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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Comments:
Interesting how can simple ideas change perspectives in a certain field. But making comparison between ideas that can help companies sell more and more and make more benefits, and idealistic ideas that can change a certain way of life seems to me very optimistic. Because the first type of ideas can be adopted by powerful companies, and turn them to brand new products. But idealistic ideas, that certainly will bring more justice, but also shakes some concepts and bothers the defenders of those concepts, those ideas could be rejected, banned or at least disturbed by bringing them to a cercle of arguments and counter arguments.
This i think is the great difficulties that can face thos ideas. But let us be optimistic and try to realise them before judging.
 
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