This document develops a strategic vision for the future of our community in cyberspace, outlines strategies for exploring these new opportunities, and proposes an implementation plan for systematically moving our community into cyberspace.
The key to this revolution is the explosive growth in public access to Internet resources, such as World Wide Web and usenet. The introduction of powerful new Internet access tools such as Mosaic and Netscape, and the growth in subscribers to proprietary systems such as America OnLine and CompuServe, is providing of millions of citizens with user-friendly and economical access to the entire range of Internet services. The highly promoted introduction of the Windows-95 operating system has raised the visibility of this user friendly and highly integrated online access option. Although it is estimated that over 30 million users currently have potential access to some aspects of Internet, in practice only a few million presently have readily usable access to all Internet resources. It may thus be anticipated that there will be an explosive upsurge in Internet usage as user-friendly and economical access becomes available by the end of 1996.
Anticipating this upsurge in public interest, traditional content providers are establishing visible presences on Internet, and a growing array of new content-providers are emerging in competition. And this growing information resource is in turn sparking even greater public interest in Internet access and communications.
This revolution will fundamentally alter the economics of information dissemination, and the operations of wide-area public access computer networks, in three important areas:
1 - Lower Cost Distribution of Information
Before the revolution, information dissemination
was largely governed by the cost of reproduction and distribution. The costs of printing and
postage severely limited the number of copies of a publication that could be economically brought
to the attention of the public. Analytical and advocacy organizations were severely constrained in
gaining broad public visibility. Communicating to the public in general required gaining the
attention of "gate-keepers" at major print and broadcast news organizations, who filtered
messages to conform to prevailing paradigms. Although the direct cost of doing a mass-media
interview is small, and the cost of a news-conference is not great, to cost of developing the
expertise and standing to be visible in the mass-media can be substantial, and the cost of paid
media is greater still. Bypassing these gate-keepers and directly addressing analysis and advocacy
to the public required expensive and time consuming efforts to identify target audiences who
would pay the costs of receiving printed materials, such as newsletters, direct mail or books.
After the revolution, reproduction and distribution of content will be essentially free, via Internet. Once the costs of producing the first copy of analytical or advocacy products have been met, vastly expanded audiences can view these products at no additional cost to the producing organization. Freed from intermediate "gatekeepers" in the news media, analysts and advocates will speak directly to the public. E-mail and usenet distribution channels can reach hundreds or thousands of interested citizens and key activists. Although the costs of production of robust World Wide Web implementations are not trivial, they are small compared to the costs of other media with potential audiences of similar size.
2 - More Timely Distribution of Information
Before the revolution, there existed a considerable gap between the rapid communication of electronic media, which could disseminate news and information in hours, and the much more leisurely pace of print media, which imposed delays of a day for newspapers, and weeks to months for magazines or books. The most rapid forms of communication filtered messages through editorial gate-keepers, while directly addressing public audiences was largely restricted to less timely media, such as newsletters and direct mail. Given the constraints of limited budgets and long planning cycles, these self-generated media typically imposed lags of weeks to months between the formulation of a message and the receipt of a message by the target audience.
After the revolution, new information systems will facilitate rapid and in some cases real-time communication to large audiences, unfiltered by external gatekeepers. E-mail messages can reach dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of recipients within minutes or hours. Articles and alerts posted to Usenet can reach thousands or tens of thousands within hours or days [in general, usenet traffic is estimated to propagate to 90% of recipient sites within 48 hours]. Alerts hosted on World Wide Web sites can be viewed as soon as they are placed on a webpage, and the audience for webspace content grows as both return and new consumers visit the site. The web is unique in providing both the immediacy of existing broadcast media, in contrast to print, while offering an enduring availability of content, in contrast to the ephemeral nature of electronic and most hard-copy media. And in contrast to durable hard-copy such as books, a well-maintained webspace always contains current content, whereas a book is by definition out of date as soon as it is sent to the printer.
