July 2, 2006

The Long Tail

I heard an interesting radio segement today about the Long Tail. Chris Anderson coined the term the Long Tail in an article in Wired in 2004, and is releasing a book on the same topic in a few days. It has been talked about most in reference to the Entertainment industry (books, movies, music), but is also relevant to marketing in general, and I'm thinking about the possible impacts on organizing. Essentially the idea of the Long Tail is that there are two markets: the Head, which are the few best sellers or top hits that everyone knows about (the DaVinci Code, Mariah Carey), and then there is a Long Tail, consisting of multitudes of items that hardly anyone has heard of. The idea is that with new distribution channels, the Long Tail has become as important, or even more important, as the Head. Items in the Long Tail, which are in low demand and have a low sales volume, such as my Uncle Bill's recent non-blockbuster, Beneath the Surface : Submarines Built in Seattle and Vancouver 1909 - 1918 , can COLLECTIVELY make up a market share that exceeds the best sellers or blockbusters, as long as there is a large enough distribution channel. What are the large distribution channels? Not surprisingly, these are Internet companies with almost endless inventories, such as Amazon, Netflix or iTunes. Anderson claims that this is leading to a completely different kind of economic marketplace, with a new focus on the Long Tail which was never possible when stores were limited to the inventory on hand. The niche market will rule in the 21st century. This also may lead to a completely different kind of culture, with less and less of a "common culture" (if there ever was such a thing). I can think of a number of relations to organizing and advocacy, though I'm mostly coming up with questions rather than any grand conclusions (how do we focus on the "long tail"? how does a focus on the "long tail" lead to common action? if the US is shifting towards niches, how will organizing change? Will this lead to more atomization? Less commercialization? More diversity? etc. etc.)

June 22, 2006

MySpace the #1 issue facing summer camps?

The New York Times had an amusing article today about the impact of MySpace on Summer Camp. Apparently, summer camps are having a huge problem with campers and counsellor posting about their summer camps in MySpace, FaceBook and other sorts of social networking or blogging websites, and then also posting about drinking,drugs, sex or other things that the camps, the parents and the insurers aren't pleased about having associated with the camp. Camp directors are now searching MySpace accounts to see what their potential counsellors have posted. Camps are also banning digital cameras, so that campers don't post pictures of the camp on their websites. And camps seemed worried about safety, as they don't want sexual predators coming to camps because of these postings (but I think this is a more of a stretch).

One quote from the article:

Camps say they are increasingly concerned about being identified in photographs or comments on these sites, even innocuously. They worry about online predators tracking children to camp and about their image being tarnished by inappropriate Internet juxtapositions — a mention, say, of the camp on a site that also has crude language or sexually suggestive pictures. This is probably the No. 1 issue facing all camp programs," said Norman E. Friedman, a partner at AMSkier Insurance, a major camp insurer.

June 21, 2006

Political Social Networking

came across a political "social networking website" - www.essembly.com. It is akin to myspace and facebook, but all about politics. Unfortunately, you have to register at this website, but if you are interested at all in politics, you may want to (I did). We have been talking in class about using social networking beyond simply for bands and dates, and this may be an example. It doesn't look like this website actually goes much further than political banter, but gives an idea how social networking could possibly be used in new and different ways.

The following excerpts from Sifry's blog on the Personal Democracy Forum descrbes essembly.com pretty well without you having to logon. I think the entire post is interesting - check it out Essembly.com: Finally, a Friendster for Politics.

Online social networks have taken off all over the United States, and indeed much of the wired world. Friendster, the granddaddy of the breed, says it has more than 24 million members, while its newer rival MySpace.com claims more than 50 million accounts. Eighty-five percent of the college students in America use Facebook.com. Tagged.com, which focuses on teens, has 2 million users. Bebo.com has tallied more than 21 million registered users worldwide in its first year, 4 million alone in England. In India, the web portal Rediff.com has more than 2 million users of its social network service. And in South Korea, a whopping 15 million people—one-third of the country’s population—belong to Cyworld (which literally means "relationship world").

While all these platforms differ in some significant ways, it’s fair to say that they’re all mostly about socializing. Participants join for free, create their own personal profile page with photographs and other bits of playful identifying information, and use a wide variety of tools to reach out and connect with each other.

To date, no one has figured out how to build an online social network around politics. But Joe Green, the CEO of Essembly.com, believes he and his team have found a way. In the summer of 2003, Green, a social studies major at Harvard, was doing an internship on the Kerry presidential campaign, when he had an epiphany. As he told me in a recent interview, “I saw Friendster, and it clicked immediately that this social networking thing should be done for politics.? He added, “Whether you’re raising money or doing petitions, the basis is social networking.?

