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Default 15th Anniversary: Why J. J. Abrams, Joe Trippi and Hilary Rosen Remain Wired Heroes *

Years after they first appeared in Wired, these three VIPs remain in the spotlight.
J. J. Abrams
Since upgrading TV with that confounding isle, he's taken on 2009's Star Trek prequel.
Why he does it
"It's cool to bring something to life, whether it's a song or a video. But to do it and have it embraced by millions ... like Lost, that's insane."
Hilary Rosen
Once a foe (she helped shut down Napster), the ex-RIAA chief made a heroic comeback by penning a love letter to Creative Commons in Wired. She now heads lesbian social network OurChart.
Why she does it
"I worked hardest to bring the tech and content communities together. It is happening."
Joe Trippi
Howard Dean's campaign manager pioneered the Web-centric bottom-up politics that has propelled Obama's run.
Why he does it
"I got the chance to put Washington and Silicon Valley together. We are seeing an Apollo project of a new kind of politics being built right now."
* Dead to us: Sonic the Hedgehog, Terry Semel, the Wachowski Siblings, Hans Reiser

Q&A with Hilary Rosen
Wired: With OurChart you used one platform (the television show The L Word) to launch another (a social network). How did you hook up with Ilene Chaiken, and when/how did the "aha" moment happen? Were you convinced from the outset that OurChart would be a success, and why?
Rosen: OurChart was Ilene's idea. We are old friends. She and Kara Swisher (AllthingsD.com) came to me and said that they thought "TheChart" from the show, which was literally a chart on the wall of one of the main character's living room that connected who slept with whom, should go online as a social network — broadening, of course, the purpose beyond sex! The L Word has long served as kind of an analog social networking vehicle for the lesbian community. People watch it at bars and at parties. We created a business plan that would incorporate what people liked about the show, which meant providing original lesbian and fan-centered entertainment content and combined that with traditional SN features. Showtime and CBS were very supportive.
Wired: Only a few other social networks have launched via television shows, but none has replicated the success of OurChart. Why do you think the L Word's audience took so well to a new online community?
Rosen: Lesbians are a hugely underserved market. This is a community with some $300 billion in annual consumer spending. Marketers and advertisers have started paying attention to the gay market over the last few years, but mostly that has been to target gay men. Surveys show that lesbian households have as much disposable income as gay male households. We knew if we built it they would come — both users and advertisers.
Wired: What other projects are on the horizon for you?
Rosen: I am now concentrating on some projects in Washington. I work for a few great companies like XM Radio and Viacom. The brilliant Jay Berman and I have a partnership that helps companies like Facebook navigate the IP world. Politics has always been my hobby, and this year it is also my business. It is as important an election as we have ever had. I am on-air on MSNBC as one more talking head discussing the same things as everyone else, but I hope sometimes with a different angle. And I am excited about a new role I have taken with The HuffingtonPost.com as a political director and an at-large editor. The site's traffic is through the roof, and as the largest site for progressive voices, we are going to have a great impact on this election. Given my experience, I am also helping the team develop the business side as well. It is a great group of people, and Arianna [Huffington] is, as everyone knows, a fantastic force of nature.
Politics has always been my hobby, and this year it is also my business. It is as important an election as we have ever had. I am on-air on MSNBC as one more talking head discussing the same things as everyone else, but I hope sometimes with a different angle. And I am excited about a new role I have taken with The HuffingtonPost.com as a political director and an at-large editor. The site's traffic is through the roof, and as the largest site for progressive voices, we are going to have a great impact on this election. Given my experience, I am also helping the team develop the business side as well. It is a great group of people, and Arianna is, as everyone knows, a fantastic force of nature.
Wired: You've noted the "chilling effect" the RIAA's actions had on legitimate uses/users. Knowing what you know now, would you still file the same suit against Napster?
Rosen: We had no choice but to sue Napster. I tried to avoid it because I thought the service was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. But they weren't knowledgeable enough to be interested in talking at the beginning. It was the first big program, and the precedent needed to be set.
