The New Yorker calls it "an online community devoted not to last night’s party or to next season’s iPod but to a higher good." Alternatively, the National Review earmarked it as "a stunning example of how the propaganda machine works." Whether one is singing its praises or hoping for its demise, it cannot be denied that the 2001 launch of Wikipedia.org left a permanent mark on history. The brainchild of entrepreneur and encyclopedia geek Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia quickly garnered go-to status as the place for information on the Internet, from the useful to the inane. More than half a million English entries cover a diverse range of topics, with searches from "swine influenza" to "Lady Gaga" launching to the top of its page rankings. Drawing more than 300 million unique visitors and hundreds of thousands of writers vying for editorial control over postings since its launch, Wikipedia continues to ignite debates on the fundamental nature of the Internet.
Wikipedia's democratic approach to information exchange reflects the philosophy of the platform it is so intimately associated with. Openness and nondiscrimination, the Internet’s most basic principles, underlie the phenomenal success of websites like Wikipedia. It is hard to imagine an Internet that looks different from the one that we browse today: an Internet that allows users to load an infinite number of Web pages and grants developers the freedom to create sites and services regardless of their content, source, or user.
Predictably, the few dominant telecommunications companies providing Internet access to Americans today would like to capitalize off of their relationship with users and businesses. Companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon see an opportunity to become the gatekeepers of Internet content by reserving faster, more preferential space for their own sites, and taxing other Web site owners who would like to continue to see their content reach Internet users.
The repercussions of this business model are already clear: limited competition and stifled innovation. If the Internet is not protected from this small but powerful group of telecommunications companies, Internet users will end up paying more for much less. Small Internet businesses will find themselves priced out of the market, and their loss will cause an already stressed economy to shed more jobs. The effects of this business model would further widen the divide between those who can afford access to the Internet, and those who cannot connect to its wealth of information.
The Harmony Institute wrote FTW! Net Neutrality For The Win: How to Use Entertainment and the Science of Influence to Save Your Internet to inform communicators from the worlds of policy, education, advocacy, media, and entertainment on the threat now posed to the open Internet. In addition, FTW! aims to help these communicators create powerful public messages about this issue, based on persuasion techniques borrowed from the social sciences. The guide’s two complimentary sections empower communicators with not only the knowledge, but also the tools necessary to create public narratives that underscore the urgent need to protect the open Internet.
In Part I, FTW! succinctly outlines the debate over the nature of the Internet and the role AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon play as America’s largest ISPs. Next, an analysis of recent polling data on the public's perception of the Internet reveals two key audiences for communicators to target. Part I then outlines a basic communications strategy for creating narrative campaigns that should successfully reach these target audiences.
In Part II, we introduce the Harmony Institute methodology for entertainment-education, an effective technique for influencing an audience’s understanding of and attitude toward a social issue. By providing the social science theories behind our recommendations, Part II arms communicators with a deeper understanding of how to truly move and motivate the target audiences.
Regardless of your stance on Wikipedia and the content its users generate, the ability of those surfing the Internet to access and contribute all manner of information is under immediate attack from the nation's largest ISPs. The American public must act now to ensure that open access to the Internet remains a fundamental right for every citizen. Advocating for net neutrality also means supporting free market competition in one of the nation’s largest growth industries. Most importantly, it means protecting the voice of the average citizen, which should not be stifled due to the small size of his or her wallet. Communicators invested in this issue have a responsibility to translate the importance of an open Internet to their audiences. FTW! offers them the keys to do so, effectively and with lasting results.
In trying to figure out who's right, let's forget about the Internet and look at KFC. The fast-food chain discriminates. It has an exclusive deal with Pepsi, and that seems fine to pretty much everyone. Now, let's think about the nation's highways. How would you feel if I-95 announced an exclusive deal with General Motors to provide a special "rush-hour" lane for GM cars only? That seems intuitively wrong. But what, if anything, is the difference between KFC and I-95? And which is a better model for the Internet?
- Tim Wu, Slate Magazine, May 2006