Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Napster Can Teach Us About The Next Digital Revolution

When people think of digital music these days, the words that first come to mind are often iPod, iTunes, and the tree from which they fell, Apple. This trifecta (really a one-fecta) represents the force most successfully profiting from digital music today. In the area of successful business models, they deserve their appellation as digital music innovators. However, they did not begin the digital music revolution, they just made it profitable. The opening shot of the digital music revolution was fired not by a corporation but by an individual, Shawn Fanning.

While a student at Northeastern University, Shawn and his friend Sean (no relation) created a program called Napster in 1999, which allowed thrifty kids to download mp3s for free. You probably used it. You may even have felt guilty that you were stealing (you were). In any case, because of Napster, the international multi-billion dollar music industry changed. All mainstream musicians are now expected to sell their work in digital form. As consumers choose to buy indivual songs, the venerated, though arbitrary, musical creation that is the album is dying a slow death.

In the beginning. Napster was not backed by a major corporation. (Shawn started the company with his uncle.) It was not marketed by a slick Madison Avenue firm. It was created by a guy, a lowly college student, in fact, who wrote the program in his spare time. His total development cost: $0. His total effect: we are still feeling it.

If Shawn Fanning can change the music industry by starting a consumer rebellion with a simple piece of home-made software, why can't the same be done in the domain of politics? This is my vision, to create a site that serves as a central Hub for social change via the internet. I'm thinking about personalizable campaign webpages, podcast-making tools to spread the message, a mass e-mail program to keep supporters informed, RSS feeds so people can subscribe to news about campaigns that interest them. Saving a beloved wetland, freeing a jailed journalist, lobbying for a new law. If you can dream it, the internet can help you realize it. We don't need much money. We don't need corporate or governmental backing. We just need a site that works, that is easy to use, and that is appealing to would-be activists,

It is not only governments and corporations that can change the world. Individuals can change the world. Individuals have changed to world. The internet can help them do it faster. The internet makes a product or idea accessible around the world in seconds. The internet allows international communication and collaboration around the world at low cost.

On the internet we are all equal. With very few exceptions, we have equal access to websites, equal access to communication (text messenger, Skype), equal access to tools we can use to share our ideas (blogs, wikis, forums). We also have equal access to a global audience of millions of internet users. These tools are all free, out there waiting to be put to use by innovative people.

Previously you needed donors or a "war chest" to launch a campaign for social change. Previously you needed a publisher to print your ideas in order that others could have access to them. Previously you needed a phone company to talk to people on the other side of the world. Now you do not. The internet is cutting out middle-men right and left and is allowing direct contact between idea-producers and idea-consumers (who in turn become idea-producers). All you need is access to a computer which, in most countries, costs about $1 an hour at an internet cafe.

If you put a resource on the internet, it is instantly accessible to millions. If this resource spreads knowledge, millions of people immediately have access to that knowledge. If the resource facilitates collaboration, millions of people can instantly collaborate with each other online. If the resource provides tools for change, people can instantly begin using those tools.

An internet activism Hub would perform all three of these functions (spreading knowledge, faciltating collaboration, providing tools). It will help people around the world use the internet as a tool for social change by spreading knowledge about how to use the internet for activism, by connecting activists around the world with one another so they can share their experiences and collaborate on new projects, by providing tools for change directly on the website.

This vision is possible. In the 21st century you don't need money or pre-existing power to change the world. You need an idea and a medium with which to share it with the world. Shawn Fanning changed the global music industry with the internet by giving power to consumers. Let's change global politics by giving power to citizens. And in this way we can change the world.

categories: internet activism_

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

INTERNET ACTIVISM IN CHILE…. Part 3: Broadband for All!

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of Atina Chile's projects is a campaign to provide broadband (banda ancha) internet access to everyone in Chile (defined as internet access as a speed of 1 MB/sec or higher). At first I thought, is that really necessary?

But after I finished translating the broadband manifesto into English, it seemed pretty reasonable. Internet for all is not an unreasonable expectation for a middle-income country with a relatively small population (16 million). And if you are giving internet access to everone, why not make it fast enough so people can actually be productive? (For anyone who has used a painfully slow connection, you know that connection speed is necessary to use the internet effectively.)

One of the goals of the manifesto (which I've excerpted below) is making Chile an international center for technology. Pretty ambitious for a middle-income country of 16 million, no? But why not? Singapore is an international technology hub and its population is only about 4 million. In this globalized economy, it's skills that matter and if Chile is willing to invest in making its people high-tech workers, it could become to hub it hopes to be. Here are some of the key points of the manifesto.

...we commit ourselves to mobilizing according to the following Manifesto:

-Broadband is not a technological product; it is a social intervention that entails certain material benefits in Education, Culture, and Opportunities.

-That the state and society recognize the importance of broadband as a basic service, like light and water, the right to have broadband in homes in Chile and low-cost computers for individuals.

-Digital Literacy "with intent," which is to say that the population does not learn to "drive" tools without learning how to put them to practical use, for example with applications in Health, Work, and Education

-A national plan to introduce WiFi systems in all concentrated urban areas in the country, including towns and villages in the regions, which allows for free connectivity and a reduction in the cost of info-centers and internet cafés.

-Organization of a national public offer of cheap broadband (2 MB) for all

-Use of resources to subsidize computer access and broadband for middle and low-income groups.