Wired: Do you think the Big Five should have accepted the licensing agreement that was on the table during the Napster 1.0 days? (i.e., $1 billion over five years). Had they accepted the offer, how might the landscape of online music and the industry itself be entirely different from where we are today?
Rosen: I don't know if that particular deal is the one that should have been done, but I do firmly believe that the record companies should have made a deal. At the time, no amount of money that Napster put on the table seemed large enough because it was virtually impossible to compare the then current revenues from sales to the proposed digital revenues. The record companies weren't willing to jump off the cliff and take a chance. That was a mistake which can never be undone. P2P took over, and we had no technology or consumer allies, which we might have had if we had a deal. Having said that, the Napster management was difficult to deal with because the players kept changing.
I understand the interest that people have in wanting to know how this fantastic industry with so much potential for growth has now shrunk so dramatically. The fact is that there are so many reasons. And I can only scratch the surface here. Maybe someday I'll write a book. In the record industry there were problems with the retail distribution, with advertising and marketing strategies, with demographics focusing too much on the young hit maker and not serving the older buyer, with artist relations, with international piracy, and so many other areas. Technology and the piracy it facilitated (and continues to facilitate) was a major reason as well, of course. And this is the issue that got the most play. Senior executives at the record industry were often trapped in the same short-term thinking that a lot of business executives get trapped into — which is making the current quarter revenues as high as possible and hoping that the next quarter works out. It is also fair to say that the most influential record executives were more music men and not businessmen (yes, all men), and therefore there was no problem that a great "hit" wouldn't fix.
But it is so wrong to blame the record companies alone. The music publishers wouldn't license, the retailers threatened the labels with retaliation if they distributed online at a cheaper rate than they sold physical products, and the artists wouldn't reduce advance requests to try and experiment more online. In short, it required the entire music community to see the future in the same way and commit to working together — a very difficult scenario to pull off.
And exacerbating the problems within the music business was a very real arrogance in the technology community that valued technological innovation above all. Their disdain for the music community was palpable and irritating to many of my colleagues. After all, artists worked as hard to create their music as software developers worked to create their technology. ISPs were making more money when piracy was a driver to upgrade to high-speed; hardware makers were incorporating CD-Rs and increasing prices. Once MP3 distribution was rampant, the tech industry didn't think it needed the legitimate music industry because their consumers were being served with the unauthorized music. Most of the best innovators in the field didn't want the music industry to succeed because too many of them believed that it was a zero-sum game.
Well, that needed to change. I wasn't going to be able to undo 30 years of mistrust within the music community since that was in others' control. So I worked hardest to try to bring the technology and content communities together to see their common interests in upgrading the consumer experience with legitimate higher-quality music and artist participation in the extra content that fans wanted. Much of my time in my last few years at RIAA was in that behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy, urging the experimentation with business models and facilitating licensing systems. While the language and orientations are still different between content and technology, there is at least some great understanding now. And though there is still a great amount of unauthorized stuff online now, consumers have some great choices and lots of companies are working hand in glove with the music industry to make the offerings even better. It has taken so much longer than any of us would have liked or even predicted, but it is happening.
Wired: Since stepping down from the RIAA, you've consulted for companies like XM Radio. Some would say you've switched teams. Is that a fair assessment?
Rosen: No, I haven't switched teams. I am inherently a proponent of intellectual property protection and its critical role in the creation of art and the commercial support of artists. But I do call them as I see them. And sometimes that means that I disagree with some of my former employers. Not that anyone cares, including me, but I've turned down fortunes to go against them because I just couldn't reconcile the work with either my beliefs or my loyalty.
Wired: You helped found Rock the Vote and work with a number of nonprofits. Do you ever worry people will instead remember you more for the turbulent times you spent at the RIAA?
Rosen: Geez, I haven't turned 50 yet! I hope the epitaph isn't written. Having said that, I do think I have had a great and varied career as a business executive, a television commentator, a lobbyist, and an activist, and all the time working on issues that I really like. Hopefully that will continue. I definitely have another act or two in me.
