On the Web - Power to the People

by Heather Mead

Back in November 2003, Doc Searls posted a short piece on the LJ site (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7239) that outlined which presidential campaign Web sites were using open-source components. This seems particularly relevant given the significance of the Internet to the 2004 presidential race. As Howard Dean's early campaign demonstrated, making the Internet key to an organization can turn a lot of separate grassroots initiatives into a large and powerful networked movement.

By the time you read this month's On the Web, we'll know who the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate is. Although this is a big story, Doc continues to be interested in the story behind the story—how the campaigns are adopting and adapting open-source philosophy and technology. He describes his mission as learning:

what IT workers in the pressure-cooker conditions of political campaigns might teach IT professionals everywhere about the resourceful use of Linux, free software and open-source development methods. What works best? What doesn't work at all? How do you develop and apply solutions to problems all over the country with widely varying participants and circumstances?

Prior to LinuxWorld New York in January 2004, Doc traveled to the Vermont headquarters of the Dean campaign. As he writes in “Lessons from the Campaign Pressure Cooker” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7372), he encountered both open-source software and what former Dean Campaign Manager Joe Trippi called “open-source politics”. Joe used to work for Ian Murdock, cofounder of Debian. Essentially, the Dean campaign used its extensive grassroots support to create its own networked market. How far this market takes Dean is unknown right now, but its success in 2003 seems to indicate that a new phase of electoral politics has begun.

Perhaps this shift in the campaign landscape is connected to the shift taking place in the larger realm of supply and demand. In “The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7345), Doc discusses how “consumerism is a red herring....It isn't about what you and I invent and contribute to the marketplace. It's about what Sony and Panasonic and Nikon and Canon produce and distribute through retailers for us, the mass market, to consume constantly.” Some new computer technologies and the overall continuing drop in cost of computer equipment, however, are allowing users to have more control over what they create and use in their daily lives. Doc traces all this back to the Linux economy hack, “because Linux is something that happened when demand started to supply itself”.

Whether looking at political campaigns and the importance of the Internet, media coverage and the rise of the blog or consumer electronics and the increasing availability of software that lets users make their own music, it's clear that the do-it-yourself freedom at the heart of open source is spreading. If you'd like to keep up with Doc's findings and musings, subscribe to his biweekly SuitWatch newsletter at the Linux Journal home page.

Heather Mead is senior editor of Linux Journal.

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