November 13, 2008

That Empowerment Thing

One of the really interesting things about the social-network-oriented website for the Obama campaign,, was the fact that it was essentially an online nexus that connected people who were interested in political and social change. And as Henry Jenkins mentioned in February, what Obama has created over the past year has not been a campaign, but a movement that would have lived on even if he’d lost the election.

Skeptics have wondered how exactly this “change” Mr. Obama has been talking about will happen. But what’s really interesting is that it’s already going on, and actually may have been going on for quite some time. As today’s MyBO blog post states, the online campaign headquarters for Obama’s movement has now effectively transformed into a social networking site that provides individuals with the tools they need to effect social change: already, people are using the site to organize book-club meetings, pet adoption events, and all kinds of community service meetings.

The word “empowerment” seems to be surfacing itself more and more lately, and not just in relation to Obama’s campaign. At yesterday’s Labs Meetup, Alex Peake gave a lightning talk on his new site Empower Thyself. Suneel Gupta’s been writing an excellent series of blog posts about how Mozilla can help give individuals the tools they need to start movements. The Mozilla mission at its core is about empowering individuals with the tools they need to shape their own internet experience and make the web the way they want it to be. In a lot of ways the Open Web itself is a social movement.

So empowerment has been on my mind a lot lately. The three main things I’ve involved myself in over the past few months have been a political movement, an organic software movement, and a World of Warcraft community that seeks to empower people to make the game what they want it to be. The extent to which these three things have informed each other is impressive to me, and I guess what I like most about them is the common attitudes that the participants of these communities tend to share: a sense of transparency, openness, and curiosity that lends itself to trust, solidarity, and learning.

It’s pretty awesome to see.

© Atul Varma 2021