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Re-Founding America

by brittb on November 26th, 2007

Please note CORRECTIONS # 1 & 2, below, courtesy David Weinberger.

It was a lovely week, treading water in my gene pool in Denver, and now I’m more determined than ever to save my grandchildren from ourselves.

The Miracle of Flight

Tomorrow, Tamara’s flying to Prague, then Paris, then Amsterdam. Like any of us would be, she’s focused on the mechanics of a 7-hour flight, not on the miracle of the journey.

Forty-one years ago in USAF Pilot Training, my Instructor Pilot asked me to look at our stubby little jet-fighter wings and tell me what I saw. “Don’t see a thing.” I replied. “Think about it,” said 1st Lt. Skip Vara, “That’s all that’s holding us up. Isn’t that amazing?”

As amazing as a fighter pilot finding magic in Bernoulli’s Principle.

The Miracle of Re-Founding Governance

Our little band believes that a good-enough World-Of-Ends solution can redefine US governance. Our challenge is the same as any group with this vision. We try not to get distracted about the general issues that any such project must address. Instead, let’s question our purpose and the components of our particular proposition.

Our Purpose

To tease out and aggregate the inchoate political will of the people; to focus it with enough palpable force that politicians and their stakeholders must listen with the urgency that Jeff Jarvis’ Hell inspired at Dell.

Our Proposition

A week ago, David Weinberger suggested that we not concern ourselves about the specifics of the ORGware platform, since he knows enough about it that he assumes it is reasonably conceived and sufficient to our purposes. Instead, we should focus on the means by which we gain critical mass.

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CORRECTION #1: David wrote to say that it’s not that he knows enough about ORGware to be satisfied about its sufficiency. Rather, he assumes it’s coming along fine because he trusts me. He certainly knows we’re not rushing it to market!

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We’re building a public utility: a federation of hyperlocal sites pre-configured to attract hope and outrage and action around specific issues. That should be enough to catalyze a vibrant enough conversation to grow without much nourishment from the builders. That’s a safe bet: zillions of people blog and kvetch (comment) without a purpose-built environment, and zillions more kvetch in purpose-built environments like Huffington Post and Drudge and RedStates and TPM. As they did with the Dean campaign, legions of kvetchers crosstalk using their favorite authors’ blog comments, and it serves them just as their own blog would – they reach whom they want to with a minimum of hassle. People clearly have something on their minds and need to share it.

Pun intended, we’re in the business of laying eggs. Using ORGware’s ability to spin off sites spontaneously, we provide a protective shell loaded with a temporary supply of nutrients and that’s it – we’re done. Then we cheer from the tiki bar and see who hatches and gets across the beach to safety. That’s more than the weeping tortoises did, abandoning their eggs in Mondo Cane. They really don’t care which of the collective offspring will last long enough to make a difference. Everyone wants to be heard, some want to make a difference and even fewer will. But those are enough.

Leaders emerge. People follow. Some followers become leaders. We’re building a series of promising hierarchies without the ability to lock in anyone when the hierarchy grows to apparent dominance. That’s the difference between a world of ends and a world of means.

Our hyperlocal egg varieties

Yeah. I know. This list is old news to many of us. But, let’s keep it in perspective: It’s amazing that we don’t question whether we can launch these public utilities, or whether the platform will be sufficient.

NewGov.US

A dedicated site for every congressional district and Senate seat, 435 for Congress, styled as http://newgov.us/ma4; 100 for the Senate – http://newgov.us/ma/senatea (or “senateb” – I can’t find a unique identifier for senate seats – amazing)

NewPrez.US

An independent site for supporters of every candidate for President, one of which automatically morphs into a “Master Site” for feedback to the sitting President. As we all hoped DeanForAmerica would.

.govAdvisers.US

Focused citizen oversight of every Federal agency (Defense.govAdvisers.US; FDA.govAdvisers.US, etc.).

Politicopia.com

50 state legislative sites for citizen collaboration on state lawmaking, plus a “Master Site” for citizen collaboration on Federal legislation.

CommunitiesDoneRight.com

100+ sites with the DoneRight moniker, for the 50 largest US cities, all the states and some other places. Ad-supported, with the ferment of urban living and instant social networks for every school, neighborhood association, church and treehouse.