3 - Greater Flexibility in Depth of Content
Before the revolution, print and electronic media imposed tight constraints on the depth of content -- television and radio "sound-bites" only rarely extend to complete sentences, and quotations in newspapers were seldom much longer. Op-eds in newspapers follow a strict 800 word format, while magazine articles run from 1,000 to 10,000 words. Newsletters and direct mail pieces faced similar format constraints, and books are almost by definition hard-copy implementations containing at least 50,000 words, and only exceptionally more than 250,000 words. All of these implementations share a common feature of fixed format, only roughly tailored to audience interest. While the audience always has the option of consuming less than is offered, switching the channel or turning the page, the option of consuming more than is offered is almost by definition excluded. The result is too often "least-common-denominator" media, bifurcated between superficial coverage for a broad audience, or in-depth coverage for a much narrower audience.
After the revolution, information consumers will be able to tailor products to suit their level and degree of interest. Instead of "pushing" hard-copy of materials to the public, online content will be "pulled" by interested readers. Powerful online search tools and guides will drastically reduce the costs to the public of locating interesting content, and the costs to organizations of making this content available to the public. These new information systems have the potential to render direct mail obsolete -- the potential to "self-design" browsing of a website creates the equivalent of a direct-mail piece of thousands of pages, with the handful of pages of greatest interest to each individual miraculously appearing on the top of the heap, the remainder of which is invisible to the uninterested. For many applications, books will be rendered equally superfluous -- a website has the potential to contain far greater depth of content than is possible in any single printed volume.
A Revolution in the Revolution
Many of these attributes of new information systems build upon earlier applications. New implementations such as the World Wide Web, and broad public access to Usenet, are overtaking earlier implementations. And it may be reasonably expected that current implementations will likewise be overtaken in the fullness of time.
Before the revolution, information was "pushed" to E-mail distribution lists of a few hundred individuals. The result was mailboxes cluttered with stacks of unread messages. After the revolution, thousands of users will "pull" relevant information from user-friendly hierarchical menu-driven (hypertext) resources. Confusing DOS-based bulletin boards will be replaced by Window-based Internet sites which will appear to the user as a transparent extension of their desk-top computer. Over time, the current bewildering diversity of E-mail listservs and FTP and Gopher sites [and other more obscure computer network implementations] will transparently converge to the user-friendly World Wide Web hypertext presentation, powerfully coupled in hyperspace to usenet newsgroups.
Before the revolution, information and services were hosted on in-house computers, which required continuous maintenance and support. Reliability was problematic, connectivity bottlenecks frequent, and obsolescence inevitable. After the revolution, information and services will be hosted on commercial service providers, who will ensure maximum reliability, continuous connectivity, and state-of-the-art capabilities. Freed of the burden of operating in-house computer systems, advocacy and analysis organizations will be able to concentrate on their core competencies while reaching ever-wider audiences.
However, two challenges must be surmounted if the full potential of this revolution is to be realized. Both of these challenges require a dedicated effort to harness the resources of the information revolution to altering national priorities on military spending. Both of these challenges stem from the radically altered economics of the production and dissemination of information as we transition from printed to electronic media.
Our community is uniquely positioned to utilize these new information opportunities relative to the commercial interests that are driving the development of online services. Traditional content-providers such as newspapers and television networks have been at the forefront of promoting the Internet. Their interest has been sparked by the prospect that this new medium will provide enhanced opportunities for the value-added content to deliver audiences to their traditional advertisers. These advertisers in turn hope that the opportunity to directly communicate in depth to potential purchasers, coupled with the increased prospect of impulse purchasing, will translate into increased sales.
But our community is privileged by this new medium relative to both traditional content providers and commercial advertisers.
Our community is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these opportunities, and to meet
these challenges. Rapid exploitation of new information systems will provide our analysts and
advocates with unprecedented opportunities to influence the public debate. Our traditional core
competencies in acquiring, processing and disseminating information and interpretation will be
greatly advantaged in this new environment. Our specialized skills and knowledge will radically
shift the information economy in our favor.
