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Can Weblogs...?

A series of communication/campaign experiments from 2002-2004.

Lately, those of us who run weblogs have discovered a power to have an impact on the web via the use of collective drum banging, Googlebombing and link whoring. This power, in my opinion, has gone largely untapped.

In fact, I'm curious to see what impact weblogs can have on the world at large (should we as a group decide that something in particular is worth tackling).

I mean, together, we've (almost) saved webloggers from poverty, brought lovers together (ick!), and revived careers (mmm, bare-chested boys!) - but don't you think we should set our sights a little higher? Even if it's just to see what would happen?

I don't want to start a whole 'Can Weblogs...?' meme where it gets to the point that every man and his dog runs a campaign, as having as many 'Can Weblogs...?' crusades as there are lame quizzes would dilute the effect.

For this to work, we would need to focus our energies.

So, now that I've planted the idea in your head, why don't you nip off to the kitchen and have a nice, hot cup of tea? Think carefully about the collective power of weblogs and how they might best be exploited to improve the world and/or achieve a specific objective. Ponder carefully on how best you could lend your support, i.e. as an instigator, a participant, or a supporter. Then get back to me. I'd be interested to hear what you think, especially about our ongoing series of projects...

Tim Ireland - April 2002

Can Weblogs Get Their Own BBC TV Show?

After about a week or so of activity, the BBC remains incredulous, and some would argue a little clueless - so the answer to the question 'Can Weblogs Get Their Own BBC TV Show?' is, it would appear; 'No'.

Oh well. Onwards and upwards to the next project, then:

Can Weblogs Identify Mustard Man?

Hurrah! Success! It only took us about 10 days to identify Mustard Man, and he himself got in touch with us the day after that. Erm, and so did 3 or 4 other people claiming to be the same person. In fact, it took longer to sort all of that out than it did to find the guy in the first place - but sort it out we did, and the results can be seen here.

So, time to go boldly onwards and upwards again - and this time there may even be a quid in it for you:

Can Weblogs Sell My Mate Steve's House?

Yes, we could, but no we didn't. In one of those ironic twists that makes you want to strangle a cat, Steve received a solid offer on the house about a week ahead of the deadline, but it was from a lead via his agent. It wasn't until this same potential buyer got home and decided to have a peek around at other properties in the area that he saw Steve's site. Ain't that a kick in the pants? Still, with the power of three weblogs, we wiped the floor with over a dozen heavily armed estate agent's sites and came close to actually achieving something (as opposed to Googlebombing merely for the sake of it).

Onwards and upwards? You bet. This time, we attempt to re-educate the man who claims to be the biggest spammer on the planet:

Can Weblogs Reach Ronald Scelson?

It's not easy to evaluate this one, as I'm not able to drop by Ronald's place and check the contents of his letterbox. However, this 'Can Weblogs..?' experiment reached more people than the last three put together. Many folks have responded with details of physical packages/letters they've sent and quite a few more who attempted the lazy route of signing Ronald up for 'free information' at a number of websites have reported being confronted with the telling message: "Sorry, but you're already on our database."

Did weblogs reach Ronald Scelson? I'd like to think so, but for now I'd like to classify this one as 'status: ongoing'.

So, onwards and upwards we go once more. This time, with a political agenda:

Can Weblogs Make a Politician Keep a Promise?

This 'Can Weblogs...? project focused on Tony Blair's pre-election promise (way back in July 2001) of a publicly accessible email address. We went live with a formal campaign on Wednesday, September 18th, 2002. In the six months that followed, the campaign reached close to 100,000 people, but it wasn't until well after the point where we felt we had no choice but to produce pornographic images of Tony Blair and his lovely wife that the PM finally became aware of the campaign. (I say 'lovely wife' in all sincerity, as it wasn't until we got in touch with Cherie herself that any real action started taking place. This, despite the protests of thousands of web users and the direct intervention of two MPs. Anyway, Cherie was a great sport about it all, and gave generously of her time.)

It remains 'status: pending' until the actual delivery of this long-awaited service, but we've taken this one as far as it can go and are merely waiting for it to tick along to its inevitable conclusion.

Also, the contacts made as a result of this project resulted in the successful evolution of the first-ever weblog of a British MP and personally I'm quite happy with this very positive and totally unexpected side-effect.

Yes, we plan on going onwards and upwards again, but after months and months of beating our heads against a brick wall, I figured we could all do with a quick win and some positive karma:

UPDATE (20th August 2003) - We did it! Could weblogs make a politician keep his promise? Yes, they bloody well could! You can now send an email to Tony Blair via this web page. The entire exercise took 304 days, 17 hours, 44 minutes and 54 seconds. A very special 'thank you' goes out to every blogger, MP, spy and citizen who participated in this campaign. Treat yourself to a beer. You've earned it.

Can Weblogs Get a Good Man a Great Job?

This project was launched on the 16th of March 2003. By the 17th, we peaked at 9th place on Blogdex, and from then on got drowned out by some war thing that was going on at the time. We reached about 2,000 people from the voluntary bloggage and subsequent Blogdex placement, but sadly did not reach that one all-important person who could see the value of a blogger as an employee and ambassador. Still, Scott did end up finding a good job a couple of weeks later (after months of moping around the house and watching daytime TV) so I'd like to think that we at least helped on a karmic level.

So, onwards and upwards we go... again with a political agenda:

Can Weblogs Go To Washington?

This is an ongoing project enjoying limited success. Since its inception, the first weblog-style post has been made at senate.gov, but there are very few people 'getting' it. Howard Dean running a blog when he doesn't actually post a heck of a lot himself doesn't help. Status: ongoing.

Onwards and upwards... this time with trousers down:

Can Weblogs Chase Bush Out of Britain?

This began with a Bare Your Bum at Bush campaign that burst out of the gates well ahead of any official announcement about the visit, and sported an interesting (but arguably largely coincidental) timeline:

A week after the campaign received excellent coverage in the Sunday Herald, it was announced that Bush would not be going to Scotland. When active campaigning got underway to find a Lord or MP willing to bare their bottom at (or turn their back on) GWB, it was announced that he might not be addressing the Houses of Parliament (in the end, he didn't). When the project developed to the 2nd stage of Protest and Preferences and a new campaign urged folks to act as normal as possible so they could get into 'happy people' zones and make a personal statement with fingers, bums, backs or 'boos', an announcement followed that the royal procession along the mall had also been cancelled. Finally, about a week before the visit (when it became clear that the only option left to authorities was a spirited game of 'hide and seek') we launched Chasing Bush, a special portal designed to allow normal members of the public to track his every move by SMS. Scotland Yard reacted by leaking the possibility of mobile phone blackouts (for 'security reasons'), but in the end were forced to admit that this was neither legal nor practical.

Was it a success? Yes and No. Bush did arrive and was treated like an honoured guest by an appeasing PM and a reluctant Queen... but Bush had to be shuttled around like a caged animal throughout his stay in London. He and Blair had to go to ground in Sedgefield and cordon off protestors on the village green in order to get that much-needed 'with real people' photo opportunity. Positive photo opportunities were achieved here and there in London, but the truth behind these staged events was (and is) there for all to see.

We also inspired many people (on the left and right) with this innovative use of technology. Mobile phone and web technology had been used to co-ordinate protests before, but not in this integrated, focused and very, very public fashion.

Oh, and the Bare Your Bum at Bush page was the top search result in Google for 'bum' for months and months and months.

Status: A moral and practical victory, but just the beginning for many people...

So, what's next?

I tell you what's next; me taking a long-deserved breather!

Peace, Love and Mung Beans to you all.