Working With Us | Products | Case Studies | FAQ | About Online Media

Still Wondering


There were a few technical difficulties but my eWeek column on Joe Trippi’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, The Internet, and The Overthrow of Everything,” is up.
There are parts of the book that simply sing. Listening to pols like Trippi talk about why they do things – the sincere reasons, not the cash which is often considerable – is a lot of fun. It is, simply put, why political junkies get addicted.
But reading the book, I was reminded of the question put to me a few months ago: What really happened in Iowa? Why did voters turn so decisively from Howard Dean and what doe that tell us about on-line organizing? Trippi has his theories. But so does Dean’s pollster Paul Maslin. And while there are some similarities, these two men disagree about the campaign and its mistakes in some important ways.
This isn’t just an idle exercise. Pretty much everyone acknowledges, tacitly or not, that the Internet is giving new flexibility, reach, and power to political organizers and campaigns. But how that power is harnessed isn’t obvious.
Here’s an example: the Kerry folks tried to get lots of ‘net cred — see look, they can figure this Internet thing out, really, just give them a second — by “announcing” his VP selection via email to supporters. That’s a great use of what the ‘net does best and it gives folks something to talk about, a way to connect and build an audience, a way to encourage folks to talk and exchange – and reinforce – their views about the campaign and the candidates. They got to the “first” with the news in their circle of friends and acquaintances. So far, so good.
But the story had already leaked out – via a web logger – who posted his observation on an aviation site. Which got read by Joi Ito, who found it here and linked to it, which got read and linked by Dave Winer (from whom I have cribbed these links).
To its credit – and this is something worth noting – the Kerry campaign has taken a “shit happens,” approach to the leak. It wasn’t that big a deal. But that’s not always going to be the case. So what is the best course of action, if you’re a campaign? No one really knows. And that’s created a lot of dismissive back-talk about on-line activism being over-rated.
The picture is complicated by a confusion about how activists work on the part of software developers and others with experience communicating on-line. These are, for the most part, volunteers, not employees. And their degrees of commitment can vary. That matters. A lot. Confusion also comes from the idealism and inexperience that many of the folks who are the most politically active right now share. They’re coming to partisan party politics for the first time – in part because of the Dean Campaign, in part because of the Iraqi War, in part because of 9/11 – and they’re finding themselves enmeshed in corporate-oriented, Big Media loving campaigns, not the free-flowing civic textbooks style give-and-take they expected. There’s nothing really new there – this is an old story about how people grow up in politics – one, by the way, Trippi tells very well. What is new, however, is the belief and the computer skill and ‘net familiarity that many of these folks bring to their political efforts. It’s still not clear to me if on-line activism — and this should include the Dean campaign effort — is the result or the cause of all this tech babble in politics, a babble that doesn’t appear to have gone away with the Dean campaign’s shut-down.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:34 AM | Permalink

<< Back to the Spotlight blog

Chris Nolan's bio
Email Chris Nolan

Get Our Weekly Email Newsletter

What We're Reading - Spot-On Books

Hot Spots - What's Hot Around the Web | Promote Your Page Too

Spot-on Main | Pinpoint Persuasion | Spotlight Blog | RSS Subscription | Spot-on Writers | Privacy Policy | Contact Us