A cancer survivor thanks to a bone marrow transplant earlier in his life, Gilliam found his niche thanks to the internet, as an online activist working for Robert Greenwald’s progressive media site; and it would be the internet that would save the young IT professional’s life when he faced his second bout with cancer. Requiring a lung transplant in order to survive, a complex procedure further complicated by Gilliam’s past medical history. When surgeons from UCLA turned Gilliam down for the aforementioned operation, Gilliam vented on his blog, picking some choice words for the specialist who were unwilling to conduct the procedure.
It is at this juncture where Gilliam’s faith was restored. Faith shaken to the core by multiple bouts with cancer, in addition to the loss of his mother to the disease. After blogging about his frustration with UCLA, the online community of internet activists, to which Gilliam belongs, mobilized with stunning results. Through a torrent of e-mails and blogs from these activists, one specialist was finally convinced to perform the surgery that saved Gilliam’s life.
During the 2011 speech Gilliam remarked that he owed his life to human interconnectedness.
In addition to the impressive ability to create life-saving changes for individuals, human interconnectedness in its online form, has the potential to be a lifeline for online media sites.
Independent news blogs, bereft of anywhere near the amount of journalists employed by The New York Times, cable and network news stations, are able to cover stories throughout the nation by harnessing the power of online human interconnectivity by mobilizing audience members in particular areas of the nation. These readers are able to provide unique insight into pertinent stories from a hyper-local perspective, giving a blogger a “boot on the ground” wherever their readers reside.
For example, Josh Marshall, founder of Talking Points Memo, was able to utilize his blog’s wide readership to cover the US Attorney Scandal in 2007. Marshall’s ability to cover this widespread scandal, which occurred under the administration of George W. Bush and resulted in the dismissal of 8 federal attorneys and the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, by his readers in communities throughout the United States; providing specific information from the regions from which the dismissed government officials had served before being abruptly relieved of their duties.
Perhaps the most important role of e-connectedness for small blogs lies in its fundraising abilities. While Gilliam was able to inadvertently mobilize a blitz of online support among his readership, bloggers can coerce their own readership into donations critical for the upkeep of their blogs, expansion of their staffs and the financing of particularly ambitious endeavors.
In fact, Gilliam utilized this strategy, intentionally this time, to raise the funds to cover the production costs for Iraq For Sale, a Brave New Films production on corporate war profiteers exploiting the taxpayers of the Republic and soldiers of the nation during the Second Persian Gulf War. In a pledge to put every donors’ name in the credits and provide commentary on a pertinent political issue Gilliam raised $267,892 for Iraq For Sale in just 10 days.
Additionally, TPM was once again at the forefront of mustering the substantial resources of their online readership. In two distinct instances, Marshall was able to rely upon his devoted readers to bankroll his trip to New Hampshire to cover the 2004 Democratic “First in the Nation” Primary and later expand his newsroom to further enhance his blog’s coverage of pertinent progressive issues and news.
Beyond being mobilized to save lives, for funding, and for local perspectives on national news, those formerly known as the audience can be utilized to actively produce content. Many blogs harness the passion of their readership by asking them to not only provide feedback on stories but to contribute, creating their own stories or submitting their own multimedia to supplement the content produced in-house by the blog. This strategy was used to its utmost potential by Eric Nakagawa of the blog, I Can Has Cheezburger?. Nakagawa, who at first relied on his audience to rate his own pictorial posts of funny animals now relies on his readership to create content to add to the content created by himself and his accomplice, Tofuburger. Once again the interconnectedness of online communities can be utilized by bloggers to greatly multiply their own limited resources by pooling the substantive input offered up by their readership.
Jim Gilliam’s ‘The Internet is My Religion’ speech is a remarkable story of trial, tribulation and triumph. The importance of online advocates to that final triumph should be dully noted by bloggers throughout the internet community. Through his own blog, Jim Gilliam spurred friends and followers to action, convincing doctors to perform an operation once thought impossible.
The task of bloggers is far less serious. By convincing their readers they are providing interesting and important content, individual bloggers take the first steps towards building a dedicated following throughout the internet community, a dedicated following that can be utilized to provide groundbreaking content and finance a penniless bloggers career as indicated by the experiences of Josh Marshall and Eric Nakagawa.
However, it is important to note that the extreme levels of success experienced by Marshall and Nakagawa are the ultimate success stories. Nevertheless, as indicated by the 1,000 True Fans Theory, the massive expanse of the online community can allow bloggers and Internet content producers in general, to be overtly successful by targeting niche groups, interested in the particular topic, opinion or style being produced.