Thursday, June 19, 2003

Finally, We Venture Into Politics

I promised in my first post that I'll try to steer clear of politics. I still mostly mean that, but we're doing some closer steering than usual today.

It's been in the news that Al Gore, among others, is interested in setting up a liberal alternative to the established, more conservative, cable outlets. While it's certainly true that the myth of liberal control of the media is long gone (consider that major media organizations are owned by GE and Rupert Murdoch), that doesn't mean that creating a liberal alternative is a good idea.

That's true for a bunch of reasons, but most are political so I won't mention them. And I can't necessarily say that it would fail, but the problem is that Fox News (oxymoron alert) succeeds because it serves a market. And Gore TV, or whatever, will only succeed if it can succeed as a business. I'm not so sure that there is an unserved market for liberals. They read the New York Times, listen to NPR, and watch the MacNeill News Hour. The problem isn't that liberals don't get liberal news, it's that no one else pays attention to it.

But this is a column about software (you've been very patient).

What the liberals have to do is abandon the whole idea of controlling big media (does anyone else remember the card game Illuminati?). They should be looking to social software. Instead of shaping public opinion, they should be worried more about mobilizing it. Blogs, IRC, chat, self-published web-sites, wikis - these are the ingredients of self-organized politics. There are plenty of pro-environment, pro-education, anti-theocracy, pro-conservation, anti-kleptocracy people out there; they just have lives. The sort of success with the Internet that Jesse Ventura had, and Howard Dean is currently having, and has made a difference in Korea, should be the rule, not the exception.

The Democrats lose because Republicans are more successful at mobilizing their core, fanatic, constituency. This will probably always be true due to the nature of the core issues (for example, the people that will benefit from opening up ANWR to oil exploration are far fewer in number than the people who will suffer, but they will benefit a whole lot more). What the Democrats need to be able to do is mobilize the non-core but still sympathetic population. MoveOn and MeetUp are going a long way towards doing this, but it's still a tiny minority of the overall population. The tools are almost all in place; all the Democrats have to do is stitch them together.

Concentrating the ownership of the media companies doesn't really stop the free exchange of information, but it does prevent the free exchange of informed opinion. And right now, that's what the Republic needs.