Web 2.0 – Mitch Kapor, Open Source Applications Foundation

Web 2.0 – High Order Bit
Mitch Kapor
Founder and Chair, Open Source Applications Foundation
10/7/04 We’re going to take a look at what’s wrong with politics and how technology can help. We have a broken political system. In the past we’ve gotten rewards for the types of businesses that thrive in the valley. We’re the people that the system works for, but how do we make the system work for everyone?

Our country was founded on the principle of self government. In our government today, that idea is in great peril. Is self government a meaningful concept in 2004?

It was meaningful to the ancient Greeks. Those traditions were an inspiration to the founders of our country. We might not call them founders but entrepreneurs of democracy. If you could re-animate them in Washington DC today, what would they think? They would be horrified. Our government is corrupt and deeply dysfunctional. We have 13 registered lobbyists for each elected representative. The real deals are made out of sight and money is what buys influence.

Who’s buying the politicians? Corporations would rather play the game of the system rather than make something work in a true market economy. Wrongly conducted businesses is not the sole cause of the problems, but things have gotten highly out of control. We were not meant to have a highly centralized government. We should have a system of checks and balances, but the American citizen is dropping out. We’ve seen voter registration go up for this election. Is this a sign of the beginning of a turnaround or just one event?

The local level is even worse. 10-20% of the popular vote will put a mayor in office. The current system makes people feel alienated. Politics tries to manipulate, not engage. We have to hope that the damage is not yet too great. Apathy and alienation is dangerous.

Is politics broken? Yes. Does technology have a role in fixing it? Yes, in part. Technology has broken some problems. Broadcast media is one of the biggest problems. The Net and Open Source can give us inspiration in how to revitalize politics. In the Howard Dean campaign, which ended all too soon, we saw the use of the Net to mobilize and communicate. Moveon.org goes right to the voters to help change politics. We represent the 1st generation of online community where large and complex problems have been solved without strong centralization. If Thomas Paine was alive today, he would have written Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a Linux laptop.

Open Source is based on a practice that integrates a set of tools and principles. The Wikipedia is a free, high quality encyclopedia with 400,000 articles. It has thousands of contributers. It is useful and quite stable, despite the fact that any page can be accessed by anyone at anytime. There are an extensive set of principles that people in the community have agreed to be governed by. There is transparency in being able to see the source code and all the bugs and notes of design.

Today we don’t know when governmental staff meet or when lobbyists meet them. Government information is increasingly less available due to security concerns. It doesn’t have to be that way. Bloggers in the left and right have begun to hold government more accountable.

The challenges we have today are to develop the tools and community practices. Regardless of who wins this election, we need a fundamental change to repair the system and that is not going to come from the political establishment from either party. We need a popular reform movement, which is internet based and includes a broad representation of the American people. This prospect invites our close attention and participation as technologists, business people and citizens.