A few days ago, Connectivity advisor David Karpf examined the successful campaign to push a cell phone unlocking bill through Congress, noting that it stands out in an era when Congress passes few bills. But what is more telling is the origination of the bill: It started as an e-petition on the White House’s We the People site.
Launching the online petition at We The People created the conditions for a formal response from the White House. That was a plus. We The People provided no help in amplifying the petitions through email and social media. That was neutral in this case, since Reddit, EFF, Public Knowledge, and others were helping to amplify instead. But the site left the petition-creators with no residual list for follow-up actions. That’s a huge minus.
If the petition had been launched through a different site (like Change.org), then it would have been less likely to get a formal White House response, but more likely to facilitate the follow-up actions that Khanna/Howard, Wiens and Khanifar say are vital to eventual success.
So maybe “ghost town” isn’t the right metaphor for We The People. Instead, maybe we should think of We The People as Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. It seems deserted 98% of the time. But once in a while, a well-organized community shows up and uses it to organize a massive event. (…I suppose in this case, they burned a cell phone contract instead of a giant stick-figure-man.)
As Karpf noted, this bill may have succeeded despite We the People, not because of it.
For more on the details of the bills, read Roll Call’s TechnoCRAT blog.