Green, who roomed at Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.com, and helped a bit with that site's launch in 2004, was hardly the first person who wanted to create a Friendster for politics. During the presidential primaries, technologist-organizers involved in the Dean, Clark and Kucinich campaigns worked hard to build vibrant online communities by enabling their supporters to connect to each other around common interests, geography and social ties.


Like other online social networks, Essembly encourages members to create their own profile page, to build up a visible array of friends on their page, and to find people through common social connections or geography. But where the site departs from the standard text is in how it centers membership on user-generated political conversation rather than a more typical engine like a particular candidate or cause.

The site does that by inviting all members to post “resolves?—short statements of opinion—and to vote and comment on those of other site members. When you log in, the first thing you see is the “Resolve of the day,? which is one of the three most popular resolves from the previous day. New members are also asked to give their opinions on an initial set of resolves. From all that information, Essembly develops an ideological profile of each member that is completely relational—that is, based on how your composite set of answers matches someone else’s—and far more nuanced than simple self-descriptions like “liberal? or “conservative.?

June 15, 2006

Tracking your kids like a fed ex package

My good friend Kelly posted an interesting piece about using technology to essentially track your kids like you track your lost fed ex package. Kelly isn't advocating these devices, just describing them. Now, I worry about my kids as much as the next parent, but I really do NOT like the idea of feeling like a key to safety would be to track my kids with a gps device 24-7. Though I do admit, the thought of being able to follow my kids running around the neighborhood with a Marauder's Map type of machine would be sort of cool.

From the Gotomobile blog, which she aptly names "stalking witha smile:: :

Would you want to track the whereabouts of your kids or significant other using a mobile tracking system tied to your loved one’s personal device? As a concerned parent trying to give your offspring a bit of freedom from constant calls, finding out if your child arrived at school safely, or if she was hanging out at a friend’s home for the night using GPS tracking might bring you the peace-of-mind you’ve been looking for. Services such as Sprint Family Locator and Disney Mobile’s Family Locator allow for visual tracking of your family’s digital devices – using GPS technology to pinpoint location with amazing accuracy unless you’re inside of a mall or a concrete parking lot. Disney states ‘accuracy within 10 yards’ which is pretty incredible.
The location-based service Cat TRAX operated by CATS (Child Alert Tracking Service) takes proximity to another level by tracking the known whereabouts of known sex offenders and alerts you if your child is within range of an offender’s home. The service allows you to ‘Monitor your children on their way to and from school, running errands, and at play.’ According to their stats, nearly every 40 seconds, a child is reported missing. But operating on a worst case, fear basis seems a bit extreme – however recently a friend in Seattle did receive a call from local authorities after they found her 9-year old daughter profiled in their neighbor ‘Dave’s’ home. Freaky.

I think what bugs me most about this is the misuse of statistics to get people to feel that they HAVE to buy this new technology. The message is - how could a good parent not want to track their kids constantly. However, in reality there are currently only 600 stranger abductions per year in the entire United States.

Here's an excerpt that serves as a counter-balance to the marketing by this technolgy tracking companies, by James Alan Fox from Northeastern University. It was published a few years ago in the Boston Globe. Find the whole editorial here.

Amidst the tremendous media hype and widespread public hysteria, some sober perspective on the scope of the child abduction problem is surely needed. The most reliable and trustworthy estimates of children abductions are in the hundreds, not hundred-thousands. Child Find, for example, estimates that after removing parent abductions in custody battles (the most common form) as well as attempted kidnappings, fewer than 600 children are abducted by strangers each year. Most of these youngsters are eventually found alive. The less fortunate victims slain by their abductors number about 50 per year.
The thought of your child being kidnapped, raped, and murdered may be horrible, but in statistical terms it is hardly one of the greatest perils that children face on a daily basis - even if and when a serial predator is operating in the neighborhood. Consider these facts:
A child is more likely to be killed in a fall off a bicycle than by being grabbed off the bike by a rapist/murderer. Still, parents are more apt to keep their children at home in ''protective custody'' than to enforce the use of the helmets.
More children are killed each year by playing with their parents' loaded gun. Yet, parents are more apt these days to lock up their children for safekeeping than their firearms.

June 12, 2006

Dilbert on the benefits of "face to face" communication

Today's Dilbert comic strip, which I generally don't appreciate, was right on topic for our class discussion board this week about the strengths/benefits of face-to-face organizing versus virtual organizing. Check it out here.


June 7, 2006

St. Paul's Budget Cruncher

I read on do-wire that St. Paul has an interesting interactive "budget cruncher", where you can try to balance the city of St. Paul's budget yourself. Check it out here. I think these tools are great for people who complain about both high taxes and budget cuts! Check it out!

