What a great smile – and what a great day for the world. I’m proud to have been a witness and a very modest and distant yet participant in this momentous moment of change in our history. Because what has been changed is the order of one-way politics, the order of read-only culture, of one-way, top down communications. What’s in is read-write culture, two-ways politics and bottom-up, peer-produced communications. I’m excited to be living in these times, and I share Obama’s vision and desire to leave our children with a mark on our times and world, of which we can be proud.
Saw President Obama’s speech from Chicago earlier this morning. If one is only going to listen to one speech in one’s life, it’s a pretty good candidate. If you haven’t already seen or heard it, I post the video here for your convenience.
Here’s the full text of Obama’s speech. The brilliant photo at the top is used courtesy of Bella Rua Photography from Flickr, taken at the Rollins Park rally in Concord, NH, September 29th, 2007. The photo is shared under a Creative Commons license.
EDIT: Took me a while to actually find an embeddable video of the full speech and of better quality than the one posted to YouTube. It’s worth listening to the complete speech – not just get the soundbites. I finally found the above courtesy of Yahoo Video.
We believe that real change can only come from the bottom up. And technology empowers people to come together to make that change. —Barack Obama, speech at Google, Nov. 14th 2007.
What’s at stake in this election
I believe this US presidential election is a matter of grave importance, not just to the US but perhaps even more so to the rest of the world. First, the American leadership sets an example for the world. The damages caused by the one set by the administration headed by George W. Bush is best scrutinized in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11. We need new leadership, a new vision and new examples to be set. We need a US president who can deliver this.
Second, the American economy influences the world’s economy. When a global economic power sinks into the bottomless financial pit of a brutal war of aggression, it not only sets a bad example for other nations, including Russia and all kinds of dictatorships, it also cannot help but bode ill for the world’s economy. We need a strong US economy, or at least a US economy which is capable of dealing with the challenges facing the United States internally, in order to lift the more serious challenges we face, such as world poverty and hunger and threats to our environment posed by our lifestyle and consumption patterns.
Third, and this is where we need real leadership, and real change, is to straighten out global priorities in the way the internet is, can and will be used. In particular, the US leadership is important in what is sometimes called ‘intellectual property law’. We need to stilt the draconian IP laws enacted in the US (I’m talking about the DMCA and similar legislation, if anyone should be in doubt). We need to stop these laws from becoming even more draconian, and we need to ultimately push them back. What’s at stake is hinted at in Lawrence Lessig’s marvelous book Free Culture, but isn’t limited to the remixing of music videos and animations – it’s our problem-solving capabilities which are at stake. Our ability to make good decisions based on trustworthy information, processed and exchanged freely using the internet, on a global scale, is at stake. If the US technology sector cannot lead the way because of the draconian American IP legislation, it will be a poorer world, and the struggle to get there will be harder and fraught with greater difficulties.
Barack Obama is now following you on Twitter!
As I am not American, unfortunately I can’t vote in the US presidential election taking place tomorrow. If I could I’d have no doubts. I’d vote for Obama. Not because he necessarily stand for and will enact all the things that I hope for the world, but because I think he will enact the kind of leadership, which sets an example and will facilitate the changes we need.
I have not been following the course of Barack Obama very closely, but even from a long distance he’s been able to make an impression. All thanks to the wonderful powers of the internet, which he’s utilized in his campaign with such intelligence and vitality. It made an impression when he followed me back on Twitter. Him or his campaign staff, either way, it’s an attention to detail which impresses. Coming from someone I respected and consider of high integrity, it also made a great impression on me reading Marc Andreessen’s personal account of a meeting with Obama. What impressed me in Andreessens account is the way Obama listened rather than talked, a characteristic which I felt showed his genuine interest in the problems presented to him. And lastly, he gained great respect in my book for appearing so genuinely as himself on the Daily Show and being able to stand up to the jokes of Jon Stewart in such as relaxed manner.
