Royal Holloway keynotes – Micah Sifry: Open source politics

I spoke at Royal Holloway University’s Web 2.0 Politics conference on 18 April and had planned to live-blog the two keynotes by Micah Sifry and Michael Turk but unfortunately didn’t manage to. But I did make notes and have now re-worked them so they are sort of a deferred live-blogging stream-of-consciousness.

First up is the keynote by Micah Sifry, titled Open Source Politics:

Micah began by stating that political communications must move from being egocentric to network centric. That is, becoming less about individuals and more about loosely connected networks of supporters that coalesce and self-organise around specific issues.

This allows voters to become co-creators of the candidate’s political campaign and network effects, Micah argued, are the key to this.

Funding – we are seeing small, but significant revolutions in political funding taking place:

  • For example Ron Paul opened up his funds by putting all his campaign donations online
  • The database of donations was entirely searchable
  • Building on this, supporters started building useful tools that displayed fundsina useful and meaningful way
  • For example, they started making graphs that displayed funding from specific places, organisations or people – they then set-up the website where you can view the most interesting results [Edit: think of that resource as a journalist as well as a supporter!]
  • Apparently Obama is considering running an online to raise $1m in 1min – which may or may not be a good/successful idea!
  • Micah’s concluding point was that with micro-economics emerging on the web, big money doesn’t go away – but now there is a counter-veiling force. People can now say if that if the party does follow this or that route with policy or selection etc then they will donate cash to a rivel candidate etc. The micro-funding revolution makes parties/candidates etc more accountable

Micah also addressed, what he termed as, the Economy of Abundance:

  • This arises – in essence – from the easy and cheap availability of storage on the web.
  • Micah says that – politically, at least – the sound bite is being challenged by abundance of space online to have upload, store and search etc other messages, speeches, communications material etc
  • The media presentation format of 20 or 30 second glib or catchy but meaningless snapshots is being onverted
  • As an example: Barack Obama has approximately 900 videos on YouTube, and most of these videos are about 13mins long
  • The Race Video has had 4m views and as YouTube only counts a full play-through of a video as a view then there’s a lot of people who are hungry for quality, in-depth content that they can’t get from MSM. Where do they go to find it? Online.

Micah’s three conclusions were particularly insightful:


  • The network is more powerful than the list
  • Networks are resilient, but not nimble
    • If you have a network of 5,000 bloggers and one says something stupid then it’s not the end of world. However, if you take away the central point then they’re that not easily corralled
  • Networks and campaigns can be allies, but they ultimately have cross-purposes
    • Campaigns share tasks but not authority with their supporters
    • To get to a position of open source politics we need to give supporters authority
    • Micah asks can we ever get there? Ron Paul supporters were given full authority to shape his campaign, but then they raised money to spend on a branded blimp – was a good idea and use of funds?

For Micah, the big (and most interesting) question is where will the balance of power lie in the future and what happens to the networks once the elections are over. Once you have given supporters/voters a sense of power, they probably won’t let it go so easily.

Technorati tags: Royal Holloway University, Politics 2.0, Micah Sifry, Open Source Politics

PROs take note: the battle for Google visability begins on 5th May

Another busy working week means another 3,000 unread feeds and so I came across this news story in a magazine (yes, I know! Crazy huh).

Personally I think the stroy is of huge importance to the PROs and posing quite a significant threat to the industry. That said, I haven’t yet seen the story in PR Week or on other UK blogs (bearing in mind I haven;t read many feeds this past week!).

According to Marketing, from 5th May Google plans to open up its keyword bidding allowing anyone to bid for keywords, effectively letting your clompetitors buy up – or at leastpush up the cost – of your company’s, clients or brands keywords.

From that date forward, Google’s "trademark complaint investigations will no longer monitor or restrict keywords for ads served to users in the UK and Ireland."

The reason for the change, Google’s UK Director, Matt Brittin, argues  is

"to give users greater choices to help them make
informed decisions."

