‘No longer the province of elites’

In a Guardian interview, UK PM Gordon Brown says that the internet changes foreign affairs forever:

He described the internet era as “more tumultuous than any previous economic or social revolution”. “For centuries, individuals have been learning how to live with their next-door neighbours,” he added.

“Now, uniquely, we’re having to learn to live with people who we don’t know.

“People have now got the ability to speak to each other across continents, to join with each other in communities that are not based simply on territory, streets, but networks; and you’ve got the possibility of people building alliances right across the world.”

This, he said, has huge implications. “That flow of information means that foreign policy can never be the same again.

“You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.

“Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.”

Neither government nor business nor education.

User economy v. consumer economy

I’m fascinated with the services that are popping up in Italy – and now, I see, in the U.S. – enabling people to rent instead of buy things and to rent out the things they have: to share, in short.

The Washington Post writes about Zilock.com, Rent-instead.com, Chegg.com for textbooks, and Babyplays.com for toys (well-sanitized, one hopes). Not to mention the ultimate in sharing things, Zipcar.

I take a tour around my house and it’s hard to come up with a long list of things I’d only want to rent and no longer need to buy – tools, mainly, because I’m a klutz and try to avoid all handyman chores (whenever I tell people who know me that I’m using a chainsaw, they shudder at the thought). But I can imagine things I might not buy but would want to rent: a great digital camera or video camera, for example.

So I don’t see this phenom as a major force in the economy. I think we’re more likely to see sharing brought to assets like office space and equipment. Still, it’s just one more case of innovation yielding efficiency instead of growth.

Here’s the Post on these services:

Zilock.com came about like this: In the fall of 2007, a couple of friends in France were trying to hang something up on a wall and didn’t have a drill. They thought about buying one but somehow calculated that a drill is used only an average of 12 minutes in a lifetime. It made no sense to buy one, they argued.

“We were thinking about all of the drills lying around the building or the block and we had no access to it. We thought there are so many ways you can sell your things online but no way to borrow things,” Boudier said.

The peer-to-peer renting Web site first launched in France and Belgium. Once it took off, the founders expanded to the United Kingdom and the United States. Boudier, who is the U.S. general manager, said there are now 100,000 items for rent just in America. Not only are there drills up for grabs but infant car seats, camping gear, and digital cameras. “We are offering new ways for people to save and make money,” he said.

No thanks

I’m getting email pitches – filled with legalese – to contribute to Dan Abrams’ awkwardly named Mediaite (guess all the good URLs were taken). This is the same Dan Abrams – lawyer, thus the legalese, and failed MSNBC host and executive – who is starting a PR company – oh, excuse me, media strategy firm – to advise companies on media while promising access to media people – the same media people, one imagines, he is getting to write about media for his media site. Gawd, it’s positive hermaphroditic: A bunch of worms who can’t figure out who’s fucking whom how. I think I’ll stay away. Don’t want any of that on me. To quote the wonderful Jemima Kiss of the Guardian as she tweeted today about somebody switching the mouse on her desk: “hand cheese.”

When I write for HuffingtonPost or the Guardian’s Comment is Free or Silicon Alley Insider or Seeking Alpha, I just write and say what I think. Not for lawyer Abrams’ Mediaite. The email from fellow lawyer turned media person Rachel Sklar says they’re going to have “a number of great, regular paid columns and intend to have a number of paid contributors” but adds that payment is still being “hammered out.” I’d suggest bringing the hammer out when ready. “What does this mean for you?” she can’t help adding. ” Well, our goal is to develop these ideas, and eventually to pay certain top contributors a revenue share and/or stipend.” Eventually.

Then we get a 14-point list of rules. Including:

…3. Feel free to express any opinion, however unpopular; however, you must be able to support your arguments with linkable facts and/or original, verifiable reporting. We need to give the reader enough information to intelligently disagree with you; you need to be able to demonstrate to your critics why you are totally right and they are idiots…

9. NB: #3 effectively precludes racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or otherwise unsupportable/repugnant views. Provable arguments mean rational, sane thought. Since you are all sane, rational people we’re not that worried, but it must be said….

11. We are happy to cross-post material from your website or another source, provided you have the rights to do so. If you wish to respond to reader comments, you may submit one “Update” to the post. Two is pushing it, especially since you adhered so strictly to #3. We’d rather you just attack the person on Twitter….

13. You retain all the rights to your work. In the event that we enter into a revenue-share or some other financial deal, we reserve the right to negotiate the terms on a case-by-case basis….

