and I have been going at it
in disagreement about the impact of participatory media on the political scene. So we met at Joanie's in Palo Alto
for breakfast, to see if we could construct an interesting and meaningful bet that could be resolved in the context of the primary and/or general Presidential election.
We came to the conclusions that:
We can't construct a meaningful bet on the issues, which would be resolved by the 2004 elections. Even exit polling is too blunt an instrument to analyze the effects of the Internet as medium on the political process or electoral outcome. Questioning re Internet usage does not discern how the net is being used, which may make a difference. A single question does not control for other indicators of likely voting preference, and even if we could get the polling organizations to cough up their raw cross-tabbed data, the sample sizes would be insufficient. Finally, a vote for a candidate in one race is simply inadequate to test the propositions which we think are interesting...
We do agree that there are two propositions that are important and worth testing - though we disagree on one likely outcome. We do not have measures (or aren't smart enough to recognize them) which test these outcomes. Therefore, this mutual post is a call - in the spirit of Winds of Change's call for indicators re the war on terror - for suggestions of indicators that can be tracked. Other than allowing us to run a
futures market betting pool, this can have a practical outcome, as it may be possible to create metrics which could be based in evolving blog analysis tools such as Technorati (or platforms such as [plug] Socialtext [/plug]).
Proposition the First: We agree that the advent of participatory media (blogs, wikis, etc.) will make a difference in the political process. Due to the low entry barriers compared to prior media, they allow more diversity of opinion, agility in organization, and a faster and more articulate cycle of policy debate. In more detail:
- Individuals and groups with views that are not mainstream, or reflect issues with low awareness, are able to publicly air them without recourse to the limits - in access and implicit points of view - of big media.
- The net provides a medium in which like like-minded people can find each other and organize around issues and candidates, either virtually or to stimulate face to face groupings.
- The aggregate readership and authorship of political and related (foreign and military affairs, technology futures) blogs already exceeds that of conventional political and foreign affairs magazines and columns. Many authors and readers are in positions of official influence or unofficial opinion leadership.
- While the medium creates the potential for self-limited 'echo chamber' groups, it also offers the potential for public articulation and interactive discussion regarding nuanced policy points, offered by neither the mass media or political journals. Recognizing that much of the interaction (90%?) is at the level of simple contraction and name-calling, nonetheless high levels of analysis can be reached. These can be particularly influential when articulated publicly by those whose views and interests do not fall along trivial party alignments. We mention as particular examples Andrew Sullivan, Michael Totten,. and Roger Simon (add your favorites)
Therefore, we believe that within four years the blogosphere, taken as a whole, will achieve a level of influence on policy articulation in the United States at least the equal of the present-day think tank and pundit system. while allowing greater openness to interested citizens. (What do you think?) We seek a way to measure this influence.
To give an example: It might be possible to use textual analysis to track the passage of key phrases from their origin in blogs into use in official party or governmental position papers and debates, as well as the mass media.
Proposition the Second: We disagree whether participatory media have any valency regarding parties, candidates, or persuasion on particular issues. Tim believes:
- Participatory media do not inherently advantage any party, or side of issues. For every Glenn Reynolds there is a Josh Marshall, for every Democratic Underground a Free Republic.
- Like any new medium, there is the potential for rivals to win or lose based on their capability to utilize the medium, much as television was a factor in the Kennedy/Nixon race, but this is a transient effect.
- The notion that participatory medium give advantage to any particular viewpoint is at best wishful thinking in the form of technological determinism, and at the worst the type of arrogance symbolized by the words 'sheeple' or 'idiotarian'.
- Caveat: Processes once established defend themselves. There is likely to be valency in favor of preserving an open Internet not interdicted by big media, government, or official punditry.
- The low cost of personal publishing brings volume to social editing and filtering that threaten and will be co-opted by established media. Just as third party candidate issues are co-opted by the other two. This is the strength and weakness of success.
- The cost of group forming is falling precipitously. This allows new constituencies to form, deliberation to construct fit memes, and most importantly, for heretofore un-fundable issues to compete.
- The cost of media production is falling (e.g. MoveOn.org's TV Ad contest) will impact even broadcast media (Sarnoff's Law)
- There is a bell curve of opinion and power law of resources. Decreasing transaction costs (e.g. Internet fundraising) pulls them towards each other.
- Just as commoditization of underlying technologies (Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law) unleashed a decade of growth in the technology industry, the disruption of social software that enables group forming (Reed's Law) benefits the party that is scarce in resources more than the one that holds abundance.
- Truth is implementation
We seek indicators that will measure which of us is right, and let us settle our dinner bet as well as determine the future of the Republic.
Today at the Digital Democracy Teach-In we found Jonah Seiger's work to be the closest to what we are looking for.