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The Internet Is Powering the Local Food Movement Family farms head online to do business

Photo: Charlie Warzel

The Internet 2012 bus went off the beaten path this week to make one stop at a small Richmond, Missouri farm. While the tour has been very panel-heavy and startup-focused, the farm visit is a key component of Reddit's tour goal of framing Internet freedom as a fight that extends beyond Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Arriving as the sun came up, Alex Ohanian and Reddit employees toured the property, owned by farmer Tom Parker, who is using Aglocal, a Kansas City startup, to connect his products with local buyers. "Farming a part of our culture as Americans and we've lost track of that," said Aglocal founder Naithan Jones.

Jones, like so many on this tour, supports the open Internet and its ability to break down communication barriers. "Putting family farms on a level playing field can only happen because the cost of sharing a story on the Internet is nothing," Jones said. Parker, who only checks his email every other day, does almost all his business over the Web and is capitalizing on his digital connection as well as the growing local food movement.

"People have been so inundated with brands and now they want a local connection. We see it especially with food. The Internet can facilitate that, " Jones said.

October 11, 2012, 11:22 AM EDT

The Iowa (Internet) (Un)Caucus 2012 A dedicated few brave frigid temperatures at the bi-partisan Internet powered event

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

"Iowa does three things. We grow corn, we go to state fairs, and we caucus," Jordan Lampe told me inside Dwolla's Des Moines office.

Lampe—who works for the popular Des Moines e-commerce startup (which enables people to wire other people money)—is the chief organizer of the Iowa Internet Uncaucus 2012, a livestreamed, non-partisan political event held this past weekend aimed at boosting civic engagement. The Uncaucus was also an opportunity for Reddit's Internet 2012 bus to shut down a major bridge for the evening and meet some concerned and politically active Iowans in the shadow of the Iowa State Capitol building. 

"Iowa plays a huge role in our nation's political landscape every four years and as Iowans our greatest strength is our sense of community. We want to say, 'I don't care what side of the river you live on, we're going to meet in the middle, discuss our pressing issues with our neighbors and let the Internet carry our message forward,'" Lampe said. 

True to the metaphor, politically concerned citizens met in the middle of the bridge, though turnout was hampered by the temperatures in the 30s and the anticipated crowd of hundreds was closer to about 50. For nearly an hour and a half, 10 Iowans took turns on a soapbox, discussing issues from city voting and family farming to net neutrality. Participants at home and at the event could vote for and comment on the speeches via text message or head online to rally around a particular cause. 

For those on the bus, it was yet another reminder of just how hard it is to achieve real grassroots activism, which, of course, is the purpose of tour. "We get excited about all these issues, but we never vote," Alexander Grgurich, a technology consultant and organizer for TEDxDesMoines told the crowd. "We're focusing too much on Washington, which is gridlocked, when we should be focusing on Iowa itself," he said.  

While most of the bundled speakers stood up to address local issues, Des Moines lawyer and net neutrality expert Brett Trout's message was geared toward national action to urge the American public to keep vigilant against any sort of broad sweeping anti-piracy legislation—like last January's SOPA/PIPA bills— so that the freedom of the Internet endures.

For Trout, who looked out of place on the bridge wearing a pinstripe suit in a sea of North Face jackets and hooded sweatshirts, it's events like these that keep him energized in the fight.

"Even though you're preaching to the choir you're getting the choir very informed and then you go out and evangelize that to everyone else. If they can be decisive about these complex issues like net neutrality, they can spread the message. That's all we can ask right now. It's not that people don't want to take action, it's that they're unsure and afraid to make mistakes," Trout told me after his soapbox talk. 

For all his optimism about the event, Trout grew more serious as the conversation turned toward the future battles to be fought against large content creators and intellectual property owners trying to censor the free collaboration of the Internet. "Unfortunately I don't think i'll be able to educate enough people on this before another bill comes through Congress," he said. "It's going to be a very uphill battle."

October 8, 2012, 2:20 PM EDT

Video: Alexis Ohanian Dials Up Congress at University of Nebraska Reddit co-founder shows how easy it is to call your representative

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

At the Raikes School of Computer Science & Management at the University of Nebraska, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian addressed a crowd of aspiring developers and entrepreneurs to talk about his path from student to successful founder. While the speech touched on the tour's usual Internet freedom talking points, at the end of the talk Ohanian did something unusual.