Searching for presents for my Dad

I'm up early, as I woke up and suddenly realized that I don't yet have a birthday present for my Dad, who is turning 80 on Monday. Since my Dad has no obvious hobbies anymore, aside from the Seattle Mariners, the Seattle Times newspaper, napping and bad tv news, and can't eat anything fun, drink anything fun, or get out of the house and do anything fun, I have been searching the Internet for about an hour trying to come up with some idea. It struck me how amazing a tool the Internet can be for this kind of thing in general, but how utterly worthless it is for this task. The search results are all things like, a gift basket with stamps and stationery; or photo collage of family (my Dad would hate it - he is not sentimental). The best I could come up with so far was the G.I. "Joe Lightfoot" collector doll (my Dad's name) on ebay. Of couse, my Dad would not find the humor.

Bill Gate apparently gave his Dad a $33 million donation in his name for his 80th birthday present to fund law students interested in public service. As I'm typing this, I just thought of the perfect present for him! I'm going to donate a brick for him in the new park they are building near his home - which is a park he and his cousins actually helped build originally in the 1960s.

June 6, 2006

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

I ran across a very interesting article about a radical Afghan feminist group today: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). This group had been around since the old war with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, but especially gained steam with the advent of the Internet (at least internationally).

The full article is very engaging, and can be found in Z-Net. The following excerpt discusses RAWA's use of the Internet for activism.

The advent of the internet catapulted RAWA into the international like no other new technology. Wisely seeing the potential for international solidarity, and drawing world attention to a forgotten crisis, RAWA launched www.rawa.orgin late 1996. One member explained:
We never imagined the internet would bring such a positive result for us. It is very important and something that now we can’t imagine we could work without… At the time I remember it was kind of amazing. The first email from the US that we got, we all called each other to come see this and our eyes were so big...

Most of the relations between RAWA and their international supporters have developed through their website and e-mail. I too first discovered RAWA through their website and wrote to them expressing my solidarity.

RAWA’s website is the perfect portal for them to express their political views and publish their documents while preserving the anonymity of their members. Additionally, large amounts of material can be published and archived with little additional cost.

While Payam-e-Zanis (their newsletter) still RAWA’s primary outlet to reach the majority of Afghans - who live in a poor country with little internet access, RAWA’s website is the main method of communicating with the outside world,

Apparently the Internet is vital for raising funds and for drawing international awareness and solidarity, but is almost worthless within Afghanistan.

June 5, 2006

Political Blogs - the New Iowa?

I got a very interesting article put in my mailbox last week (physical mailbox!) written by David Perlmutter of LSU in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the blogosphere was morphing into the a form of presidential primary. He gives a political scientist's perspective on the utility of blogs in politics (how are they useful, which candidates are the best bloggers, when would a candidate want to participate in blogs, etc.). Here's an excerpt:

Are blogs the new Iowa caucus? Since the 1970s, candidates who have done well in the presidential-nomination race have appeared early, during what the journalist Arthur Hadley called the "invisible primary." Raising money nationwide, they spend much of it — and much time — in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But if we think of "blogland" as a place, it is the real "first in the nation" testing ground: Bloggers generally decide whom to support for president (and whom to vociferously oppose) long before states hold caucuses and primaries. Furthermore, like the residents of the small towns in Iowa and New Hampshire, who have long been accustomed to individual attention from campaigners, bloggers cannot be swayed by one-size-fits-all pitches. The essence of blogging, after all, is personal connections between participants — the ability to talk and to talk back, the interplay of argument and critique.

Read the full article here.

Unity '08

Some "centrists" have decided to try again to have a bi-partisan, third-party ticket in the presidential election. This time, they think they are going to be successful because they are using the Internet.

The effort, dubbed Unity08, aims to enlist millions of Americans for an online primary to nominate a centrist, third-party ticket for the 2008 presidential race. Even if you look really hard on the Unity 08 website, I don't think you can find their platform, or even a position on any issue, ranging from the war in Iraq to Social Security to race relations. Their only position was their disdain for partisan politics. Is that enough to mobilize anyone?

See the following article from the LA Times.

Unity08 sponsors contend that they can succeed where others have failed largely because the Internet makes it easier and less expensive to reach and organize potential supporters. "Why now? Because the technology allows it," said another organizer, Angus King, who as an independent served two terms as Maine's governor.

If nothing else, the effort could help answer two questions: Is there a substantial constituency of moderate voters alienated from the highly partisan and polarized politics that defines Washington? And can a centrist political movement be organized through the Internet, which so far has been used more by partisan and ideological voices?

Few analysts doubt the existence of discontent with the Democratic and Republican parties, but many are dubious that the Unity08 initiative can harvest it.

