What if the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had Twitter or Facebook?
Newark Mayor Cory Booker posed that question on Monday while introducing #waywire, a video-news sharing startup he co-founded, arguing that #waywire can be a tool for immediate and significant social change.
Funded by investors including Google chairman Eric Schmidt, #waywire gathers videos uploaded by “citizen journalists,” as well those from 60 content partners like Reuters, which viewers can then tag, comment on and share across social networks.
Booker portrayed the service as a potential tool in civil movements, just as Facebook and Twitter were for revolutionaries in Egypt and Libya.
“We can use technology to change America at a far more rapid pace than it’s being changed now,” Booker told the crowd at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco. “Being part of a social network, you find information that matters to you. You educate yourself and empower yourself as a consumer.”
Booker cited the example of Hurricane Isaac, where viewers could either watch traditional news or go on #waywire and search #isaacwaywire.
“You’ll see real people and their videos – the voices of people dealing with the crisis,” Booker said.
The service, which just launched in Alpha, enables users to search for videos on any subject, and permits them to cut original clips from other news services so they can be their own news producer. Users curate a specific "wire" of videos, and unlike on Facebook or Twitter, older videos don't have to disappear as time passes.
The producers at #waywire select certain videos for the platform, which uses an algorithm to suggest those that have been particularly popular among young consumers.
In that way, #waywire is devised as the ultimate populist news service, funneling the most relevant news to interested parties and providing all citizens with a voice.
Booker was adamant that the service will not replace Twitter or Facebook, but will work with them.
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“The key is not to create a product that will muscle them out of the way but elegantly lay on top of those platforms,” Booker said. “It uses existing social networks to give [consumers] a richer experience on the web.”
Booker detailed how #waywire and other social networks have made his job as mayor easier, connecting him directly with his constituents.
The Stanford graduate can find out about water line breaks before the traffic department and potholes before the engineering department.
Though Booker is a government official, he lamented how much harder it is to work in the private sector due to rules and regulations. He also bemoaned the current state of public education, lambasting government for not working more with technology and entrepreneurs.
News Corp.’s Joel Klein echoed this sentiment in a later panel, arguing that the government's monopoly on education failed to generate incentives for change.
When asked whether Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg or President Barack Obama were a better model to copy, Booker replied “life is too short to worry about being someone else.”
After quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said “everyone is born an original but sadly most die copies,” Booker left the room with this thought:
“This conference needs to be about living your originality. The hallmark of our company is you find something your passionate about. We need everyone to lift every voice and sing the chorus of conviction, the truth of what we are about.”