Power to the People

Power to the People

During the summer of 2001, I wrote Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It.[i] There was still a lot of skepticism about the Internet, similar to the skepticism now circulating about cryptocurrencies. However, people around the world saw how the Internet could give them the ability to bypass information suppression which was going on.

Countries around the world had strict rules over the publishing of content. For example, in Malaysia, newspapers and broadcasters had to abide by the prohibitive interpretations of the law of defamation, or they risked having their licenses forfeited.  In 1999 there was considerable strife in Kosovo. Part of the strategy of the government was to control information so people would not know exactly what was going on. Journalists were expelled from the country. The independent radio station, B92, in Belgrade was shut down. Local media was either shut down or censored.  But the radio station set up a website and began to publish text, audio, and video. They reported when air raid sirens were going off.  Up to the minute news was provided to the population. There was no way to shut down the Internet site because the government didn’t know where the server was. If they had known and shut it down, another server would have been put back online. If there is information, the Internet provides a way to share it. I called it “Power to the People”.  

Written: July 2001

Organizations will soon realize they have lost power. From a people perspective, it used to be you couldn’t have much of an impact as an individual. You had to rely on politicians or lobbying organizations to influence a large company, a government, or a movement. The Internet changed that. There are many examples of where individuals using the Internet have been able to have a dramatic impact in helping change the rules of communication. An example is the Intel story.

When Intel introduced its new Pentium computer chip in 1994, an error was discovered in how the chip performed certain kinds of arithmetic calculations. The chip converted floating point numbers, e.g. 123.876423, for use in certain calculations. On certain calculations, the Pentium chip made a math error.

Most people would never see the error and in fact some engineers said the error would likely occur only once every 27,000 years. However, the company was less than forthcoming about the problem. Intel reasoned not many people would be affected since the problem occurred so rarely and only during sophisticated number crunching.

Reports began to appear on the World Wide Web and Internet newsgroups began to alert people about the math bug. Intel seemed indifferent and did not come forth quickly with any plans to recall the chips. The flood of negative reaction from customers, who voiced their dissatisfaction via the Internet, quickly changed Intel’s mind.  In fact, the dissemination of information and open discussions of the problem on the Internet changed Intel’s course of action.

Intel apologized to their customers and spent a lot of money to fix the problem. Adam Mayers of the Toronto Star wrote a column called “People power rules in Intel’s hard, expensive lesson”. He said, “Among the many outcomes is to affirm a power many people think they’ve lost. Intel’s humbling was about people power, the power of individuals, not lobby groups.”[ii]

In the year 2000 Intel began shipments of its new Pentium 4 chip. Personal computer makers received an improper piece of software for use with the new chip. None of the Pentium 4 chips with the incorrect software reached consumers and arguably the error was inconsequential. But being sensitive to their previous experience with the Internet and knowing the incredible power of the people, Intel was quick to make a full disclosure of what had happened. Lesson learned; a net attitude adopted.

Reflections – 2022

Kosovo, Malaysia, Serbia and many other countries have tried to suppress what they considered bad news. Perhaps none have been as aggressive as Russia. Reports say Russia has imprisoned 15,000 people who protested the war in Ukraine. Independent news organizations have been shut down. Social media sites have been blocked. One communications channel Russia has not been able to control is Telegram, a new era of messaging.[iii]

Telegram allows users to communicate with messages, voice calls, pictures, video chats, and file sharing. It works on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. Messages are encrypted to prevent tampering. The servers are scattered across a number of countries, not including Russia. The home base for technical operations is in Dubai.

Telegram was developed and launched in 2013 by the Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov. They left Russia shortly thereafter. Telegram is registered as a company in the British Virgin Islands and in Dubai. Telegram does not disclose where it rents offices or which legal entities it uses to rent them, citing the need to “shelter the team from unnecessary influence” and protect users from governmental data requests.[iv]

Telegram has hundreds of million monthly active users and, in late March, became Russia’s most popular messaging tool.[v] Telegram has provided a free, cross-platform, cloud-based, secure, simple, private, fast, powerful, unlimited instant messaging service. A user can create groups to follow particular subjects and a group can hold up to 200,000 members. It is the perfect tool to allow Russians to receive the truth about what is going on in Ukraine.

If you follow the Ukraine NOW [English] channel on Telegram, you will receive a continuous stream of factual news. As of April 7, 2022, there were 140,000 subscribers to the channel. A graphic regularly updated shows the losses Russia is experiencing.

To try out Telegram, simply go to the Apple app store or the Google Play Store and get the Telegram app, or visit https://desktop.telegram.org/ to get the desktop app. All you need is a cell phone # to use Telegram. Enter “Ukraine NOW [English]” in the search box and you will be impressed with the amount of information you see. Most importantly, anybody in Russia can see it also. The way Telegram has designed and implemented the software, Russia is not able to block it.

[i] John R. Patrick, Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive without It (Cambridge MA: Perseus Publishing, 2001).

[ii] Desire Athow, “Pentium Fdiv: The Processor Bug That Shook the World,” techradar.pro  (2014).

[iii] “Telegram, a New Era of Messaging,”  Telegram (2022), https://telegram.org/

[iv] “Lunch with the Ft: Pavel Durov,”  Financial Times (2022), https://www.ft.com/content/21c5c7f2-20b1-11e5-ab0f-6bb9974f25d0

[v] “Telegram Surpasses Whatsapp to Become Russia’s Top Messenger,”  Business Recorder (2022), https://www.brecorder.com/news/40162140