B - CONCEPT OF OPERATIONS
We propose to meet these challenges through:
1 - Building a Virtual Enterprise
Systematically upgrading the information systems, including computers, of
selected individuals and organizations will provide state-of-the-art wide-area network
capabilities, based on a systematic survey of existing capabilities and needs. This would permit full
and active participation in the community Working Groups, such as the Military Spending and
Media Working Groups.
A key goal of our initiative is to foster an organizational revolution in our community. It is not enough just to have the hardware - it can sit, untapped, or used only by the information systems manager, if there is one. Rather, a variety of staffers have to work and think in new, sometimes radically different, ways to take full advantage of modern information capabilities.
This initiative will immediately create a powerful "virtual enterprise" linking the resources of a number of organizations working on military spending and other issues.
The most immediate benefit is building a closely coupled network of analysts and advocates who will be able to exploit the full potential of computer networking. By building a "virtual enterprise" of key individuals collaborating more closely through enhanced information systems, strategic planning and critical analytical tasks which currently take weeks or months of meetings and FAX communications can be completed in days or hours.
These benefits can be realized with various implementation tiers -- some of which can be implemented quickly and cheaply, while others will require more time and money.
During the first six months of activity of the Military Spending Working Group in 1994, over two dozen individuals jointly drafted a Guiding Principles on National Security message development document, as well as Debating Points on Military Spending, and Top Ten and Dirty Dozen priority lists. The Working Group also developed multiple sequential drafts of a Long Term Political Strategy, as well as a Near Term Legislative Strategy (for those groups with a lobbying component). These efforts required dozens of hours of group meetings, innumerable telephone conversations, and reams of faxed proposals and responses. This entire effort would have been impossible without new faxcast capabilities, which enabled large documents to be quickly disseminated to a large number of participants. Whereas initially, an entire day was required to manually fax key draft documents, with WinFax faxcasting, the process required only a few minutes to set up for over-night transmission.
But few participants were present at every meeting, the telephone discussions were unreported, and no individual was exposed to all the various memoranda and drafts prepared in the process. A more fully developed computer network would have expanded the range of participants in the process, including many key analysts and advocates located outside the Washington DC area. Every participant would have had an opportunity to rapidly review and respond to each sequential draft, with the benefit of considering all the comments by all other participants.
By the Spring of 1995, the volume of traffic on our faxcasting network was beginning to overload the capacity of existing implementations to send and receive all the material needed to adequately coordinate our expanding work.
Fortunately, by the Summer of 1995, all participants in the Military Spending Working Group had E-mail capabilities of some sort, and the distribution of agenda, meeting notes, and other materials was switched over to this new channel. Information exchanges that would have required weeks using traditional meetings, or days using faxcasting, could now be conducted in a few hours.
As part of this process, the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies has initiated a strategic planning process which will culminate in a face-to-face meeting of participants. But in the months prior to this meeting, analysts and activists will engage in a series of E-mail exchanges, to develop a coherent strategic long-range vision for our efforts.
And a number of other distribution channels are being opened up to broaden participation in planning and execution activities.
But we are already approaching the limits of "push" media such as E-mail to coordinate our activities. More powerful "pull" implementations such as World Wide Web and groupware will further facilitate our efforts.
Fortunately, this "virtual enterprise" implementation is extensible not only to the national staffs of
Washington-based organizations, but to the staffs of organizations in other cities, and to the
members of organizations across the country. The "information deficit" too often experienced by
people "outside the Beltway" will be vastly reduced, as will the extent to which staff in
Washington are oblivious to important developments and trends in the rest of the country.
2 - World
Wide Web Homepages
The World Wide Web Homepage is a core element of our concept of operations. These web
resources display and provide immediate access to the information resources
developed and identified by our community's organization's and Working Groups. This
information increases the transparency of our efforts within the national organization community,
and makes this information equally available for organization members, and the general public.