Lately I’ve been reading up on Obama’s tech policies, and the one thing I note with the greatest clarity is his emphasis on what can be done in America, in order to lift not only America, but also the challenges we face globally.
Seizing the moment : Obama’s speech at Google
Obama spoke last year (November 14th 2007) at Google’s HQ in Mountain View about his technology and innovation program. Watching this video of his speech I found I learned a great deal about Obama – and not just about his views on technology. If you haven’t had a chance to see this before, please join me here :
I took some time out to transcribe Obama’s entire speech below. It’s one of those speeches which apparently is not included in any of the official lists. Most blogs quote his technology policy press release, but I find it illuminating to read the words he actually used speaking at Google, and I learned a great deal about him in the process of transcribing his words. It’s a great speech, and one that resonates greatly with me.
Full transcript of Obama’s speech
When you start to think about it, there is something improbable about this gathering. Afterall it wasn’t much more than a decade ago that Larry and Sergei got together in a dormroom as graduate students with a big idea to organize all of the world’s information into an accessible form. And at the time I was a [novice? Illinois?] state senator, doing my best to help people get a better shot at their dreams.
What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not the top down. That a bunch of.. that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. We shared that, and we also shared a bunch of student loans that still needed to be paid off. (laughter) And you would have found it hard to predict that Larry and Sergei would now be the co-founders of one of the most successful companies in recent history. And that I would be standing on this stage today as a candidate for president of the United States.
But this is where improbable journeys have led. This is where the moment finds us. And I’d like to say a few words about what I believe we have to do together, to seize this moment with a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency.
We know how the first chapters of the Google story have turned out. Afterall, all of you have good jobs. But we also know that the Google story is more than just being about the bottom line. It’s about seeing what we can accomplish when we believe in things that are unseen. When we take the measure of our changing times and we take action to shape them. And that’s why we’re here today. That’s why many of you decided to work here instead of somewhere else.
Technology and innovation have reshaped our economy and our lives at breathtaking speed. America’s been fighting to figure out how to tap this awesome new ressource we have. And Google’s helped to show us the way. But the story is far from over. Google’s story is far from over. The story about how we shape our changing times is far from over. What comes next depends on the choices that we make right now, at this moment, in this election.
We could see the spirit of innovation that started this company be stifled. We could see the internet divided up to the highest bidders. We could see a government that uses technology to shut people out, instead of letting them in. Tax breaks shuffled to special interests, while the next startup, the next Google can’t get a fair shot. Challenges like health care and energy that hold our country back while competition from other nations picks up. That’s one alternative.
Another alternative is for us to unlock a new future of opportunity. Together we could open up the government and invite all citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband. We could use technology to help achieve universal health care. To reach for a clean energy future. And to ensure that young Americans can compete and win in the global economy.
If America recommits itself to science and innovation then we can lead the world to a new future of productivity and prosperity.
That’s what we can do if we seize this moment. That’s the choice we face.
As president, I intend to work with you to write the next chapter in the story of American innovation. That’s part of the reason why I’m running for president of the United States.
To seize this moment we have to ensure free and full exchange of information. And that starts with an open internet. (applause) I will take a backseat to noone in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.
To seize this moment, we have to connect all of America to 21st century infrastructure. As president, I will set a goal of ensuring that every American has broadband access, no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have or don’t have. We will raise the standards for broadband speed. We will connect schools and libraries and hospitals. We will take on the special interests so that we can finally unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety, our security and our connectivity.
To seize this moment, we have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to the sunlight. As president, I’m gonna change that. We will put government data online in universally accessible formats. (applause) I’ll let citizens track federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbying contracts. I’ll let you participate in government forums, ask questions, in realtime, offer suggestions that will be reviewed before decisions are made. And let you comment on legislation before it is signed. And to ensure that every government agency is meeting 21st century standards, I will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer to coordinate and make certain that we are always at the forefront of technology and that we are incorporating it into every decision that we make. (applause)
And if you wanna know how I’ll govern, just look at our campaign. We received over 370.000 donations online, half of which have been under 25 dollars. Nearly 300.000 Americans have their own accounts on Barackobama.com. They’ve created thousands of grassroots groups. They’ve offered up over 15.000 policy ideas. Because we believe that real change can only come from the bottom up. And technology empowers people to come together to make that change.
