What Avaaz and the likes of 38 degrees have done recently is use the internet and social media to build large national/global networks of campaign activists who can be called upon at a moments notice to do this or that. This is probably a good thing.
But is Avaaz as innovative as it could be? It seems to me that it is actually a very old-fashioned organisation in a couple of ways. Firstly, it maintains the divide between professional and amateur/armchair activist. In this sense it works a bit like Amnesty International, or in their more activisty moments like Greenpeace. Secondly, it is still centralised (this is highly related to the first point of course) in such a way that the members of the network cannot communicate well with each other. Thirdly, as a result, the actions taken, while perhaps subject to some online voting, are really decided by the professionals, without utilising much of the skills, knowledge and creativity they have among their members.
It seems to me that social media gives us the perfect opportunity to get away from this model. The technicalities would still have to be experimented with. You can get a million people talking to each other in forums but that in itself won’t get you far (see reddit). It seems to me that you could, for example, set up software such that people with similar interests could form their own project teams to run campaigns.
Avaaz has made a move towards this with allowing people to start their own petitions, but really, petitions schmetitions. Tell me the last one that worked. I eventually signed off 38 degrees list because all they did was send me petitions to sign. Which didn’t work. How can we use social media to do global or national campaigning beyond petitions? What tools would we need?