THE BLOG
05/20/2010 11:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Will 2010 be the new 1517?

I've been looking for lessons from history regarding social media, and found a nerd/policy wonk partnership that was enormously successful.

Turns out, we had this nerd Johanness Gutenberg, who invented mass media, via the printing press, but it really didn't go anywhere for a long while. That's much like the Internet, was around decades before it really took off.

Later on, we had Martin Luther, who had some ideas and message that was potentially powerful, whether you agree or not. He used the press, and the Church store-and-forward network, and got his idea out, which created the Reformation, pretty effective.

That started in 1517 with his 95 Theses.

(this is my theme at TEDxPotomac.)

Power flowed from very narrow elites to a broader network of elites, that is, local churches and the grassroots, those who could read translated Bibles.

Also, Luther lost control of his message, resulting in broader networks propagating different versions of Luther's ideas.

We see the same thing now, particularly in US politics, where social networking has been used successfully. Consider the Obama campaign, also very recent effects of the netroots and the grassroots factions of the Tea Party movement.

A lot is happening in 2010, where political elites now realize the power of social media, and of its necessity. Social media can be used to drive "voter enthusiasm" and get people to vote, and now we see it's necessary.

However, social media is a grassroots thing, and we've seen in every case,  the grassroots takes control of the message, and the results aren't predictable.

That's happening now, and with near term efforts being built now, things will be very different in the November midterm elections. Looks like Big People will get behind grassroots networking, and the genie's already out of that bottle.