Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama Hacktivists At It Again...

People tend to think of computer hackers as illegally breaking into systems and wreaking havoc - damaging, stealing, or even completely taking over other people's machines and networks. But the current incarnation of hacktivism is anything but. Today's hacktivism is mostly made up of very legal activities that simply use clever ways to make existing systems work to further the hacktivist's own political goals. And this presidential election campaign is ripe full of examples.

The conservative blog, Newsbusters, reported this morning that Google is actively censoring and shutting down any blogs on its servers that espouse an anti-Obama message. Nevermind for a second that the claim seems completely bogus (after all, since when did shutting down 7 hardly-read blogs in all of cyberspace constitute a vast conspiracy?). Newsbusters almost immediately then corrected itself, stating that the fault, in fact, was not Google's, but rather Obama hacktivists who used Google's anti-spam feature to "trick" Google into freezing the blogs until it could be ascertained whether, indeed, the sites were spam.

What they did was go to the Blogspot addresses found on the site of the NoObama coalition called Just Say No Deal and constantly hit the "mark as spam" link so that Google's Blogger would be flooded with spam warnings. This caused Google/Blogger to freeze the sites marked.

Apparently, this campaign merely took advantage of Google/Blogger's flawed system of finding spam blogs. So, it looks like what we have here is an Obama dirty trick to shut down political opposition.


All of this comes directly on the heels of last week's incident where an Obama hacktivist dropped a "Google Bomb" against John McCain, attempting to manipulate search results to display negative stories when someone searched for the candidate's name.

Again, none of these activities are actually illegal - they are merely clever ways of gaming the system. While they certainly undermine the intended purpose of Google's algorithms, and even run counter to the ideals of democracy, there is little that can be done about it on a practical level - save for Google making internal changes to how it detects spam and determines its search rankings. And that's not exactly a quick fix.

But does any of this even matter? Those Obama hacktivists may have temporarily tricked Google into shutting down seven anti-Obama blogs, but in response, as demonstrated by Newsbusters, conservative bloggers have been flooding cyberspace with a torrent of reporting and their own opinions on the story. In the end, who has really won the day?

If there is one lesson we can draw thus far it is simply this: That the rise of the hacktivists in this presidential election campaign is undeniable, and that their powerful will is unrelenting.

What real impact they will eventually have on the electoral outcome, however, is yet to be determined.
  

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Al-Qaeda Can't Compete Online...

During the 1990s, the internet was a haven for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations who were able to flourish due to the anonymity which the Web provided as well as its low-cost methods for information dissemination.

Thankfully, it's not the 90s anymore.

As Daniel Kimmage writes in the New York Times, Al-Qaeda is now way behind the curve. The internet of today (known in "wired" circles as Web 2.0) is based on user-generated content and social-networking. Think of YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, the millions of blogs, and all of the other most popular and used sites on the internet. Their power is based, not on anonymity, but on creating interactive forums for individuals to create and share their own materials. To use Yochai Benkler's terminology, it is a democratic system of non-market social production.

Which is why groups like Al-Qaeda can't compete anymore. To see a powerful demonstration of just how outdated the groups' tactics have become, consider the following:

In late 2006, with YouTube and Facebook growing rapidly, a position paper by a Qaeda-affiliated institute discouraged media jihadists from overly "exuberant" efforts on behalf of the group for fear of diluting its message.


No one paying attention the last few years could believe that such a command-and-control approach is feasible in the Web 2.0 world. Restraining people's voices in cyberspace, and trying to keep people "on message" has indeed become a ridiculous notion in such a democratized forum.

All of which belies an important, if too often overlooked, point - the majority of human beings on Planet Earth believe that these people are, indeed, maniacs! The September 11th attacks may have given Al-Qaeda a disproportionately large platform and sense of importance, but in cyberspace, where millions of individual voices express themselves and create content every day on an equal playing field, those individuals, in the aggregate, ultimately have the effect of drowning out the voices of the terrorists and extremists.

Kimmage is exactly right is stating, "Social networking, the emerging hallmark of Web 2.0, can unite a fragmented silent majority and help it to find its voice in the face of thuggish opponents, whether they are repressive rulers or extremist Islamic movements."

