David Weinberger from Harvard’s Berkman Center started his presentation, “Blogging Our Way to Democracy”, by observing that “Today seems to be a day where politicians say the internet isn’t going to come to them, so they better come to the internet.”
He wasn’t going to insult anyone by saying that since none of the politicians who visited Le Web earlier today stuck around long enough to gain from Weinberger’s insights – which attracted a lot of flack. Weinberger would probably say that politicians ignore the internet and bloggers at their own peril.
According to Weinberger, the American presidential candidacy of Howard Dean was the the first to really understand and embrace the internet and it’s culture by hiring a blogger to run their website. He said, “Bloggers are not on message, Matthew was not on message. He wrote as an enthusiastic supporter.” That, says Weinberger, built trust within the electorate and, for a time Dean, “an obscure Governor from Vermont” was able to lead the field of Democratic candidates.
This, in Weinberger’s view, was an extremely positive develop. “The broadcast model has nothing to do with democracy. It’s killing democracy…” and, says Weinberger, the Dean campaign did everything they could think of to break up that top down pyramid model. The result was that people ended up being more enthusiastic about the campaign than they were about the candidate.
One of the main things, in Weinberger’s view, that sets the internet apart from broadcast media, is that most internet pages are not self contained. Bloggers link out to other content because it’s their way of keeping their audiences happy by pointing them to other stuff they might be interested in. “This is how we, WE, built OUR internet – out of links!!!!”
David Weinberger compared and contrasted a blog he reads regularly, which is full of links to other blogs, and the front page of the New York Times website which has many links but all of them inward looking. Looking up at the large presentation screen behind him, Weinberger exclaimed, “look at all those links, all that blue – they must be really generous too. They don’t want us to go away because they think that, if we do, we won’t come back – and they are probably right.”
Weinberger says that linking is just one example of the way that internet users are taking greater control of the way that information on the internet is organised.
The organisation of information not only just helps us find that content, but it also helps us to understand it and give it meaning. As an example, Weinberger uses the example of a hammer which, he says, can’t be understood unless one knows what a nail is.
“We are now, right now, in the process of externalising meaning. In doing so, we are creating meaning and that’s a way of sharing the world. We need to find meaning and engage with – conversation gives us a good model for that.”
Speaking of conversations, during a later panel, Bo Y. Shao, who set up the “Chinese answer to ebay” said he wished the two Presidential candidates who spoke at us earlier today would have stayed for a bit of enlightenment from the panel on politics and blogging.
Le Meur looked genuinely surprised and, for a very brief moment, slightly unnerved when a few people applauded, making him realise, or at least ponder for a few seconds, the idea that not everyone wanted Le Web to get taken over by his political aspirations .
It was the first time I saw that plastic fantastic ear-to-ear perma-grin he’s been wearing all day dissappear for even a moment. Le Meur does, of course, have every reason to smile about today. Hell, he got his kid to come along to see how great he is and even took him for a stroll on stage, explaining to the audience that he was teaching his son how to get up on stage with him.
Unlike Le Meur, and apparently oblivious to him, those guys from Belgium and a lot of other people sitting where I am haven’t managed to crack a smile all day.