"Advertisers are accustomed to the fact
that users searching for their trademarked terms as part of a phrase
may see ads from competitors."

Interestingly, the argument against this move in the article comes from digital agency, Equi=Media. One of their directors, Gavin Sinden, tells Brand Republic, that Google is trying "to increase bid values and volume of bids on a huge range of

He also wanrs advertisers that "you could type in a search for a particular
brand and be confronted with nothing but a sea of competitors

SHOCK. HORROR! It seems the ad industry is running scared because they’re further losing the ability to own and/or control space within Google.

Personally I believe this change will offers those within the PR industry who place value on real, genuine engagement with customers major opportunities. Ensuring clients secure high search rankings on the back of quality service and content will become all the more improtant. It is in this that PR delivers real, strateguic value rather than the ‘quick fixes’ of digital marketing and advertising.

Technorati tags: Google, adwords, search marketing, PR, public relations, digital marketing, digital advertising

I’ve been cloned!

Or rather this blog has. Doc Searls spotted this post over at the spammy-looking site, Lalaia – the virtual city, and blogged it.

It doesn’t take a close read to spot it’s word-for-word the same post. If you look further down the site you can spot pretty much all my other posts this month.

On the one-hand if it’s a spam blog then I don’t really see there’s much I can do. But if – as Doc points out- they making commercial gain from the content then where does that leave me? I can’t see any form of  contact for the site’s owner/author.

There is a link at the bottom of each post directing the
reader to the ‘oriinal post’ which sends them to my blog. BUT… as
Michael May points out in a comment on Doc’s post Lalaia are breaking
the Creative Commons 2.5 I use for my blog because "no CC license copy
is distributed on the copy site."

For the time being I’m inclined to do nothing but keep a close eye on the site. Doc’s linked to what looks a really good post I need to read – and I’d welcome others’ thoughts too.

But, if nothing else this occurance seems to reinforce the growth of flogging, splogging etc etc. Even Technorati seems to have atrophied under the volume of these sites.

Technorati tags: Doc Searls, splogging, flogging, Creative Commons

Social media and the dark side of doing PR

There’s a, well…. how can I put it… rather depressing post by former Friendly Ghost aka Brendan Cooper on the issue of ghost-blogging. It’s quite timely given my post on the subject the other week, although Brendan comes at the issue with a very different perspective.

The post begins:

The blogosphere is no garden of Eden. We can try to self-regulate, but in so doing we’re only exposing our own naïveté.

And it continues with the theme that, like it or not, the internet will evolve to match the current world of traditional media and PR.

Rather than clients appointing us to help them create sustainable, long-term relationships based on trust and respect using the social web, it will be business as usual where spin, ghost writing and paid advertorials are not only common place online but expected.

If that sounds a little bleak, Brendan tells us to quit our bleating and hammers home his point:

There will be a time, a year or two or three hence, in which we look back at the arguments against ghost blogging, and laugh. It lacks transparency. It lacks integrity. It lacks authenticity. Gimme a break.
In a year or two or three hence, the big money will be savvy. It will be pushing messages out in every digital channel available. The people you think are saying things, will not be saying them. Other people will.

I find this alarming both in the sense that Brendan thinks these thoughts but is also prepared to share them with others – although perhaps I *would* think that given that Edelman takes very much the opposite stance to Porter Novelli. In fact we’ve just launched a group blog about PR and the drive for transparency appropriately called Authenticities.

In a way, Brendan’s view kind of makes sense. He is a former copywriter and now social media planner – which suggests to me (and is alluded to in by Brendan his post) a strong tradition with top-down, command and control communications.

Arising from Brendan’s post are a number of interesting things.
Firstly, I personally believe Brendan is missing the entire challenge to traditional media and PR created by the internet. People don’t trust advertising, PR and marketing. That’s the power of social media – it is connecting real people with real people. That’s why it works. Faking blogs or social networks etc will similarly shut down genuine relationships built on trust.

