Since I started my first web site 10 years ago, we've moved from a vision of cyber-utopia to the lust of the bubble, to bust and back to a cautious optimism. Two years after writing my somewhat optimistic paper on Emergent Democracy we've seen blogs challenge the mass media, Wikipedia challenge the authority of encyclopedias and an American election heavily influenced by the Internet. I will speak about the impact that blogging and other social software is having on politics and free speech, and will discuss the US elections in this context. At the dawn of the Internet, visionaries such as John Perry Barlow wrote about cyberspace challenging the sovereignty of the nation-state. We envisioned a kind of cyber-utopia which, to begin with, we thought we were making real. In a mad rush people flowed into the Internet, but the money they brought with them corrupted its open and collaborative nature. After the bubble burst, the money left and many people revisted the open, peer-to-peer nature of the Internet. (Indeed, some had never left.) Many of the original dreams of the Internet were naïve, but with the benefit of hindsight, the maturing of open standards and the increased penetration of the Internet, a new generation of social software such as wikis and blogs are creating the conversations and dialog that we had hoped for 10 years ago. On the other hand, as the Internet becomes an increasingly critical part of the economy, governments feel that they must become involved in its governance in order to protect the public interest. The age of mass media has crushed diversity and created a shallow culture. In particular, the focus of politics has been on voting, not deliberation or debate. As the Internet begins to provide people with a way to reach a wider community, it becomes increasingly clear that having a voice is more important than having a vote. People tend to over-estimate the short-term potential of new technologies and under-estimate the long-term potential. I will argue that although we are at risk of the Internet turning into yet another regulated channel, we have the ability to both prevent that and reverse the damage on culture and politics caused by monopolistic media.
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