So we’re told to argue our points and not be repugnant and though we own our nonrepugnant thoughts, they reserve the right to negotiate with us for them. Should they have quit their day jobs?

I want to hug my blog. I don’t need any lawyers-turned-flacks-turned-media-commentators-turned-publishers. I can publish on my own. Right here. And I can be as repugnant as I want.

Let me make clear: If he had just started a blog or a group blog about media, cool. But announcing that he’s also starting a PR company offering access to media people makes it stink. And then trying to throw on the cloak of legalese does nothing to relieve the stench. I’m sorry but this smells.

: As I read Abrams Research’s site, it only gets worse: The media people sometimes won’t even know whom they’re advising.

Here’s an example of what they do:

# A Fortune 500 business believes the financial media has focused unfairly on a small change in accounting practices rather than significant increases in revenues.

* Abrams Research can bring together top financial journalists to advise that business on how to best convey its message.

My emphasis. Journalists?

: LATER: Here is Rachel Sklar’s response to me. And I still say craigslist is lower case.

The API revolution

It soon will be – if it not already is – known as the Twitter revolution in Iran. But I’ll think of it as the API revolution.

For it’s Twitter’s architecture – which enables anyone to create applications that call and feed into it – that makes it all but impervious from blocking by tyrants’ censors. Twitter is not a site or a blog at an address. You don’t have to go to it. It can come to you (as newspapers should). Twitter is an outpost in the cloud and there can be unlimited points of access from every application and site using its API, so the crowd can always stay ahead of the people formerly known as the authorities. That, I believe, is the keystone in the architecture of the new infrastructure of unstoppable freedom of speech and democracy. That’s what enables Clay Shirky to declare, “This is it – the big one.”

It isn’t merely “social media” that make this a step-change in the internet’s impact on society and government, as the reporters who’ve been calling me and other pundits want us to say. Sree Sreenivasan tweeted, “on CNN just now, I asked – China quake, Mumbai attacks, US election, Iran… how many times can one technology ‘come of age’?” RIght. See January 16, 2001 when, as Howard Rheinhold recounts in Smart Mobs, tens of thousands of protesters against Philippine president Joseph Estrada were brought to a square with an SMS. See Mark Zuckerberg proudly talking about the Spanish-language Facebook being used to organize Colombians against FARC. Iran is just another example of people organizing themselves online for a cause or a revolution. The people will avail themselves the latest available technology to serve their needs and cause.

Twitter is different because it’s live and social – the retweet is the shot heard ’round the world – and because that API lets it survive any dictator’s game of whack-a-mole. But it’s by no means the final word in digital revolutions. I know we will soon see witnesses and participants to events such as these broadcasting them live from their mobile phones. We will see people organizing with Google Maps. We can’t imagine what will come next.

Twitter has been used in many ways in the Iran story:
* Citizens of Iran are using it to inform each other.
* They are using it, most importantly, to organize.
* They are using it to inform the world.
* We outside Iran are using us to see what people were saying and doing in Iran. Journalists are using it as a tip service to news and a way to find witnesses to interview. I’ve said in Twitter – to respond to the obvious complaint I hear – that, no, Twitter is no more the final source of news in and of itself than Wikipedia is the only source of knowledge. But it is a tip service for journalists who then still need to do their job and report.
* We can use it to see the interests of at least the Twitter demographic – limited though it may be – and then to use that to beat up CNN, Fox, and MSNBC for their terrible news judgment last weekend as they all but ignored a revolution.

Of course, Twitter – and Facebook and blogs and camera phones – alone cannot win a revolution. They cannot protect their users from government’s bullets and jails, as we have seen all to tragically in Iran. (This thought led Tom Friedman to the worst line on the New York Times editorial page, worse even than the worst of Maureen Dowd: “Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet.”) Fighting for freedom requires courage and risk we must not underestimate. But at least these tools allow allies to find each other and to let the world know of their plight. For thanks to the fact that anyone in the world – outside of North Korea – now has a printing press and a broadcast tower, they can be assured that the whole world is watching.

I recorded a Skype video interview for Al Jazeera English that will air at 20000 GMT today and looked at the camera and said, “Despots, beware.” Your days are numbered. This is more than a revolution. It is an evolution in the architecture of speech and freedom.

: LATER: Note that not just Iran is censoring the internet. Germany wants to, seeking a censorship infrastructure that can be used for one purpose today, another tomorrow. Oh, when will they ever learn?