Secondly, Brendan’s post is timely because if offers a startling counterpoint to the idea raised by Dave Winer and now picked up on by Doc Searls that maybe it’s time to get out of blogging. Blogging is becoming flogging, suggests Searls. Brendan seems to reinforce this idea – or at least confirm its growth.

Thirdly, I was blown away by the Cluetrain manifesto when I first read it. Brendan suggests in a comment that the Cluetrain Manifesto is “pretty naïve”. Um. Woah. I’m not even going to get into that one.

Technorati tags: ghost blogging, blogging, flogging, command and control, Cluetrain

Edelman Digital an announcement

Regular readers of my blog will know I work for the PR firm Edelman as part of its London-based digital team. Well, earlier today we announced some news about the digital team in the UK and I thought I’d share it with you.

There’s been a lot of changes that have taken place within the company since I joined and possibly the biggest and longest coming has been the decision to aqcuire a digital agency to call our own that can help us deliver tactically our great digital strategies.

As of 5pm today Edelman Digital doubled in size by acquiring Spook Media. The deal will make a combined team of 25 people with fees in excess of £2 million per year (according to the press release). We’ll also acquire Spook Media’s clients including Seiko, British Motor Show, ExCel Exhibition Centre, Fashion Targets Breast Cancer to put alongside our own including Unilever, Fort Dodge, AXA, Microsoft, Snickers.   

You can read the full press release on the Edelman UK website.

Technorati tags: Edelman, Edelman Digital, Spook Media,

What anarchism can teach us about organisations in the internet age


I’m reading one of those great Very Short Introductions to… from Oxford University Press at the moment about Anarchism. I cannot recommend it highly enough as a thought-provoking bridge between political theory and changes the internet is creating for business and society.

For example, it’s fascinating to learn that at the core of anarchist thinking about healthcare, education, business etc is the notion of small, self-organising communities with little or no central control. Compare this to how the internet operates and a number of parallels become clear.

Tellingly, the author – noted British anarchist Colin Ward – writes:

anarchist concepts will be continually reinvented or rediscovered, in fields never envisaged by the propagandists of the past, as people in so many areas of human activity search for alternatives to the crudities and injustices of both free-market capitalism and bureaucratic managerial socialism.

Building on this drive for an alternative perspective for organisational theory, Ward outlines what he believes would be the four defining pillers for an anarchist theory of organizations:

  1. Voluntary
  2. Functional
  3. Temporary
  4. Small

I find this mind blowing. Every single one of these fits almost perfectly the different types of organising taking place on the internet.

  1. Voluntary – read Benkler’s Wealth of Networks: the idea of people giving their time and expertise for free or on a voluntary basis is revolutionisng production – both of knowledge and physical goods.
  2. Functional – slightly more vague, but suffice to say that while design is important to an extent, good functionality and usability are key to the success of internet tools. Take for example the basic simplicity of sites like of Wikipedia and – they might not be pretty but they do the job successfully.
  3. Temporary – While this may seem an odd choice of criteria at first fi you clarify what Ward means then it makes perfect sense. Rather than meaning short-lived, Ward uses the term to indicate a willingness to change; to be shaped by the ends of the user or community. This is a key proponent of web 2.0 tools. All ‘social’ websites by their definition are open to the requirements of the community.
  4. Small – again this criteria needs further clarification. As Ward suggests in the quotation about, the ideas of anarchists are perpetually being re-shaped to meet current social, political and economical conditions. Ward specifies small as a key criteria as he talks only of the offline world where anarchist initaitves need to remain small in order to be sustainable. The internet reduces all barriers to scalability and supports many small-scale communities or one large one.

So what does this all mean for us as digital strategists…? I haven’t yet worked that out (and would welcome any suggestions) but ultimately I think this starts to offer us ways of applying established political (anarchist) theories to the online world.

Perhaps we can even use this information to guide our clients more successfully through the social and  business changes they are experiencing. Maybe not mention that it is based on anarchist theory, eh?