The primary reason why the internet was originally hailed as The Great Democratizer is its unparalleled ability to give the masses real power over information - not only the information they consume, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the information they create. As a result, the loudest voices are no longer the most significant. It's the sheer numbers of voices that are.

It's in this respect that Al-Qaeda can't compete in modern information warfare. In a Web 2.0 cyber space based on user-generated content, the best ideas will naturally rise to the top, while the more extreme will be relegated to the sidelines. And having the better ideas is something that Al-Qaeda will never be able to legitimately claim.
  

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Web Debate on Saving the World...

A fantastic discussion has been taking place online this week over developing internet tools, not for the sake of profit, but to help save the world. The idea may seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, but the dialogue has proved extremely thoughtful and has raised important issues on everything ranging from macroeconomics to environmental sustainability to Web 2.0 business models.

It started with Umair Haque from the Harvard Business School posting "An Open Challenge to Silicon Valley" a few weeks ago. In it, he calls for today's investors and start-ups to start building applications to "change the world" instead of just developing applications that make money. Haque explicitly posed this challenge:

If you're a revolutionary, then be one: put your money where your mouth is, and fix a big problem that changes the world for the better - if you really have the courage, the purpose, and the vision, that is.


Haque went even further this week, posting "A Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution". His basic argument is that the Invisible Hand of capitalism is "crippled", creating value that is ultimately self-defeating, and that we need to drastically re-think our notions of economic growth.

If you actually read Haque's two articles, it's not entirely clear whether he's aiming to be a revolutionary, or just looking to inject a few token reminders of sustainability and charitable goodwill into our existing systems. Regardless, he has apparently triggered an outpouring of intellectual arguments on the subject.

Several members of the online business community, including venture capitalists, are suddenly feeling introspective. Fred Wilson writes on his blog, "A VC", that Haque's idea has led him to become admittedly "bored" with the whole idea of Web 2.0:

I am a bit jealous of friends who are working on finding and funding alternative energy or biomedical technologies that have the potential to address the serious problems facing the world. At times it seems that helping the web become more social, intelligent, mobile, and playful is not as impactful.


And here's where the thoughtfulness of this discussion becomes so apparent. Broadstuff chimed in with these two posts (1,2) where, referencing serious academic theorists from a broad range of disciplines, he analyzes the economic notions of "growth through creative destruction" and "Feudalism 2.0". Broadstuff goes on to formulate proposals for using web media to reduce transaction costs, enable people to self-organize, impact energy and resource usage, and create entirely new financial structures.

Calling on today's investors and start-ups to start building applications to "change the world" instead of just developing applications that make money is, of course, a worthy and noble endeavor. The irony is that it's not like there's a choice between Web 2.0 applications that focus on profits versus those with more anthropological ends. Almost no Web 2.0 startups make money anyway.

What this question really gets to is what should be the larger purpose of software. What human values should software embody, and how should developers then integrate those values into code?

In the end, this is summed up by Marc Hustvedt, another venture capitalist, who ponders, "how can we use Twitter to fight global hunger?". However, the real question may be "can we use Twitter to fight global hunger? Will the tools of change really be the Twitters and Facebooks of today, or will we need to embrace a whole new paradigm designed just for the purpose of change?"
  

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hacktivist Throws 'Google Bomb' at John McCain...

This presidential election campaign has already seen its fair share of online innovations. Well, that's one trend that shows no signs of slowing down. As Computerworld reports, one political blogger is using a technique known as "Google bombing" to undermine the candidacy of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The way a Google bomb works is by manipulating Google's search algorithm. When somebody searches for the term "John McCain", the results are listed a certain order - which is based on, among other things, how many websites link to that specific page. In other words, the more websites that link to John McCain's homepage, the more likely that homepage is to be listed first in Google's results. This is always how Google's search results have worked, and we've come to love it enough to make it, hands-down, the top search engine on the Web.

However, some hacktivists try to use Google's ranking system to their own advantage, as is the case here. The way to do so is quite simple... get enough websites to link to a negative story about John McCain, and that negative story will eventually be among the first ones listed when someone searches for him.

Chris Bowers, managing editor of the progressive blog OpenLeft, is launching the Google bombs by encouraging bloggers to embed Web links to the nine news stories about McCain in their blogs... Bowers is reprising a similar Google bombing effort he undertook in 2006 against 52 different congressional candidates.