Each homepage includes:
There are a large number of usenet newsgroups that would greatly benefit from the quality content our community generates. Staff in national offices, as well as grass-roots memberships, should consider it part of their daily or weekly political activity to netsurf and troll for thread and flame to get our word out.
Posting articles on usenet is not only a means of distributing our information, but also a powerful technique for drawing attention to our World Wide Web content. Hyperlinks from usenet articles to our webspace can greatly expand the visibility of these sites.
Today roughly a third of US households have home computers, and several million have some type of link to Internet. Within the next few years, there will be a roughly ten-fold increase in the usenet audience (with AOL/Prodigy/CompuServe rolling out netbrowsers, and with Bill Gates putting net access in Windows 95). According to the Usenet Information Center, most of the military-related newsgroups have estimated audiences of between 5,000 and 20,000, and the numbers according to the more recent DEC/Arbitron are roughly five times higher. Thus one might expect that within a year or two, one could reach a potential audience of 50,000 to 200,000 in individual newsgroups, and as much as 1,000,000 in these various newsgroups combined.
This large and readily accessible audience is obviously what is driving the commercial spamming fast-buck artists [who in the end will not succeed]. But if even a small fraction of the national staff or local members of our community established a visible presence on usenet, we would have a significant impact. In general, it is estimated that there are 100 readers for every poster on a newsgroup. Most newsgroups have a few dozen (or at most a couple of hundred) currently active posters. So our national staffs could make a major impact in some of the more specialized groups, and local activists could substantially influence even the largest groups. This would be a highly leveraged way of influencing public opinion.
Organizations with primarily a national or analytical focus could use usenet to "publish" articles analyzing current developments as they happen, without having to bother to go to the printer or publisher. Generally the information content of most usenet postings is pretty low, and with our information value-added we would really stand out in the crowd. In addition, through the miracle of hyperlinks, we could embed the URL of our organizational homepages in each posting, which would provide a means of drawing the usenet audience to our community and its messages.
The Project on Intelligence Reform at the Federation of American Scientists implemented a model homepage for the National Security Agency on the web. This included publicly released or available information on the activities and organization of this agency. In the weeks that followed, thousands of people visited this site and downloaded this material. The only announcement of this implementation was made on usenet.
Several organizations posted articles on selected usenet newsgroups announcing forthcoming television and radio call-in appearances by their spokespersons. In each case, the subsequent interviews were marked by unusually high numbers and quality of callers to the shows.
C - POLITICAL OPPORTUNITIES
1 - Internet & Grass-Roots
What is particularly attractive about these implementations is that they give a whole new
meaning to grass roots activism. Rather than just passing out leaflets at the grocery store, or
writing a letter to a Congressional delegation or local newspaper, our grass-roots can get out
there in cyberspace and directly engage a growing segment of the citizenry in the contest for
Organizations with a grass-roots component are both a vital part of this CyberStrategy, and can greatly benefit from it. The number of usenet newsgroups and the number of relevant threads is simply too vast for staff-based cybernauts to fully utilize. In addition, just having one DC policy wonk post a single article may inform the debate, but it will not (by itself) influence public opinion. Rather, it is the mass of postings to a thread -- by grass-roots cyber-activists -- which will allow the cyberaudience to realize that there is substantial public support for our positions. Many newsgroups are currently dominated by the right-wing, which means that members of our community may find these newsgroups off-putting. But if we systematically urge the grassroots to move into cyberspace, as part of a concerted strategy, it will have a big impact in shifting the political center of gravity of many of these newsgroups.
Grass-roots organizations will reap several benefits from CyberStrategy. This will provide a rapid (near-real-time) capability to get the word out. Direct mail typically has a lead time of weeks, if not months, and is very expensive. Usenet has a lead time of minutes to hours [it is generally estimated that 90% of all sites receive articles within 48 hours of posting] and costs essentially nothing -- while reaching a very large audience. For those organizations which have professional or academic constituencies, usenet can be utilized to directly communicate with a substantial fraction of their membership base.
