees with that group on many privacy matters.

For instance, he voted consistently to give the government wide latitude to wiretap the internet and spy on Americans’ communications. That program, including the NSA’s massive database of emails known as “Pinwale,” made news recently again when The New York Times reported that the NSA examined Americans’ domestic e-mails without authority.

Will Young People Unite to Save the World?

Seventy percent of Iranians are under 30.

These young people have twice the presence in the population of that country as America's largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), has in ours.

In the immediate aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election, text messages became the tool for organizing post-election protests. Hundreds of thousands of tweets provided more, if not clearer, information about what was happening each day than traditional media. Opposition and government Facebook pages poured out dueling messages on the Internet. It suddenly seemed as if not only had American democratic values erupted on the barren landscape of a theocratic society, but also that young people's technological capabilities might produce a regime change that no one anticipated. Clay Shirky announced, "This is it. This is the big one.  This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media." And the notion that this was a "Twitter Revolution" quickly became the meme for the entire series of post-election events.

But then the entrenched establishment fought back using the very same Internet-enabled technologies to isolate, spy on, and ultimately shut down the resistance.  Thanks to new capabilities recently acquired from two European telecom companies-Nokia and Siemens-as part of their country's upgrade of its mobile networks, the Iranian government was able to monitor the flow of online data in and out of sites like Twitter and Facebook, from one central location. The Iranians deployed a technology called deep packet inspection, first created to put a firewall around President Clinton's emails in 1993, to deconstruct digitized packets of information flowing through the government's telecom monopoly that might contain what they considered to be seditious information before reconstructing and sending it on to destinations they were also able to track and monitor. The result was a 90% degradation in the speed of Internet communications in Iran at the height of the unrest, and a previously unseen capability to determine who the government's enemies were down to the individual IP address level.

Once again the world learned that technology does not arrive with a built-in set of values that makes it work either for good or evil. Even though Internet technology has many virtues, it is not inherently liberating or enslaving. Instead how it is used is determined by the values of those who access it.  Libertarians celebrate the individual empowerment that the Internet makes possible.  But even though Ron Paul supporters used the technology to take on the Republican establishment in 2008, the end result that year was the election of a group-oriented, civic-minded candidate, Barack Obama, whose campaign used the very same technology to guide millions of people to undertake a collective agenda of change that Libertarians certainly did not "believe in."

The difference between what libertarians wanted and what Obama achieved came from the generational attitudes and beliefs of Millennials, Obama's key supporters, not from the technology that generation was so adept at using.

One of the founders of generational theory, Neil Howe, points out that the under-30 population of Iran grew up during a religious awakening in the Islamic world that came later than America's "cultural revolution" of the 1960s. As a result, Iranian youth resembles Generation X, Americans now in their 30s and 40s.  Like our own Gen X, these young Iranians are "pragmatic, individualistic, commercial, and anti-ideological (which is why they hate Ahmadinejad so much)."

Those values make them anti-establishment in the current crisis. We are fortunate that they feel deeply enough about the potential of democracy to risk their lives to "tear down that power structure," to paraphrase what President Ronald Reagan, Generation X's political hero, said in a different context.  But now the central task of our government must be to translate that democratic impulse into a deeper belief in Millennial Generation values, such as the power of consensus, the peaceful resolution of differences and the need to find win-win solutions to our problems.

That is why the President Barack Obama's recent Cairo speech should be the bedrock on which America continues to engage large young Muslim populations throughout the world, including Iran:

"No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

This statement has the potential to become a governing creed for a new generation of young Muslims. If they come to have, as President Obama does, "an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose," then the power of 21st century technologies will be used to advance the cause of freedom in Iran, rather than suppressing it. But tweeting those words won't make it happen.  Believing in them will.



Thursday New Tools Feature: Apple Stays Ahead of the Curve

For those of you who didn't spend all of Monday simultaneously watching four different tech liveblogs, here are some of the highlights from Apple's WWDC 2009:

There were a lot of exciting announcements for Apple geeks like myself ($29 upgrade to 64bit Snow Leopard OS with free Exchange support! 7 hours of battery life for the new MacBooks!), but probably the biggest news for most people is the next-generation iPhone. Apple's new iPhone, dubbed the "3GS" (the S is for speed, apparently), will be available on June 17th in 16 and 32 GB flavors ($199 and $299, respectively). The 3GS includes a 3 megapixel camera (see sample picture at right), compared to the old 2 MP camera, and the new camera also features autofocus, tap focus, and video recording. It also includes a built-in compass, voice dialing, and a faster processor.

