Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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Politics 2.0 Strikes Back

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 7:01 PM EDT

The July/August issue of Mother Jones roiled the blogosphere with an irreverent take on so-called Open-Source Politics. Web pundits inveighed against yet another print magazine (nevermind our blog and website) questioning the impact of Web 2.0 on political campaigning. A flash point in this flame war was the mock Wikipedia entry that we published in print and on our website. It claimed Open-Source Politics would "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns," but then wryly added: "And if you believe that, we've got some leftover Pets.com stock to sell you." Our goal was to mirror the way that Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 pages often get pranked, and slalom between extreme views, even as they move towards a middle ground and, hopefully, the truth. But the critics complained that our definition was a gimmick with little connection to the way Netizens actually thought of themselves.

At the time I wondered if the critics really spoke for the Web masses. Given that Web 2.0 is supposed to enshrine Web users (and not Web pundits) as the arbiters of truth, I decided to see what the Web actually thought about our mock Wiki. So in early July I posted our definition of OSP as an actual entry in Wikipedia. I cut only the Pets.com quip and the reference to Karl Rove, thinking that would get the entry booted. And then I waited. Three months have passed, and I think I can now say the results are in. Not only is my mock Wiki still the official entry for "Open Source Politics," it now comes up as the top hit for the term on Google.

There have been a few changes along the way. Most significantly, the entry is now titled "Open source political campaign" instead of "Open-source politics." But it still goes on to use "open-source politics" as the official term throughout and most of my original text is unchanged. The reference to "party bosses in smoky backrooms" was deleted, but the language about how Web 2.0 will "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns" still remains. It seems that what stuck our blogger critics as gimmicky hype strikes Wiki users as a pretty reasonable definition.

The other dramatic change to the entry is how official it now looks. Someone added a list of references that I'd cited, a bevy of links to ideas such as "open source governance," a table of contents, and a list of related terms under the header "see also." I should hope the page looks good, given that on Google it outranks every blog, outranks The Nation, Wired, MSNBC, and Slate, and yes, outranks Mother Jones (which ranks 14th in a search for the term). It's all quite frightening, or flattering, or humbling, depending on how you look at it.

My Park(ing) Day

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 7:57 PM EDT

Lunch in a parking spot is never much fun, unless it's Park(ing) Day in San Francisco. Seizing the moment this afternoon, I packed a bowl of curry and headed two blocks down Sutter Street to a metered spot in front of the Charles Schwab building. I entered the space from the curb, ambled along an extremely short yet artfully snaking pathway lined with potted salt rush, blue squirrel tail and California lilac, and took a seat on a wooden park bench. Three park attendants watched eagerly. "Welcome to our park!" one of them said. They snapped photos as I stirred my rice. A bus blew by frighteningly close.

In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, laid a parking space with sod, a bench and a large potted tree, creating the first of what would become many guerrilla parks. The event has grown into an international phenomenon, with participants this year in more than ten cities worldwide. The mission is "To rethink the way streets are used, call attention to the need for urban parks and improve the quality of urban human habitat. . .at least until the meter runs out!"

While I ate my chicken korma on the park bench, a park(ing) attendant handed a complimentary packet of poppy seeds to a businessman who'd stopped by. The businessman said, "Do they grow indoors? Or. . ."

"No, but you can try if you want, as long as you soak them first. . ."

My cell phone rang. It was a friend calling from Boston. "I'm at a guerrilla park," I told him.

"That sounds awesome," he said. "A very San Francisco day."

A bit too San Francisco, perhaps. It was 3:00, and the inevitable, frigid Pacific gale was nearly toppling the shrubbery. Then the meter ran out: I still hadn't finished my lunch when a woman arrived in a Volvo to haul the bench away. "I'm sorry, but we have got to take this," she said. A park(ing) attendant quickly added: "Thank you!" I probably would have fared better in the Presidio, but the fact that other people had actually been excited to see me take up a parking spot--instead of scowling or writing me a ticket--made the trip well worth it.

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