The articles Bowers is using range from a story about McCain voting to filibuster a minimum wage hike to an item about the Senate passing an expanded GI bill despite opposition from McCain... Bowers is aiming by Labor Day to have three of the nine articles appear in the top 10 search results for "John McCain" and "McCain," three in results 11 through 20 and three more in 21 through 30.


Google-bombing may be a subversive political activity, as it clearly tries to game the system in ways for which the system was never intended, particularly when it focuses on negative content. But yet it is also not in any way illegal.

So the question relating to hacktivism is whether Google-bombing is an activity that degrades our democratic system... or is it just clever politics?
  

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Firefox to Break World Downloading Record Today...

Today at 10am Pacific Time, the latest version of the Firefox web browser will be released. And what a sideshow it has created.

Amid all the hype, a few notable things stand out. First, there has been an organized movement spreading virally in cyberspace for the past few weeks to try and break the Guinness world record for "the software most downloaded in 24 hours". Of course, more discerning eyes might consider this misleading - the "record" doesn't actually exist, and Firefox supporters have basically invented it to add hype to today's release. But who am I to be a Debbie Downer.

In fact, if you check out the website that asks for record-breaking recruits, the most interesting feature on it is the map of the world showing how many people from each country have pledged their commitment. Yes, we all know the internet is everywhere, but it's still quite amazing to see that hundreds of people from backwaters like Uzbekistan, Zambia, and the African Congo have pledged to download Firefox today, not to mention in countries with totalitarian regimes like Iran, Sudan, and North Korea. Aren't these people supposed to not even have electricity?

Also notable is the role that social media has played in spreading the viral message. Websites like Digg and Reddit have accumulated thousands of shows of support, bookmarking services like Del.icio.us have been filled with thousands more links to assorted Firefox material, and the blogosphere has been hyping it ceaselessly with over half a million articles published BEFORE the software release has even happened.

Setting the Guinness world record may be the stated goal of all this activity, but in the end that's only a novelty. The real show is the online mass mobilization that's taking place.
  

Monday, June 16, 2008

An Online Boycott of the Associated Press...

The clash of New Media vs. Old Media rages on.

The latest conflict occurred this past weekend when, citing copyright infringement, the Associated Press sent a letter to the Drudge Retort instructing them to remove seven items that quoted A.P. stories.

The tactic backfired, sparking a flood of comments and criticism in the blogosphere. As a result, the Associated Press has retreated from its position, admitting that it "had decided that its letter to the Drudge Retort was 'heavy-handed' and that the A.P. was going to rethink its policies toward bloggers."

This is an apparent victory for New Media, but what's more is that Michael Arrington, author of one of the most popular blogs in cyberspace, TechCrunch, is hopping on the bandwagon of public criticism and calling for a boycott of all Associated Press stories:

Here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.


What has really caught Arrington's ire is the A.P.'s historical pattern of bringing lawsuits against citizen journalists quoting its stories, as well as the A.P.'s new declaration that "they will issue guidelines telling bloggers what is acceptable and what isn’t, over and above what the law says is acceptable. They will 'attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.'"

Arrington is totally correct that the A.P. has no legal authority to determine what is acceptable behavior over and above the law. However, a boycott in this case would prove inherently counter-productive. The Associated Press is one of the most respected institutions of journalism on the planet, and to intentionally ignore its hundreds of daily stories would be to ignore an awful lot of issues worthy of public debate. Also, Arrington's logic seems flawed when considering that, in his attempt to protect open and free commentary, he calls for a closing off of dialogue with the organization.

Ultimately, critics of the Associated Press' policies are correct in their assertions, and their watchdog vigilance serves us all well. However, such cyberactivists ought to realize that, to protect open communication, loud public criticism serves them better than a boycott of the very information they are trying to defend.
  

Friday, June 13, 2008

British Parliament's Use of Twitter, Blogs, and YouTube...

Here in the States, we tend to think of our government as badly in need of more openness and transparency, but perceptions in the UK are far worse, particularly for that historical bastion of aristocracy, the House of Lords.