"I call them the unicorn party — it's sheer fantasy," said Michael Cornfield, an expert in online politics at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "No candidate, no money, no position on Iraq; to me it's escapism."

Similarly, Tom Matzzie, Washington director for MoveOn.org, the online liberal advocacy group, said disaffection with intense partisanship was probably too diffuse a motivation to drive the third-party effort.

"On the Internet side, it is hard to imagine anything getting started in the absence of a charismatic leader or a moment of crisis or urgency," Matzzie said. "Political movements aren't jump-started by consultants who buy ad space on Google."
(LA Times, June 5, 2006).

Also, see the comment sections under the centristcoalition blog. Lots of good points made here I think.

I think its success will depend a lot on the ticket ( McCain & Kerry? McCain & Clinton? McCain & Obama? - can't actually see any of these folks signing on for it), and their positions (Iraq? abortion? gay marriage?) I do, however, think their use of the Internet is the right tool for their group, even if they haven't worked out the incredibly important details.

June 1, 2006

Web 2.0 - Over already?

A trademark dispute over who could use the term Web 2.0 blew-up last week in the blogosophere, when O'Reilly, who coined the now widely used term, sent a cease and desist letter against an Irish company putting on a conference called the "Web 2.0 Conference". This immediately sent the blogosphere up in arms. While it is now settled, I wonder if this signals the end of the term Web 2.0. Is it really a generic enough term - or even a good enough term to describe the second generation of technology enhanced communication? The term certainly doesn't portray the usefulness of these new technologies for activists!

Speaking of trademarks, some old friends of mine from high school were involved in a similarly silly trademark dispute with Kellogg Cereal. Rob, Leo & Pete started the very successful steel drum band, the Toucans, after learning how to play the steel drums during 0 period in high school. Kellogg's threatened that their band's name "was likely to confuse customers". It took six years, but they evenutally beat Kellogg's. Read the press release of their victory.

May 31, 2006

In Memory of Ann Kranz

Ann Kranz, a program director at the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA) , died over the weekend due to complications from a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. Ann was instrumental in the development and expansion of the Violence Against Women Online Resources (VAWOR), a collaborative project between the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women and MINCAVA. Ann helped to make VAWOR the place on the Internet to go when looking for research, training or other information related to interpersonal violence. Ann was also a poet, and an exceptional singer.


May 22, 2006

My Aunt, the Burmese Beauty Queen

My aunt, Louisa Benson, grew up in Burma, half-Karen (an ethnic minority in Burma) and half-Portugese. Aunt Louisa, who was Miss Burma twice in the 1950s, married a Karen revolutionary fighter. After the government murdered her husband, she went to the jungle and became a revolutionary guerilla leader, for awhile. My uncle helped her escape from Burma, and they eventually married, moved to LA, and had 3 kids. Here's a picture of her from when she was the guerilla leader.


My aunt has been working tirelessly for years trying to bring international attention to the plight of the Karen and other ethnic minorities in Burma, and the brutality of the illegal SLORC ruling junta (Myanmar). She helped found the Burma Forum, and is involved in a number of activities , such as being the key plaintiff successful lawsuit against Unocal on behalf of the Karen people for their use of forced (slave) labor in the building of pipelines in Burma.

Aunt Louisa was recently featured in Radio Free Asia, in an article titled "Forma Miss Burma calls for International Focus on Karen". Here's an excerpt:

“Currently, the Karen people are suffering a lot. They are ordinary villagers who have nothing to do with the war,? Benson told RFA’s Burmese service. “When I heard about the increased military offense by the Burmese government in [the area near the new capital, Pyinmana], it was extremely sad for me.?

“I’d like the U.S. government, or the U.N. or …[the Burmese opposition] National League for Democracy (NLD), or all of them to solve this problem,? she said. “As a Karen, I feel really sorry for them. They have to live in the jungle. It’s important to solve this problem.?

May 18, 2006

Maybe this whole "strategic positioning" will turn out OK after all?

I was so pleased to be at the press conference where the Unviersity introduced Darlyne Bailey as the new Dean of the "new" College of Education and Human Development - which interestingly has the same name as the old College. She is both the first woman and first African American Dean at the college. After the press conference, we were looking at the College's Centennial publication which had a section with pictures of all the white, male deans. They did have one female acting Dean, Marcia Edwards - acting dean 1952, 1963-1964. This was her entry:

(Ph.D., ’35, Graduate School) A master administrator, Edwards was urged by University President James Lewis Morrill to assume the deanship permanently, but she refused. Although she regarded herself as qualified to assume the responsibilities of dean, she believed that Minnesota educators were not ready to see a woman as leader of the College of Education.

I'm glad times have changed since then.

May 17, 2006


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