Because at this moment I think we have to do more than get our house in order. The opportunity in front of us is bigger than that. Seizing this opportunity is gonna depend on more than what the government does or even what the technology sector does. It’s gonna depend on how together we harness technology to confront the biggest challenges that America faces.
Just imagine what we could do. If we commit ourselves to electronic medical records, then we can lift up the quality of health care and reduce error at dramatically lower costs. (applause) If we take on special interests and make aggressive investments in clean and renewable energy, like Google’s done with solar here in Mountain View, then we can end our addiction to oil, create millions of jobs, and save the planet in the bargain.
If we make technological literacy a fundamental part of education, then we can give our children the skills they need to compete and ensure the next generation of scientists and engineers as being educated right here in America.
We can do this, but we can’t wait. Because Silicon Valley is not the only corner of innovation in the world. If America doesn’t seize this moment, then we will face only more competition from Dubai and Dublin, from Shanghai and Mumbai. So instead of George Bush’s policy of undermining science, I intend to double federal funding for basic research and make the RND tax credit permanent. (applause) To keep the door open for the next generation of startups, I will enforce tough antitrust laws. And to ensure that America continues to attract the worlds’ best and brightest, we need comprehensive immigration reform, that strengthens permanent residence VISA’s like the H1B program.
We need to make sure that the next success story, the next Google, happens here, in America. The Google story is about what can be achieved when we cultivate new ideas and keep the playing field level for new businesses. But it’s also about not settling for what we’ve already achieved. It’s about constantly raising the barr, so that we’re more competitive, and so that we use technology to reach ever expanding horizons.
You know, the first time I was back here, in 2004, Larry showed me the image that tracks all the internet searches taking place in the world. I wrote about this in my book. I saw the Earth rotating on a flat panel monitor with the different lights for different languages marking all of the traffic on this wondrous network, a network, that didn’t even exist when almost all of us here were born. (laughter) Almost.
But what struck me wasn’t the light on that globe. It was the darkness. Most of Africa, chunks of Asia, even parts of the United States. The disconnected corners of our interconnected world. Where the promise of the 21st century is being eclipsed by peril. You and I must not settle for anything less than an America that replaces that darkness with a new light.
Because the promise and prosperity of a new economy must not be the property of the few.
It must be a force that lifts up our entire country and ultimately lifts up the entire world. (applause) We have the privilege to live in a transformational moment. A moment when an idea can change the world. A moment when technology empowers us to come together as never before, while letting each of us reach for our own individual dreams. A moment when we can finally progress and move beyond the huge challenges that have stood in the way of progress for far too long.
We can not and we must not look back and regret that we settled for anything less. And that’s why I’m asking you to join me in seizing this moment. I’m asking you to join me in changing the world. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. (drowning in standing ovations)
Interview : Break the fever of fear
Obama’s speech is followed in the video with an insightful, relaxed and entertaining on stage interview hosted by Google CEO Eric Schmidt. In this interview Obama talks very open-heartedly about why he’s running for president in the first place, and why he’s running now. He’s also asked how he will actually end the war in Iraq, if he presumably takes office. As most will know, Obama opposed the war in Iraq. This speech from 2002 against the war in Iraq is well worth another read.
Obama sums up his foreign policy with the French president Sarkozy’s words, to “be more liked”. Meaning, that if the US is more respected and recognized for it’s diplomatic efforts, it will be easier to build up trust which enables problem-solving and diplomatic solutions and harder to create mistrust against Americans. Obama will “break the fever of fear” which has been exploited by the Bush administration to instill fear and distrust :
We’re told to be afraid of terrorists, of immigrants.. and each other … Our values are distorted .. not being certain if simulated drownings are really torture… That’s not who we are, as Americans. Sometimes I’m accused of being this progressive, far-out… – I’m conservative, in the sense that I want us to get back to those values that were essential to building America.
