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New Clout for Everyday People

"The ultimate goal is to turn K Street upside down."  --Zephyr Teachout, Sunlight Foundation, which uses Web apps and social networks to keep tabs on Congress.
Photograph: Katherine Lambert
Even with throttled bandwidth, people are uploading 65,000 new videos to YouTube each day. More than 52 million blogs are covering everything from the best burger in Boise to the latest campaign finance scandal. Think that's impressive? Amateurs will find new venues that will give them even greater influence.

Look for some venues to attempt to steer public opinion., a coalition of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, is the first group to use Megaphone, a free system-tray utility that, in's implementation, delivers alerts about online articles that it says are anti-Israel. The utility's more than 20,000 users can click on the alerts and be taken to the site that published the article so they can voice their objections to the piece. does not own the Megaphone technology, but confirmed that the currently anonymous software developer who created it will soon allow other groups to use it.

One organization that has its eye on the political process is the Sunlight Foundation, which is enlisting an army of volunteers to expose the practice of earmarking, wherein senators and representatives anonymously attach funding requests for pet projects to congressional bills. The foundation plots on Google Maps the locations of projects funded by some 1800 earmarks, in all worth more than $500 million and contained in a single appropriations bill. Volunteers click on this map to find earmarks in their district; they then contact their representative to ask if the lawmaker sponsored that earmark.

The foundation's next step will be to tackle other appropriations bills scheduled for this fall; eventually the group will create a central repository of information that anyone can access. "The ultimate goal is to turn K Street [the area in Washington, D.C., where many lobbying groups reside] upside down, using the technology and creativity of thousands of people," according to Zephyr Teachout, national director of the foundation.

Jay Rosen, an associate professor of journalism at New York University and writer of the PressThink blog, says that amateur and professional journalists can work together to produce something greater than either could produce separately. "Bloggers are good at filtering and organizing information," he says. "Sometimes they get involved in [reporting on] things, but often it's accidental. They're collating what's out there." Next April, Rosen will launch a site,, which will combine the efforts of amateurs and professionals. Members will suggest, debate, and research stories; professional reporters will complete selected stories.

Rosen says that "hyperlocal" news sites are starting to spring up around the country to cover events in towns or neighborhoods that bigger media outlets ignore. One of these sites,, covers Montclair, New Jersey; in September, it ran stories on area vandalism and on a "wild" party attended by hundreds of underage drinkers. maintains subsites for a handful of communities in California, Maryland, and Virginia, but more subsites are on the way. Members can post news, events, photos, and reviews of local businesses, and readers can carry on a dialogue with other locals. While some of the information still tends to be of the "juiciest gossip from the farmer's market" variety, and Backfence's sites look pretty sparse, they're starting to offer more important stories, such as one about a pet store getting raided for animal-treatment violations.

The Web will continue to reshape itself to serve not just professionals and geeks but everyone, whether they have an opinion, a gripe, or simply a job that needs to be done.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

The Future of Your PC The Future of Robots
The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back
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