Wired: Did that period sour you to music, music fans, the music business at all?
Rosen: No, RIAA didn't sour me on music at all. I originally took the job because I was such a music fan, I loved almost every minute of it, and I am still a music fan. But it is nice now to listen to an artist or a new song and not worry about whether they get along with their record company, who's getting paid on what, whether the release was leaked online before its release, and whether it is meeting its sales targets!
Wired: And if you had your way, what would you most want to be remembered for above all else?
Rosen: Who knows?! Who cares?! I guess I just want my kids to be happy and do good in the world.

Q&A with Joe Trippi
Wired: In 2004 you pointed to the fences and declared that the 2008 race would be the "first national contest waged and won primarily online." The first point is irrefutable. Based on what we've seen thus far in 2008, why is the battle being waged online really more vital than, say, 30-second TV spots or door-to-door stumping?
Trippi: The important differences can be seen between the Clinton old "top-down" campaign and the Obama "bottom-up" Internet-savvy campaign. Hillary Clinton was dependent on $2,300 checks — and could not replicate them — having to loan herself millions just to keep up with Obama's online small donors who were able to contribute repeatedly. Obama's volunteers who signed up online organized his caucus victories for free while contributing to pay for the professional, paid Obama organizers they worked with. Clinton did not have enough of these online activists to keep up with Obama in the caucus states — so she lost almost all of them. TV took people out of the process — the Internet and technology are putting people back into the process. Politicians, government officials, CEOs, and others who fail to understand that this changes everything are going to be shocked at what happens to them as their competitors "get it."
Wired: During the 04 election, at one point, John Kerry had raised roughly 37 percent of his campaign funds from his Web site. Today, $45 of the $55 million Barack Obama raised in February alone streamed in from the Web. Did you expect the shift toward Web-based fund-raising to accelerate this much in only four years time? Will we see even more impressive numbers before November?
Trippi: In my book, [The Revolution Will Not Be Televised], I said that the $100 revolution was just around the corner — that a candidate in the 2008 cycle would be able to mobilize millions to contribute small contributions of $100 or less. Before this campaign started, I believed and still believe that a candidate (probably Barack Obama) will raise a half-billion dollars just in the general election. The math is simple: 5 million Americans giving $100 each. We are still scratching the surface of what's possible as more Americans get involved in their democracy. Fifty-seven million voted for John Kerry, 60 million or so voted for George Bush — you cannot tell me that 10 percent of the Kerry voters would not have given him $100. The real trigger will be a candidate who limits General Election contributions to a small amount like $250 or less, and millions of Americans realize they can block the special interests and change our politics with a small contribution or helping in some other way. This is going to happen this year. I am sure of it. And BTW, in 2012 or 2016 it will be even bigger. It's the network, stupid. And the network is growing.
Wired: If 2004 is remembered as the year of micro-targeting and online campaigning, what will the legacy of 2008? Also, Obama's campaign has sparked a wave of Web-based creativity — from T-shirts to viral sites like barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com. Had John Edwards stayed in the race, what might your strategy have been to compete, diffuse, or work around all the buzz?
Trippi: I think that the creativity unleashed by sites like YouTube.com will be the hallmark of this cycle. In 2004 we created DeanTV, a 24/7 broadband channel where anyone could upload a video, a mashup of a Dean speech, or anything they wanted — about 200,000 people used it. Turns out we had created our own YouTube before YouTube created YouTube.
The important thing to understand is that TV and Internet campaigning are still intertwined. Elizabeth Edwards called into Hardball on MSNBC to confront Anne Coulter and created an online firestorm. The problem for the Edwards campaign was that no matter what we did, the media focused on Clinton vs. Obama. And the more coverage Obama got, the more his online buzz grew. This wasn't new to me — we benefited from this same kind of media focus in the Dean campaign. Our strategy in the Edwards campaign was to build a strong online presence and then beat both Obama and Clinton in Iowa. We felt if we could do that the media would focus on us and that our Internet presence would combine to dramatically shoot us into contention. We took second — and close never matters in politics.
