Good article by Ross Mayfield on the emergent democracy discussion.
Ross envisions internet tools that decrease the cost of expressing opinions and building coalitions:
If simple tools could decrease the cost of organization as well as enable a transactional norm between organizations, a new form of pluralism could arise. Emergent Pluralism depicts a society whose members who have institutional loyalties to easily formed issue groups that have direct interaction their elected representatives and the media….
Emergent Pluralism arises when groups form at a low cost. MoveOn is an early example of an influencing group that leverages low cost communication and collaboration. As the cost for forming issue groups falls, expect similar groups and coalitions to form around otherwise less fundable issues. Issue groups will influence decision makers by voicing opinion (in blogspace, mass media, direct appeals, activism) and as constituencies (aggregated to lobby, mobilized to vote or petition).
Looking at it this way, the internet has the same effect on politics as Ebay has on the market for used chatchkes. Suddenly, it becomes easier and faster to find fellow supporters for political ideas, just as it becomes possible to find buyers for used lunchboxes. New leaders will emerge, just as new businesses and market segments form with Ebay as the backbone.
Ross makes a good point that political leaders will need change in order to garner support from these new kinds of groups.
Political leaders and lobbying organizations that develop interfaces to engage these issue groups and are responsive stand to benefit by being better informed than through pure polling and gaining constituents.
This suggests a need to educate politicians and non-profits about ways to benefit from these new citizen organizing tools. I’ve been getting more involved in several activist groups, and I’ve been pretty impressed with how elitist the groups are. Even nominally populist groups think of themselves as insiders whose main mission is to influence other insiders, and they’re rather suspicious of citizen input.
They will learn… politicians in democracies do catch on to new ways to attract voters and donations.