Browsing the archives for the technology tag.

All hands on deck

Politics, US Politics

Nancy Cohen on HuPo is appealing on Obama to release his legions of campaign-era volunteers so they can help him press the agenda of political change. They offer a tremendous opportunity, yet “President Obama, in contrast to candidate Obama, seems as uncertain as a bailed-out banker about the net value of this once-prized asset.”

God knows this week has shown he could use the help.

The challenge: mobilize their mass engagement; yet leave them to do their own thing (the time for “the inordinate degree of control the Obama campaign maintained over its message, its lists, its staff, and its volunteers,” Cohen submits, is over).

Sounds like good advice – and it even comes with a somewhat tortured yet clever aphorism: “give a man a link and he’ll click for a day, give him the lists and the code to the site, and he’ll have your back for a lifetime”. But her piece is noticeably lacking in description of how it could be done.

The challenges involved are remarkably major, Politico recounted yesterday. Surprisingly major — and there’s a telling link here with Obama’s failure to keep control over the political narrative in what, to be honest, has been a F-up of a week. (Don’t get me started – that would, or still will, be a blog post of its own.)

As Jeanne Cummings writes, “The anxiety over lost momentum seemed almost palpable this week as the president in television interviews voiced frustration with his White House’s progress and the way his recovery program was being demonized as a Democratic spending frenzy.” She explains what’s going on backstage:

The Jetsons versus the Flintstones

Obama’s campaign was lauded for its visionary use of modern tools for old-fashioned politics. Through the Internet, it recruited supporters, collected dollars, rallied supporters and organized get-out-the vote operations.

But when these modern heroes arrived at the White House, it was like the lights all went out.

Their contact with their millions-fold supporters was cut off, literally, as e-mail systems broke down and ‘The List’ of political supporters was blocked at the iron gate.

To meet government ethics rules, the campaign operation and its grass-roots army were forced to de-camp to the Democratic National Committee, robbing the president of one of his most potent political weapons just as the stimulus bill was under consideration in the House.

But while the White House team struggled to adapt, [the Republicans] could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan [..]. It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh. They even could have used a rotary phone.

The result: Every House Republican saw a free pass and voted against the first version of the bill.

The outcome is not surprising. Obama had roughly 90 people working at his headquarters on Internet outreach and new technology projects [..]. Even with closet-size spaces, the White House can accommodate only about 200 or so people for jobs ranging from national security to health care reform to Internet guru.

The Obama team “built this incredible campaign and now they have these ridiculously primitive tools. The communication tools they mastered don’t exist in the White House. It’s like they are in a cave,” said Trippi.

How weird that the office of the US President is so underequipped for the present, digital and networked political world. Partly, however, it’s also just a question of growing pains – hopefully, at least: read Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston’s disappointing story about the ignorance and arrogance he’s encountered so far with the White House press office.

Partly it’s a matter of money. About $65,000 has been spent on pro-stimulus ads by unions and advocacy groups in a handful of states, Cummings notes, and compares: “in the last week of the presidential campaign, Obama was spending an average of $250,000 a day on commercials in the Philadelphia market, alone.”

Nonetheless, she also chronicles the multiple times the White House stepped on its own message and seemed to work against itself. It’s been a mess.

This is definitely a wake-up call. It may not be fair that Obama is not granted the traditional “honeymoon period”, but close to a trillion dollars is at stake already right now. (When’s the last time an incoming president faced such enormous actions so soon?). With other major initiatives coming up next which the Republicans will demagogue any way they can, the White House simply needs to shape up fast.

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Blogs – “hitting the mainstream” or the new “old media”?

Culture, Media / journalism, US culture

In my previous post I wrote about the under-30s who are supposed to be the “digital natives”:

And yet they seem to be very much adapting still. After all, in 2006 and 2007 just a third of 18-29 year olds listed the Internet as a main source of news and information. It’s only this year that the big push to 50%+ came. And that’s America; I assume developments in Europe are lagging.

As a footnote of sorts, the world of blogging in Europe, in any case, definitely seems to lag behind its US counterpart, Technorati’s study of the State of the Blogosphere 2008 showed last September. The most conspicuous difference: both European and Asian bloggers are overwhelmingly male (73%); in the US, women have almost caught up, and men only make up 57% of bloggers.

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

In Europe and especially Asia, bloggers are also more likely to be youngsters, or students specifically, whose income logically tends to be below-average. Although previous editions of the report don’t give data by continent, I’m guessing this is a question of development over time. As in: older and wealthier people in the US have already gotten in on blogging more – presumably also involving a higher share of professional and corporate bloggers. Unsurprisingly, then, US bloggers also tend to invest more money in their product.

Nevertheless, the Technorati report asserted that “All studies agree [..] that blogs are a global phenomenon that has hit the mainstream” and that “Blogs are Pervasive and Part of Our Daily Lives”. Go, digital adaptives: 63% of bloggers is 25-44 years old.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW, however, panned these conclusions. For one, according to Technorati’s own data, the number of blog posts written each day has been fairly stable for a couple of years or is even slowing down, so what’s that about “hitting” the mainstream? Secondly, well:

Although reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream, is writing them? [..]

Of those 133 million blogs that Technorati has indexed – guess how many of them have been posted to in the last 7 days? 1.1% of them, or 1.5 million total. [..] Globally, fewer people are posting to their blogs each week than go to the Minnesota State Fair or speak Esperanto.

Kirkpatrick’s description of the future of blogging, in fact, make blogs seem like the new “old media”, at least in America. “Blogging may become centralized, profesionalized and increasingly scarce – just like other forms of media have, perhaps to a lesser degree.” Digital natives, meanwhile, are going elsewhere to air their thoughts:

Reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream and the line between a blog and another kind of website is growing increasingly blurred. Writing full length blog posts even as regularly as once a week is hard, though. We expect that microblogging may become more popular than blogging, if it hasn’t already! From updating your status message on Facebook or MySpace, to posting 140 word updates on lunch or politics on Twitter [..] – there are a whole lot of people already microblogging, if you will.

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Entertaining news stories of the day …

Culture, Funny, International Politics, US culture

.. of a slightly dark, and very odd sort:

Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan (via The Stump)

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

Fake money isn’t what it used to be (via Kevin Drum)

The Secret Service agent in Kansas City peered hard at a counterfeit $100 bill, ran a finger over it and grimaced in disgust.

It was bad, ugly work.

“Too slick, too,” said Charles Green, special agent in charge.

More counterfeiters are using today’s ink-jet printers, computers and copiers to make money that’s just good enough to pass, he said, even though their product is awful.

In the past, he said, the best American counterfeiters were skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to turn out decent 20s, 50s and 100s. Now that kind of work is rare and almost all comes from abroad.

Among American thieves, the 22-year veteran said sadly, “it’s a lost art.”

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