As this Wired article describes, that may be changing. The House of Lords has just created its own YouTube channel filled with videos highlighting its multiculturalism and diversity. Maybe this is a clever piece of propaganda, but the site makes clear its intention to webcast videos of actual parliamentary debates in the near future.

Hold on, you C-SPAN junkies, that's not all. The House of Lords has taken other pro-active steps to become more open and accessible to its citizens. Using various forms of Web 2.0 media, it has already created a Twitter feed and maintains a relatively popular blog. Titled "Lords of the Blog", its stated goal is "to encourage direct dialogue between web users across the world and Members of the House of Lords". Worthy of noting is that most blog posts on the site aren't pieces of fluff, but rather provide thoughtful commentary on actual political issues.

While Parliament's efforts to engage younger citizens is admirable, we in the States nevertheless can't help but reserve our enthusiasm. After all, we've had C-SPAN broadcasting from Congress since 1979, and, well, let's just say the ratings don't quite rival those of "American Idol".

Using the internet in support of more openness and transparency in government is a fabulous idea... only if people actually pay attention and watch it.
  

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Censorship of UseNet...

Child pornography is indeed the bane of the internet. As a result, it also happens to be the primary battleground where censorship policies - even those broadly applied to many legal forms of online content - are implemented in the name of child porn. When will legislators get it right?

Attempts by the government to block access to such sites have, for the most part, failed to-date, with the courts ruling many policies unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment. Now, several large ISPs - Verizon, Time Warner, and Sprint - have announced they will be blocking access to child pornography websites.

That's a good thing.

What's not so good is that in order to carry out this objective, the ISPs have decided to also block access to UseNet discussion boards. UseNet is one of the oldest internet services and has been in use since 1979 - long before most people ever even heard of the Web. Its discussion boards are integral to the internet's historical development, and it's typically used for such innocuous activities as debating with fellow Phish fans about whether Fall Tour '95 was better than Summer Tour '97. But because a few UseNet boards have become magnets for child pornographers to share their content as well, "Sprint will be blocking the entire "alt." hierarchy of Usenet, while good old Time Warner Cable has no time for such fussiness and will just stop offering all Usenet access."

This is certainly troubling, and it follows the old pattern of blocking wide swaths of internet content in order to block a far narrower target; which, again, has been repeatedly recognized as unconstitutional.

What's needed is for government legislators to step in and create far stiffer criminal penalties for disseminating child pornography, and to then give law enforcement officials stronger policing power to go after the perpetrators. Leaving it up to private ISPs to deem that an entire segment of the legal internet is no longer acceptable for public consumption is not a viable solution.
  

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bloggers Fight the NY Times...

A war of words is spiraling today among bloggers who are ripping apart the New York Times.

The controversy started when Wired posted this table comparing how certain drugs stimulate the senses with their side effects. For the most part, legal drugs like nicotine are analyzed with statements such as "Spurs faster interaction between nerve cells in the brain, aiding memory formation and attention... [Side effects:] addiction, cancer, social isolation".

This seems straightforward enough, but for some mind-boggling reason, the NY Times ran a grossly over-reactive article charging Wired with actually promoting the use of those drugs.

Look at the chart and judge for yourself. Most rational people would probably conclude that Wired wasn't promoting any drug use whatsoever. After all, since when is "Parkinson's-like symptoms, addiction, stroke, psychosis, prison, death" considered propaganda FOR taking the drug?! As a result, bloggers have been ringing in all day with a wild assortment of condemnations of the NY Times for running the piece.

The Wired article's author, Mat Honan, responded on his own personal blog with several playground-worthy soundbites...

"I should probably just let it go, [but the piece] is just such a hand-wringing piece of bullshit that I have to weigh in."

"I would no more try either [cocaine or LSD] today than I would attempt to put a rattlesnake in my anus."

"In the end, the Times had simply led its readers through yet-another exercise in knee-jerk denunciations, and there was no discussion about drug policy whatsoever."


Childish antics aside, the NY Times was indeed misrepresenting the truth about the Wired article, as it clearly was not promoting drug use of any kind. Perhaps the bloggers are taking it a little too seriously though in framing the issue as one where the Times isn't letting people compare the facts and make decisions for themselves. Most likely, the Times was simply trying to flash an eye-popping headline to sell more copies, and to create a story where there was none.
  