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October 6, 2012, 4:24 PM EDT

Inside Reddit's Internet 2012 Bus Former McCain/Palin 'Straight Talk Express' converted for tour

Photos: Alfred Maskeroni

Now a reality, the Internet 2012 tour was born two months ago during an off-hand conversation on a walk to the subway between Reddit general manager Erik Martin and site co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Initially, it was as simple as a desire to take a bus across the country, but for Ohanian, who has amassed somewhat of a cult following as a result of his advocacy during the battle against SOPA/PIPA online piracy legislation, half-brained ideas can quickly become a reality. Like the Internet 2012 bus tour, which will travel well over 2,000 miles from Denver, Colo. to Danville, Ky. 

Like almost any endeavor Ohanian and Reddit throw their weight behind, the tour has a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek element to its execution. Ohanian and Martin don't take their Internet freedom issues lightly, but that doesn't mean they can't have some fun along the way. Nowhere is that more evident than in the bus itself.

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October 5, 2012, 10:23 AM EDT

Get Ready for Geek Day, Washington Reddit co-founder Ohanian hatches next possible Internet advocacy campaign

Photos: Alfred Maskeroni

Alexis Ohanian is not one to let a passing thought escape him. 

At a panel event bluntly titled "Startups + Politics: Why You Should Give a Shit," Ohanian, a local startup founder, and three speakers from the legislative side (two Colorado senatorial aides and a former chief of technology for the Federal Communications Commission) joined a passionate crowd of Colorado startup denizens to talk about Internet advocacy—what they're doing right, and how to keep the Internet free. Surrounded by an audience of deeply invested  startup employees and Internet activists, Ohanian assumed his familiar role of Internet ambassador to the crowd, which aired its grievances toward the lack of communication between startups and politicians. With seemingly nothing to lose, Ohanian offered up his own spur-of-the-moment idea.

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October 5, 2012, 6:54 AM EDT

Here's the Only Part of the Debate Obama Won Across the University of Denver campus, volunteers help president win the on-site branding war

Photos: Alfred Maskeroni

On the University of Denver's main quad, amid a sea of food trucks, fleets of motorcycle cops, and indie concert acts, it looked more like a music festival than the backdrop for a wonky policy debate. In fact, it would seem at yesterday's political epicenter, campaigns had to strain to get their messages out over the din of 2,000 college students more interested in a concert than a live MSNBC broadcast. With so much potential to have the message lost in the noise, much of the ground messaging for the event fell on the campaign ground teams, where the Obama campaign outshined team Romney.

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October 4, 2012, 2:42 PM EDT

Reddit Goes on Tour Adweek has a seat on the bus as Reddit swings through the heartland

Greetings from Denver! Adweek has arrived in Colorado just hours before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are set to square off in the first of three presidential debates. But we're not just here for the political fodder (though, we enjoy it well enough). Starting today, Adweek is embarking on a nine-day journey across the country from Colorado to Kentucky on Reddit's Internet 2012 bus tour.

The trip will take us through schools, college campuses, and startups throughout the heart of the country to showcase the power of the open internet and its effects on everything from agriculture to civic engagement. "We're going on the road to ask a lot of big and unanswered questions, questions about the impact of the Internet on people's daily lives, and about the future of this country," Reddit gm and trip organizer Erik Martin said of the impetus for the tour at the peak of this heated political season.

We'll be posting everything we see and hear along the way to our Internet 2012 blog, which promises to be replete with dispatches from the road, pictures, videos and maybe even a few gifs. For complete coverage make sure you're following us on Twitter (@cwarzel and @digimatized) and check in for updates on the blog, right here.


City Itinerary (will post specific updates each day):
October 3 - Denver, CO
October 4 - Boulder, CO
October 5 - Lincoln, NE
October 6 - Des Moines, IA
October 7 - Iowa City, IA
October 8 - Kansas City, MO
October 9 - St. Louis, MO
October 10 - Lexington, KY
October 11 - Danville, KY
 

October 3, 2012, 4:21 PM EDT

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Dispatches and photography from the Reddit Bus.

 

 

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