Wired: I understand you kept a 90-day calendar, color-coded to track traffic to JohnEdwards.com. What was the most common cause for the larger spikes?
Trippi: The larger spikes were almost always caused by something related to Elizabeth Edwards, she gets bottom up politics and the Internet better than anyone candidate or spouse I have ever worked with. She connects with people and she is authentic and those two things created a lot of the spikes in sign-ups or contributions to our campaign.
Wired: Keeping tabs on what's happening online is beyond a full-time job. What's your best advice for, say, a small-town politician running on a lean budget and staff?
Trippi: This isn't hard or expensive. Start a blog, a Twitter account, and a FriendFeed. Ten minutes a day with just these three tools can make a huge difference. But let's look into the future for a second. Somewhere today there is someone who is oblivious to these tools who is running for city council and is dialing for dollars. There is someone else running for city council who is dialing for dollars but also is collecting emails and growing followers on Twitter. Ten years from now they will both be running against each other for Congress — any guesses at who is going to kick whose?
Wired: Can these tools that are used for campaigning also be used to govern?
Trippi: John F. Kennedy heralded in the age of the television presidency. It changed everything — a president at his inaugural could rally the nation. In January 2009, the next president of the United States will herald in the age of the networked presidency. The inaugural will be live-blogged and mashed up. The new president will outline the agenda for the first 100 days of his administration, and online communities will rally to the cause of passing health care and other agenda items like never before. It will only be the beginning, just as JFK was only the beginning of how television changed governing — but we are about to witness and be part of the most sweeping change in government and people's participation in our government since the revolution of 1776, and it will change more than how we are governed — it will (just as television did) change everything.
Wired: Why does it really matter if your video gets, say, 75,000 more hits on YouTube than the other candidate? And how does popularity online carry over to the voting booth, especially during an extended primary season?
Trippi: The big difference is that if you hear something interesting on the radio, or see something that catches your attention on TV, you cannot interact with it instantly — you cannot respond by joining up or by putting it to music, and you can't send it on to every one of your friends shouting to the rooftops "Eureka! I found it!" Will.I.am's mashup of Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" speech was passed friend to friend by millions of Americans — most of us got it from a friend or someone we cared about. That is much more powerful than getting a message from a paid staffer, even if it comes from a candidate you support.
Wired: After 2004, you vowed not to return to presidential politics. You didn't stay away for very long. What keeps you coming back for more?
Trippi: I always wondered what changed people's lives more? Politics? Or Technology? I have spent the better part of 30 years trying to figure that out, straddling the worlds of Silicon Valley and Washington ever since Senator Ted Kennedy called me in San Jose and asked me to organize for him in 1979. I do it because I want to change things for the better. In 2004 I got the chance to put the two things I knew a lot about together and something amazing happened. I got it wrong, [and] I thought that was the end — but as 2008 neared, I realized it was just the beginning. I was proud to have been part of the Wright brothers of a new kind of politics in the Dean campaign of 2004. But damn — in four years the technology and sites have blown past Boeing, Mercury, and Gemini. We are seeing the Apollo project of a new kind of politics being built right now. But we are all still pioneers — still exploring where all of this will go and how to make it work to bring even more people into the process.
Wired: According to your Twitter feed, you're at work on a Web strategy for Jim Slattery. What can we expect from that collaboration?
Trippi: Jim Slattery believes that we have to get more people involved if we are really going to change things. He was a member of Congress through 1994, so he knows how Washington works. He really understands the importance of the new tools available to people to connect with each other and change the place so it works for us. He is after me every day to help him figure it out in Kansas and take on one of the real status quo players — US Senator Pat Roberts, who fittingly has held office in Washington since before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I love Twitter, but I have to be more careful about my Tweets. But keep an eye on the Slattery campaign.


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