Technorati tags: anarchism, political theory, internet, organisational change

Lord of the Blogs – corny name but great blog

I thought Lord of the Blogs was a spoof at first… but a closer look reveals it is a group blog authored by 10 peers from the UK’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Despite the corny name and lacklustre design the site’s content is really, really good. Take for instance a recent post from Lord Norton.
Responding to requests from commenters who want to know more about the
bloggers, Lord Norton posts 10 interesting things about himself in turn
achieving two really important things.

Firstly, he is responding to requests from users – creating a
genuine dialogue. Ok, it’s not exactly about major policy issues at
this stage, but if you set the foundations up right then it’s only a
matter of time before we get to that stage, surely?

Secondly, he is talking about himself, a member of the UK
parliament’s upper (and traditionally most aloof and esoteric) chamber
in an informal way.

To give Lord Norton his due he *attempts* to tell us 10 things about
himself, but fails. He can only find nine – and one of these is:

The other interesting thing is that the blog is part of a project
being co-ordinated by the independent democracy think-tank, the Hansard Society. I intitially presumed that this would be part of their ongoing Digital Dialogues initiative, but a closer inspection of the DD website shows that it is a separate project.

More info about Lord of the Blogs can be found at the Hansard Society’s website or in today’s Guardian

Technorati tags: Lord of the Blogs, House of Lords, Hansard Society

Downing Street’s digital guru: an interesting choice?

This week’s PR Week reports [paywalled] that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has hired former MD of the London-based commercial radio station LBC as:

“head of digital comms, with a brief to overhaul Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s lacklustre web strategy. It is understood more hires could be on the way as the Government prepares for the first general election to be fought largely over the internet.”

Interesting choice.

A quick Google trawl turns up nothing much. Mark has no Wikipedia entry – although there’s an interesting Iain Dale blog post from 2006 that suggests Mark was nearly parachuted in for Labour as the Bromley by-election candidate.

Apparently he was already advising “Downing Street and the Labour Party on new media (that’s the Interweb to you and me)” back then.

I look forward to seeing what developments emerge.

Technorati tags: Downing Street, Mark Flanagan, digital strategy

*UPDATED* Brian Paddick reaches out to Londerners via Twitter


Hot on the heels of Lynne Feathestone MP and No 10 Downing Street twittering I received an email last night from the Lib dem’s Head of Innovation, Mark Pack, telling me that the Lib Dem mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, is holding the world’s first interview using Twitter.

Mark’s email told me:

"Liberal Democrat Mayoral Candidate Brian Paddick
is taking part in an exclusive interview on Twitter, the popular text
messaging service, the first time this has been done by a UK politician.

Paddick will be offering an exclusive interview to all of his
‘followers’ on Twitter.  Users who have signed up to follow Brian
Paddick on Twitter will be able to text a question and answers will
then be sent to the questioners and posted on his official website."

I was struck by two things:

  1. the emphasis of Twitter as a text messaging service
  2. the offer of an exclusive interview with brian via Twitter

I wondered why Twitter was being sold as a text messaging service when it is soooo much more. I suspected it was due to sell the idea of Twitter to a wide audience. Alan Johnson’s deputy leadership campaign manager, Stuart Bruce, confirmed as much to me via Twitter this morning.

The second point is more subtle and seems to indicate the Paddick team’s lack of understanding that Twitter, like other social web tools, are shifting the balance between organisations and their stakeholders.

The simple fact that Paddick is on Twitter means he is open to conversation with his ‘followers’ – so why set up a specific ‘exclusive interview’? Or perhaps they are using the story as a neat media hook!

Either way, Ken Livingstone isn’t on Twitter and despite the Tories new media savvy Boris and his team consider online debates as not involving "real people". At least Paddick is opening up a new front for direct engagement with his followers/supporters.

*UPDATE* Stephen Waddington reports back via Twitter that he posed a question 20 hours ago and is still awaiting a response.

Technorati tags: Brian PaddickLondon mayoral electionsLib Dems, Twitter