[italics indicates translation]

categories: internet activism_, chile_, the "developing world"_

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

INTERNET ACTIVISM IN CHILE…. Part 2: Activist Website Atina Chile

On Tuesday I had my first interview, a very interesting conversation with Jorge Dominguez, the Executive VP of Atina Chile, a website that is, according to its mission statement, "a community that explores and directs society in [today's technological] revolutions... an entrepreneurial nucleus that monitors opportunities in order to create new initiatives and personal and social projects." In short, Atina Chile is the clearinghouse for internet-based activism in Chile.

Since its recent birth in 2004, Atina Chile has pursued two goals, to transform grievance into action and to navigate the new wave of technology currently engulfing the country. The site has 25,000 visitors a day and 31,000 members, some of whom write the blogs which Atina Chile hosts. The site also publishes guides on how to blog, podcast, and use internet technologies like It is also spearheading projects in the real world. The small town of Salamanca (population 24,000) is the first city of the 21st century. The entire town is covered by a WiFi network (free wireless internet) and both young people and adults are receive training in how to use the internet (digital literacy courses). There are also plans to make digital infrastructure available at low cost and to a provide a blog to every citizen. Atina Chile is also at the head of a nationwide campaign to guarantee ultra-fast broadband internet access for all citizens. All this for a cost of $8,000 a month.

What did I learn from Jorge? He was very excited about Web 2.0 technologies that allow users to create web content instead of simply viewing it. However, Jorge stressed that technology is the means not the end. The goal is the same as for any other form of activism: to encourage active citizenship. Atina Chile tries to get people thinking about what bothers them and then help them figure out what they can do to change it. As Jorge said, "It's not about Excel or Power Point, it's about social change." According to the site's mission statement:

By participating in Atina Chile we change the country and we transform ourselves. We bring to life the leadership potential and creativity in all of us. We transform ourselves into agents that create history, rather than passive experts. To participate in Atina Chile means to live the fullest life possible and to take advantage of life's most challenging and beautiful possibilities. It means to measure our own worth by leaving behind us a different world: more united and inclusive, more democratic and varied, more innovative, poetic, and entrepreneurial. To make a difference is not to settle for "that which is," for the available standards, for calm resignation. A member of Atina Chile is committed to excellent work for the community, to excellence in personal relations, to innovate and to cultivate excellence in others.

Because Atina Chile empowers its members to effect change, it make sense that the project works through a non-hierarchical ("non-military," in Jorge's words) "citizen structure" that encourages participation and the free flow of information. Because Atina Chile keeps a low budget, it cannot afford to pay all the people that contribute to the site. However, a reciprocity exists. People volunteer to manage projects, and in return they receive technical assistance from Atina Chile staff (five in total) and the national recognition of being affiliated with the organization. Jorge's excitement was contagious, as was his vision. I left the meeting thinking that every country should have (at least) one organization like Atina Chile.

[italics indicates translation]

categories: internet activism_, chile_, the "developing world"_

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INTERNET ACTIVISM IN CHILE . . . . Part 1: ¿What's Happening in Chile?

I am here in Chile to ask a question: Why is this country such a hot-bed of internet-based activism? More importantly, how can the Chilean experience inform grassroots internet activism in other countries? First some background:

In the past few months, Chile has witnessed several instances of citizens using the internet, particularly blogs, to effect social change. The greatest example is that of the thousands of student protesters who demanded the removal of college entrance exam and bus fees and, after three weeks of protests, sit-ins, and strikes received a $200 million increase in the education budget and representation on an education council that is expected to propose broader reforms. Many high schools set up photoblogs to show their affiliation with the campaign and to disseminate information, such as the times and locations of rallies. The blogs shared a common format. Each homepage showed a graphic composed of the logos of the schools involved in the campaign along with the words "education is a right not a privilege, let's fight for better education" emblazoned across them.

There are other smaller examples. In Santiago, when a homeless poet was taken to a mental hospital against his will, the people in his neighborhood campaigned for his release by starting a blog. According to Rosario Lizana of Global Voices, the blog informed the public about the case, called for meetings and was used to organize a protest in front of the mental hospital where the man was being held. Supporters also used, a photo-sharing site, to post photos of the man, a who calls himself "the Antichristo." Two days later, the man was freed. Now his neighbors are organizing ways to provide on-going support, with the advice of a psychologist, of course.

And there are other examples: an online petition to keep the Santiago metro open until midnight, a citizens´anti-crime group that uses its site to post meeting details and testimonies of crime victims that receive dozens of comments... and the list goes on.

What has made Chile a society in which citizens see the internet as a tool for social change? When I find out, I'll let you know….

[italics indicates translation]

categories: internet activism_, chile_, the "developing world"_

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Blog to Counter Sexual Harassment in Morocco

After two hotel workers, Najla and Souad, were sexually harrassed on the job at the posh Hotel Sofitel Diwan in Rabat, a network of Moroccan NGO's united to condemn sexual harassment in the workplace. Tthe Network to Fight Sexual Harassment in Morocco (RCHS) includes human rights organizations, women's rights organizations, and unions. Abdellah Lefnatsa, a leader of the UMT union created a Blogspot blog,, to further promote their cause and to help collect signatures for their anti-sexual harassment petition. You can sign the petition by sending your name, profession, and location to or with "Pétition de dénonciation de l'harcelement sexuel" in the subject line.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Kuwait's Online Election

PoliticsOnline reports:
Kuwait's parliamentary elections [occurring the first week of July] mark a number of firsts: the first time women are able to vote and the first time that the Internet has played a role in a Kuwaiti election....This election was also the first in which the Internet was used as a campaign tool. One article attributed the popularity of the Internet to the heat, “the medium proves to suit Kuwait's summer, as temperatures approach 45C, so everyone stays indoors and taps away at their laptops.” more

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