The most important of these upgrades is the processor, the part which gives the 3GS its "S." The new 600MHz (same speed as the Palm Pre) processor makes this iPhone about twice as fast when running many applications, and its graphic processor supports OpenGL ES 2.0, while the 3G only supports ES 1.1. This means that the new iPhone will be able to run some pretty cool games in the future which won't be available on the old one.

Owners of the old iPhone will still be able to download the new 3.0 OS, which will come standard on the 3GS phones. Version 3.0 adds many things that iPhone users have been griping about, such as cut and paste, MMS (immediately on most carriers, late summer on ATT here in the states), landscape keyboard mode, and tethering (except on ATT, again), as well as push notification support and developer support for accesories and external devices.

This last bit in particular is big news. Here are a few examples of apps Apple showed off at WWDC 2009, courtesy of engadget:

The new Zipcar app users GPS to find where you are and shows you all of the Zipcar locations year you. You can then tap on any location to see a list of available cars, their specs and pricing, reserve one, and even unlock it from your phone.

They also showed a demo of TomTom's slick new turn-by-turn navigation app and car kit, which effectively renders standalone GPS units obsolete and irrelevant.

Finally, one of the coolest apps in the demo takes advantage both of the new exteranal device support and push notification to do something really remarkable and, for lack of a better word, awesome. The app, from Airstrip Technologies, allows doctors to receive a patient's information on their iPhone. So, the way this works is that a patient has, say, a heart monitor attached to their iphone. This sends information that the doctor can check on their iPhone at any time. If something abnormal happens, the program can send a push message to the doctor. It can also send lab info to the doctor; in the demo, the doctor receives a notification that says "New lab result for David Smith: Critical Value - Potassium level under 3.0" The doctor can then tap "view" to see all of the patient's stats (see picture).

Apple also unveiled an awesome e-reader app with an extensive book store and an app that connects your iPhone to your amp and guitar and allows you to choose different effects, amp sounds, and even different "virtual" tunings. All of this on a single device. The mobile revolution continues to accelerate, and the impact it will have on our lives over the next decade is difficult to overstate.

Thursday New Tools Feature: Wave Goodbye to Old Methods of Communication and Collaboration

At Google's recent "I/O" developer conference in San Francisco, the company unveiled an intriguing new tool called Wave, which Google deems its attempt to "reinvent email for the 21st century." That is, however, an inaccurate and outdated way of thinking about what Wave really is. Wave is a web-based, open-source platform that is designed to seamlessly integrate communication and collaboration. That may sound a little vague, so take a look at it in action:

This is only a preview of the developer version, so it is likely to evolve significantly from where it is right now. But even in this early stage, it shows a huge amount of potential. Sometimes, Google releases things that elicit a brief "oh, cool" reaction but then fade from the radar screen. I think Wave will be different for a number of reasons, but the biggest is that it allows users to take advantage of the internet in a more natural and organic way, a way more in tune with the nature of the internet itself. After seeing the demo, Joe Trippi tweeted "Just posted the Google Wave demo on my blog - definitely check it out if you haven't yet. What do you think? Game changer?" and then later, "More on Google Wave. Did they just reinvent online communication?" The people at ReadWriteWeb, after doing a hands-on trial, write:

What we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg, but we can already envision how this could replace our internal chat room here at RWW, and how it could revolutionize the way employees in a company communicate. Wave definitely takes some getting used to, but once you get into the flow of things, regular email suddenly feels stale and slow.

While Google is busy reinventing how we collaborate together on the web, the White House is busy trying to bring these kinds of innovations into government. As part of the Open Government Initiative, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, the Obama Administration held a "Brainstorm" using IdeaScale. Once again, I like the top entries (athough they will, of course, be ignored), but this time the IdeaScale thing is just one part of a three-phase process which also includes a discussion phase, where users discuss the ideas brought up in the brainstorm, and then a "draft" phase where users will "Collaborate on crafting constructive proposals to address challenges from the Discussion phase." It's an ambitious evolution of the Administration's efforts in this sphere, and we'll be keeping a close eye on it. 