This video is a few words about our online method and work ethos, which is greatly inspired by what has been coined “the wiki way”, by our friends at About Us, among others (and yet others).
I’ve previously written about Kaplak’s multi-platform strategy and compared our business aspirations to the world of grafitti painting in our local neighbourhood. We want to create a company, which is capable of inviting “tags” and “shouts”, i.e. inputs from outside our company, so that we may, in the process and with time, learn how to do a great “piece”, so to speak. Inviting outside input is more difficult, than one would imagine, as everything in the business world as is, is built around keeping closed circles closed and creating stiff hierarchies, which are detrimental to the very kind of open, global process, we mean to help kick off and participate in. By all means, we want to steer clear of the corporate thickness, which quickly creeps into a company and prevents it from doing bold things.
Thus, we mean the “wiki way” in broader terms, than for just the work of building a wiki. We consider it a way of doing business and a mindset, which we need, in order to maintain a broad online presence over a number of different platforms and web architectures, without being overencumbered by the sheer vastness of what we’re doing – “making the world’s ends meet”, as we say, i.e. making financially viable connections between niche products and global niche markets.
Building and writing a blog sometimes can be like working against the clock. Posts are time-stamped and articles read and digested in the order they are published.
Not so with wikis. They evolve slowly over time, as additions to the wiki accumulate, from vastly different and otherwise territorially and contextually dispersed contributors. A wiki is built from time to time, when there’s something to add. A page can be an inactive dead end for months or even years, and it can see a sudden outburst of activity from one moment to the other, when it finds it’s use in a new context.
We understand and implement our online strategy much in this way. We use web tools and services, when they are useful to us, and we try to add bits and pieces to our network, when we need to. We don’t write blog posts every day, just for the sake of it or just to draw in traffic. However, we do work systematically to find explicit ways to add information or new contacts to our network. Precisely where the activity occurs – whether it happens on Twitter or Friendfeed, or somewhere else – is less important, as long as our pieces and nitbits are closely interlinked, and as long as we can feed stuff from one platform to another. The last thing is a high priority, which is why RSS and widgets are important. But what is even more important, is that in most contexts, not just in our wiki, we invite replies, comments, reactions, input, if just for the rare case, when someone in some unexpected context stumbles upon one of the bits and pieces, which help he or she activate that page and connect with us.
A local department of a political party of which I am a member (never mind which party) had a discussion rolling some time ago concerning spam mail, which led our web editor Rasmus Larsen to ask a few questions concerning Kaplak :
Let’s say that I am organizing an independently financed political forum on the web, with a range of interesting articles by a mixed group of connected people – some writing small newspaper pieces, others longer dissertations. [...] The purpose is not to generate a profit, but 1) to create attention around the webforum as a supplier of meaningful political articles, and 2) to inspire and influence the activities of the target groups, as a kind of prolonged think tank activity.
If there’s an article which supply something innovative on integration policies, it needs to get out in some way to all relevant people who’re already occupied with the subject and are active online. It could be high profile debaters and thinkers, people within different political parties, which leads particular workgroups, certain students and researchers at universities etc.
Now I face these challenges :
How do I get this article out to the target groups described here, without a firm grasp of who and where they are?
How do I make sure, they won’t consider it spam or unimportant?
How do I get it out to the target groups, which I haven’t even considered exists?
These questions hit the nail on a crucial challenge also for Kaplak : “Search” pre-conditions a pre-knowledge, a core of conscious information, which makes someone able to search for something. How do we reach the other someones, who are interested in what we do, without knowing who they are, and they not knowing who we are?