At least some grass-roots organizations may be based in constituencies which do not have a high proportion of computer ownership or on-line access. However, given the current and prospective market penetration of home computers and on-line services, it is difficult to believe that any organization would have a membership base that did not include at least a few percent with usenet access -- and for organizations with thousands of members, even such a low percentage translates into dozens, if not hundreds, of cyberactivists. And with Internet access increasingly available at public libraries, no community would be without some connection to usenet or Web.
Thus usenet/Web provides a vastly superior means of communicating with and activating local constituents, as it is much faster and far less expensive than traditional print and voice media. It also provides a new form of political activism, which may prove quite attractive to some constituents in the our increasingly cocooned couch-potato society. In addition, it offers a means of more direct interactions between the national office and local members of an organization. One real problem that membership organization have faced is the declining proclivity of members to go to chapter meetings. One major benefit of organizational membership has been the participation in the "community" of local activists. With declining chapter activity, this community has been lost, and for too many constituents, the national organization has been reduced to a distant entity that occasionally sends a newsletter or a letter asking for money.
Through usenet, a grass-roots organization can create a virtual community, in which members and
national staff directly interact. This interactive participation should significantly increase the
salience of these organizations in the lives of their members, and increase
the attractiveness of membership.
2 - Internet & Membership
One issue that needs to be resolved is how all of this activity translates into cash flow for the
national office. Some publications are moving to an implementation in which the current table of
contents of their publication is online, as well as the full contents of their back issues. If you want
to get the current issue of the publication while it is still current,
you have to pay for hard-copy. This might not work for organizations that use their publication
as an education and outreach tool.
On the other hand, using usenet to attract newsgroup readers to the organization's webpage is a far more effective means of advertising than direct mail. The newsgroup readership is a self-selected audience that is known to be interested in the topic at hand. By hyperlinking to the organization's webpage, a potential member has already demonstrated an interest in the organization's perspective. The full array of activities and publications of the organization can be portrayed in far greater detail than is possible through direct mail. Given all these features, it is difficult to imagine that such a usenet/Webpage implementation would have lower return rates than direct mail, and there is every reason to expect that the return rates would be significantly higher.
The cost of this implementation would seem to be rather low, relative to direct mail. Costs would include a computer at the national office, the salary of a WebMaster to maintain the webpage, and whatever the costs are of maintaining the content of the website. But since the webpage is a fairly low-maintenance proposition once it is set up, and since the contents of the webpage are basically just on-line versions of whatever text the organization is producing, the incremental costs over and above the normal operating expenses of the organization would seem quite small.
For those organizations that rely on direct mail subscriptions for funding, online technology is making it possible to charge only for the documents that are accessed. Summaries of documents, or title listings can be made available for free with charges levied for the full-text. This alternative, while restricting the distribution somewhat, may be an appropriate way to maintain subscription funding.
D - CYBERSTRATEGY IMPLEMENTATION
At least some of the benefits of CyberStrategy can be and are being realized today. At least some organizations in our community have information systems capable of fully exploiting these new opportunities, and some others are candidates for low-cost high-payoff upgrades. But the full benefits of this information revolution will require a substantial renovation throughout our community. Although the cost of a networked computer is small relative to the annual expense of a staff person, the potential increase in productivity is tremendous. But in the absence of concerted action, for the foreseeable future we will continue to lag the opposition, whose advocates have exploited these capabilities. In contrast, most of our community remains unexposed to the full potential of information technology to multiply staff productivity. Installing networked computers in key locations will serve as in-house demonstrations of this emerging potential, accelerating the pace of organization-wide implementation.
Consequently, we have devised a CyberStrategy Implementation Plan to provide our community with the tools needed to do the job.
Maintained by John Pike.
Updated Monday, September 18, 1995 - 9:00:00 AM