Marketing vs. Self-organization:

  • Marketing assumes we can reach people to take actions that they otherwise would not.
  • Self-organizing assumes that people will act in ways that scratch whatever itch they’re feeling.
  • Marketing assumes we’re smarter than the people we’re persuading. When we stop, they stop.
  • Self-organizing networks require us to build obvious-to-use backscratchers.
  • When we get it right, they keep scratching, as long as they feel the itch.

SO:

  • No half-assed social network can be saved by good marketing.
  • A well-provisioned, relevant SN needs no marketing.

What’s wrong with that logic?

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CORRECTION #2: David Weinberger again: “I really don’t believe in a build it and they will comestrategy. It needs marketing, or at least programs that will build critical mass.

I should have said “A well-provisioned, relevant SN needs a lot less marketing than you’d think”.

My marketing vs. intrinsic growth opposition was over-the top, but SNs do encourage us to expect growth far in excess of the marketing budget. Take the phenomenon that David and I first bonded over, 4-1/2 years ago: the Dean campaign. Without enough money, staff or lists to mount a “real” campaign, Joe Trippi turned to the Internet. With little more than a Moveable type blog and comments turned on, the campaign was able to attract and hold attention based on Dean’s galvanizing speech to the California Democratic Convention in March, 2003. That much is well documented. It’s happened again this year with the Ron Paul campaign. David’s point here is reinforced by the presence of the free marketing given to a televised speech by a Presidential candidate.

Our viewpoints differ at the margins of sponsored social networks. SNs absolutely cannot grow without a seed crystal powerful enough to crystallize interest and commentary around it. If you have a seductive meme and truly viral mechanisms, you can reduce your marketing efforts. Also, if you attract existing organizations’ members to a site offering immediate benefits, they are likely to invite their associates, providing a multiplier effect.

A great example is the previously cited Jeff Jarvis “Dell Hell” phenomenon. A loosely-coupled social network formed around Jeff’s story and took it from there. But Jeff’s blog is called “Buzz Machine” for good reasons: He generates more marketing before lunch than most of us do all week.

Key Point: For many issues-based networks, there are Jeff Jarvises out there ready to spring into action. If you can awaken them, they can provide most of the marketing you need. So those first-tier infectious vectors can count as part of your marketing effort.

To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, “The audience markets better than I can.”

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Issues and Viewpoints

Issues and viewpoints fuel social networks. The organizer of an ORGware site, or of a group (there is no difference) must assign at least one issue to her new site. If it’s an issue not listed before, it’s added to the tag list. For what it’s worth, it also creates a new public group for anyone to kvetch broadly, separately from the organizer’s more focused group. Tag lists are in order of popularity, to encourage people to gather around the most-used tags.

Aside from its logo, color scheme and “About Us” pages, the only characteristics that make a group what it is are its issues and how well the core members speak about them. We can’t control the speaking, though we can seed it. The Eureka! of the blogosphere is that there are smart, talented writers everywhere and they sprout like mushrooms whenever they discover a place they can make a difference.

Strategic Question

Are there enough compelling voices, in enough cities and states and congressional districts, to demonstrate that a federation of such sites – this public utility – is a viable back-channel for governance? Since nothing is certain, let’s appreciate a probability as stunning as Bernoulli’s Principle:

Our odds of re-founding America are better than the Founding Fathers’

Tactical Questions for Ten Refounders

Our little band is seeking ten Refounders: leaders to act as the Board for the Public Utility that we might call the ORGware Federation of sites. This is like starting a water district in a new town. Leaders of the town pay a lawyer to write and file the magic words to create the district. They serve as the Board of Directors of the non-profit utility. They encumber their property with new taxes to pay for the water district. They do all this in order to provide clean water and to improve the value of their property and businesses. There is no conflict in their non-profit and for-profit roles.

Our challenge to our Ten Refounders:

Please invest significantly in this utility, but not as much as each of us has.
Please lead opinion and sentiment in your world to assure the utility’s success.
Please help us do the right things.

Our ten Refounders will be the leaders who answer yes to:

Are the ORGware public utilities as likely to succeed as the Declaration of Independence?
Is your investment and busy schedule as exposed and precious as the Founders necks?

Operational Question

What’s the best way to spend the ten Refounders’ investment to make all this happen?

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