The answer is deceptively simple, yet incredibly hard work. The answer is hyperlinks. Most people don’t realize how important they are. A search engine, for instance, is really nothing but a very advanced index of hyperlinks and hyperlinked webpages. So to be visible for the someones who do search for you, if they know who you are or what your “product” is – let’s imagine you manage to get that information to them by some other means – you have to build a strong interlinked system of hyperlinks, pointing to your site from related sites, networks, communities, blogs etc., which will make search engines better pick up your site and rate it correctly and appropriately.
You can use special techniques often referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to optimize your visibility for people who search for you on the web. But your efforts will be most efficient, if 1) your target group know beforehand that you exist or already are looking for what you offer, or 2) you can define precisely or near precisely, who your target group is and what they will search for.
The bottom line is still, however, links, links, links. A well placed link in a good spot will direct the right kind of people to your product or message.
So what is ‘a good spot’? I’ll discuss this in a second.
Concerning the questions about how recipients won’t consider your message or product ‘spam’, and how to reach groups you haven’t considered existed, I’d like to flip the questions around a bit. In other words, what will recipients consider spam? And how do you reach people, who haven’t even considered your existence?
To the first, clearly most people consider unsolicited mail spam. Information they seek out themselves, are motivated for and have accepted to receive is not spam. If you want your message out, you have to find a way to reach people where this is the case or seems to be the case. The second point has really the same answer. In order to reach people, who don’t know you exist, you have to create a situation, where they seek you out themselves. So how do you do this?
You find out what the good spots are. Get your hyperlinks to the places where you find people who are potentially interested in your message and won’t consider it irrelevant.
At first, this may seem like an impossible task, especially considering the enormous growth of the web. But if one reconsiders, there’s good reason to praise this further atomization of the internet. The growth of the number of sites in the world also means, that there’s a much greater variety and finer segmenting of target groups. If you can define them right and precisely enough, that is. Segments can be anything on the web which has an audience or some point of communication. They can be website communities, but need not be. They need even not be on the web – they could also be mailing lists, intranets or darknets, i.e. closed p2p networks. A segment can be as small as the group of friends around a Facebook profile, or as large as Barack Obamas following on Twitter.
To describe and predict segments like these are exceedingly and increasingly difficult to do from any central point of view (although any SEO will certainly try). This is why we need to utilize local forces and filters (by means of “peer production”), which will help decide for us, what kind of segments will find what pieces of information. Local peers have what we don’t : the expertise in knowing their communities and segments much more precisely than we do. Connecting with these mediators is how we find ‘the good spots’.
In a way, this is what is already happening now all over the internet. An atomization followed by more precise forms of segmenting and reaching audiences and markets. There are a lot of affiliate programs and products such as Google AdWords/AdSense which help mediators make these connections. But in Kaplak we don’t see really efficient solutions which helps the producers on the very slim end of the long tail, because these customers are not really the concern of most market players operating on the web.
What we propose at Kaplak is (among other things) to introduce a capital bonus (i.e. kaplak) to those peers who successfully connect a niche product with a niche market. This, supported by other tools, will help speed up the connecting of products with their markets in online niche contexts and generate larger margins for our customers – as well as for the mediators.
Can’t help but post this, because it’s the funniest commercial I’ve seen in the last five years :
Thanks to Jason Calacanis for the tip! It’s an example of what twittering can do to a message. It’s not as hard and effort-demanding as blogging, and the message gets through to everyone following the twitter.
In this case, a video commercial gets spread online with lightning speed. What’s amazing is how few companies deliberately and strategically use these channels for their messages. I’m not even following Jason very fanatically, yet here I am bringing on the message in this space. I also added the video to ‘my favourites’ on YouTube, which makes the video visible to everyone following my videos. I added Jason to my “following” because I knew his name from other online activities and discussions and was curious to explore different twittering styles. Jason is very consciously using Twitter to promote his site and live video streams.
For mainstream media such as this commercial, it’s shooting with a wide arc in a channel like this. But more targeted messages (such as niche products) could use social media wildly efficiently, to help build a following. I just read, that Barack Obama twitters too, and he’s had some luck with it ;-)