Thursday New Tools Feature: Optimistic Android

Yesterday, TeleGeography released a new report projecting that by the year 2013,

  • there will be 700 million broadband subscribers worldwide, an increase of 76%
  • there will be over 2 billion new mobile subscriptions, an increase of 60%
  • wired phone line subscriptions will actually decline slightly worldwide

Furthermore, much of this growth is coming from the developing world. NDN and our affiliate the New Policy Institute recently released a paper, Harnessing the Mobile Revolution, which explores just how big of an impact this explosion of mobile infrastructure can have in poor countries in improving healthcare outcomes, combating poverty, and promoting democracy. So we're very encouraged by these projections.

Another important thing to note is that by 2013, smartphones will be much more ubiquitous and even more capable than they are at present. There's a ton of hype around the immenent release of the Palm Pre and the 3rd generation iPhone, which is likely to remain the class leader, but Google also just announced that there will be between 18 and 20 new phones running their mobile OS, Android, by the end of the year (two are pictured here).

Android is a powerful and highly customizable OS which continues to develop impressively, but until now it has been hindered by its hardware matches. Android also features an application store similar to Apple's, and although Apple still pretty much owns the app space (which it created), Android's app store does have the appeal of being completely open and uncensored (on some phones, depending on the carrier), unlike Apple's regulated App Store, which sometimes intentionally limits the iPhone's functionality.

The proliferation of these phones is in some ways more exciting than the spread of cheap netbooks - mobile phones today are more powerful and can do more things than most computers just a few years ago. Look for more from NDN in the coming weeks on this critical issue, which is huge not just for American politics but for global society. It will be very interesting to see what happens as much of the world comes online.

The New Tools Series

We are in the midst of an explosion of new technologies and new media, which are in various stages of development and exploitation. In 2006, the New Politics Institute launched a campaign to encourage progressives across the country to immediately adopt four key new tools that are particularly important and ready for political prime time right now.

With the success of our first tools campaign, NDN and NPI have launched the second part of our campaign, unveiling four new tools. They can make a difference in ensuring that our voice is heard loudly and clearly at a time when decisions critical to the future of our nation are being made.

Go Mobile


Nine in 10 mobile phones are now Internet enabled, allowing candidates to send rich data directly to cell phone users. More importanly, 30% of users only have a cell phone, making traditional telemarketing techniques increasingly obsolete.

Reimagine Video


One innocent YouTube video single handidly sunk the political campaign of George Allen--and it wasn't even created by an opposition campaign. With the proliferation and decentralization of influential video, the 30 second ad spot needs to be reimagined.

Target Your Marketing


The Republican political machine rose to power by identifying and targeting segments of an audience. In order to compete, Democrats also need to better understand potential voting niches and target them directly.

Leverage Social Networks


Independent of the Obama campaign, a FaceBook user created a a group that attracted 250,000 users in less than a month. This new type of online political self-organization can be harnessed to great effect--as long as politicos find a way to leverage social networks without damaging their autonomy.

Advertise Online


As much money was spent on Google search ads last year as was spent on ads on any television network, magazine publisher, or newspaper chain. Search is an effective new form of advertising that allows your message to get in front of people who are actively looking for it. And, search only charges fees when people actually click on your ad.

Buy Cable


Since 2001 more people watch cable television than broadcast during primetime. Advertising on cable offers more eyeballs and more precise demographic and geographic targeting at a lower price. Republicans began to take advantage of cable in 2004 and, by shifting significant advertising to cable, progressives can beat them at their own game.

Engage the Blogs


The Blogosphere and Netroots are a powerful asset for progressives. Dedicate someone in your organization to blog or consistently get your message out to the blogs, which act as conduits to many active constituencies, including the huge generation of young people.

Speak in Spanish


Spanish is the preferred language for nearly half of all Hispanic voters. Learning how to bring progressive values and ideas to this fast-growing group—using Spanish—is essential to reach an audience open to hearing from us.



To read all of the New Tools Papers, check out the full New Toolkit here.

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.

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