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Grateful Dead as Business Pioneers...

Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed in Friday's New York Times in which he observes that because digital copies of books, music, and movies can be copied and disseminated so quickly in the Digital Age, businesses will have to "distribute intellectual property [for] free in order to sell services and relationships."

What a brilliant observation! Too bad it's been made for the past ten years.

Seriously, is Krugman, clearly oblivious to internet and business developments that most high school kids regard as common sense, really writing for the New York Times?

He states that as intellectual property can be easily copied "we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account". Close your eyes and you'd probably assume such brilliance could only come from an 8th-grader's blog.

Of course, the point Krugman is trying to make is an accurate one. It's just that making that statement in 2008 is like the New York Times boldly proclaiming that the Cold War is over. The ship has already sailed. Yes, the development of new business models is necessary, as the dynamics of media economics have experienced a systemic shift since the Internet became widely adopted. And yes, as this blog has repeated time , time, and time again, the Grateful Dead provide a terrific example of how a modified business model can actually take advantage of the new realities...

[The] most compelling illustration of how you can make money by giving stuff away was that of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged people to tape live performances because "enough of the people who copy and listen to Grateful Dead tapes end up paying for hats, T-shirts and performance tickets. In the new era, the ancillary market is the market."

Indeed, it turns out that the Dead were business pioneers.


If the New York Times wants to remain "The Paper of Record", it ought to start hiring writers who are at least moderately aware of what's happening in the world. Otherwise, articles such as this piece by Krugman only serve to inform the public of just how outdated and out-of-touch the paper has become.
  

Friday, June 06, 2008

Should Social Networks Be Regulated?

According to a new research study in the UK, 90% of people believe that there should be tighter regulation of social network sites like MySpace and Facebook. This comes at a time when the European Union is already considering regulatory legislation to police such websites, and the U.S. government may be next if John McCain has his way.

The question: Is there really a need for regulation on social networking sites, or is this just a power grab on behalf of formal governmental institutions?

This issue has certainly come up before, but the story here is that a cultural shift in attitudes may be taking place, as demonstrated by 90% of users now believing that regulation of such sites would be a positive development. Most policy calls are directed specifically at protecting privacy and raising people's awareness "about what can happen to information once it is voluntarily put into the public domain."

So what would be the possible consequences of regulating social networking websites? ReadWriteWeb sums them up for us. First of all, "despite what may be good intentions on the part of legislators, having government and/or regulatory bodies get involved with how social networks operate could be a very slippery slope, both in the U.S. and worldwide". The implication is that once the government has full authority to regulate social networking sites, what's to stop it from then asserting that same regulatory authority over the entire Web? Maybe you think this would be a good thing, maybe a bad thing, but it unquestionably flies in the face of the libertarian ethos that has permeated the Internet from its beginning.

Second, another side effect of regulation could be a significant change in behavior. A case in Germany serves as a cautionary tale on this point. "Since the beginning of 2008, communication providers are required to record electronic communication - who communicated with whom, but not what was said... The problem with this is that the knowledge that communication is recorded has begun to change behavior - 11% of the people surveyed have already abstained from using phones, cell phones or email in certain occasions, especially in private matters like when contacting drug counselors, psychotherapists, or marriage counselors because of this data retention".

Heavy-handed regulation of social networking sites could potentially alter people's behavior enough to kill off those sites altogether. Again, whether you think that would be a good thing or a bad thing, keep in mind that Facebook is a company valued at around $14 BILLION, so killing it off would be a pretty big deal.

In response to the new research study, people, at least online, have been chiming in with the usual libertarian talking-points against government regulation. But perhaps the best comment comes from "Si" who asks, "Shouldn't alarm bells be ringing from the very fact that we can predict a downturn in users if they were more aware of what they're getting in to?"

For some additional good reading, scroll down the RWW article to see a heated exchange between a mother who blames MySpace for her daughter being drugged, raped, and "forced into an abortion", and a counter-response by a libertarian who argues that it's not MySpace's fault, but rather that blame primarily lies with the mother herself - and makes the case for personal responsibility. It's an extreme, but also good representation of both sides in this debate.

In the past, Internet evangelists have consistently maintained that the government should stay away from meddling with the Web, and that attitude has largely served cyberspace well. However, if the overwhelming majority of people actually start to demand regulation, then it would be hard for any fan of democracy to suggest otherwise.
  

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How Writing a Blog is like Being in a Rock Band...

Not all blogs are created equal. If you're an avid scourer of Technorati and have dozens of RSS feed subscriptions, then of course you're already aware of this New Media reality.

How are blogs different from each other? For the uninitiated, here's a helpful metaphor...

Writing a blog is like being in a rock band. Anyone can pick up a guitar, but that doesn't mean that everyone's going to be the Rolling Stones. It takes talent, stubborn determination, and a healthy dose of luck.

Of every blog out there in cyberspace, we can break them down as follows:

The High School Garage Band - A bunch of people with gargantuan-sized ambitions to re-align the planets with their music. Unfortunately, most garage bands tell everyone they know to come to their gig, but forget to actually rehearse for more than an hour a week, and inevitably the band breaks-up shortly thereafter. They are quickly relegated to the forgotten and irrelevant pages of history, as the individual band members are forced to sell-out and keep their day jobs.


The Open-Mic Night Regulars - These are those lovable creatures who freely admit to a lack of talent but nevertheless show up at the local townie bar every Tuesday night to rock-out and play their butts off just for the love of the music. While their commercial success typically goes nowhere, the townie audience, over time, develops a healthy respect for their passion.


The Wedding Band - These folks have made the leap to becoming "professional" musicians. They might have to swallow their pride, play cheesy cover songs, and sing "Hava Nagila" every weekend, but they do manage to earn a living off their craft.


The Phish - Flying under the mainstream radar, these musicians have hit the big time and enjoy serious commercial success, earning millions every year and playing before 100,000 people at major arenas and festivals. Their achievements are the result of finding a specific niche and being the best at it, thus they have a highly-devoted community of loyal followers despite most people outside of that community never having heard of them.


The Beatles - These are the rock superstars. They're followed by the paparazzi, destroying hotel rooms (and getting away with it), having books written about them, and relishing (sometimes to their discredit) their celebrity status. They've reached the point where they don't even need to perform anymore, and can often just sit back and collect royalties based on their famous names and reputations. It's a one-in-a-billion shot to become a Beatle, yet every kid in a High School Garage Band is trying to pull it off.

This isn't exactly rocket science. But like any endeavor, blogging too often lacks a simple sense of self-awareness.
  

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

User-Generated Political Think Tanks...

Josh Catone wrote yesterday about a new, self-described "unofficial online campaign think-tank" called Oh Boy Obama. The idea behind the site is to allow anyone to post policy-related ideas, then let the public vote up or down whether they like the idea or not. Essentially, it's taking Digg-style social media and giving it a more narrow political focus.

The site was just launched, so it will take some time before there are any observable results. However, if a political think-tank can be based on user-generated content, then that begs the question... why not just allow Digg-style voting on actual public policy?

Political science undergraduate students are always perplexed as to why such a form of direct democracy isn't already in place, assuming the technology allows it. So here's a reminder of why citizens voting directly on public policy would be a bad idea.

American democracy is centered on the idea that the People ought to have power; but not absolute power. There are checks and balances set up to ensure that a "tyranny of the majority" cannot easily arise, and that mob rule does not substitute well-thought-out policymaking. This doesn't mean that an elite class has ultimate power over the People, but only that the temporary whims of the mob shouldn't dictate policy.

What's more, this point is embodied in our existing governance structures. Members of the House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms, which means that they need to respond to their constituents immediate demands if they want to be re-elected. However, members of the Senate are elected to six-year terms; the intention being that they can afford to be less responsive to the immediate and temporary demands of the People, and instead they can take a longer-term approach to policymaking. Their constituents might get angry that their will isn't being carried out today, but a few years down the road, the wisdom of the Senators' wait-and-see approach is often apparent.

The ethos of the Web 2.0 culture suggests, almost blindly, that the People should have the final authority in decision-making. Ultimately, that's true. However, we need to sometimes step back and realize the perils of immediacy.

A Digg-style voting-based system for generating ideas may turn out to be a wonderful source for innovation. But let's take a moment to reflect on why we wouldn't actually want to be ruled by such a system.