John Stewart: Why Campaigns are Better than Government

John and AneeshListening to yesterday’s The Daily Show (sorry, I am in London now), I watched Aneesh Chopra speak with John Stewart about the challenges government faces with “legacy systems”, “legacy databases” and “20 year efforts” and watched John’s eyes glaze over.

John, let me see if I can help you understand why Government is not like Campaigns – and use a New Jersey metaphor for you.

Let’s Handmake a Car!

Let’s say you have a 1969 Dodge Charger – it is up on mounts, and you have been wanting to refurbish it so your kid could actually know what it feels like to have true American muscle under their feet. But this Charger has been running….okay….for the past few years, and you realize it needs to a new gas line, a new steering column, and heck – even a new engine if you are going to have this puppy run like it used to.

1969 Black Dodge ChargerWell, you could go find some automotive shops that specialize in finding those parts – and if these parts happen to have different connectors (like a hard hose versus a slinky hose), then you need to find the better part that can allow all of the systems within the car to actually work together.

You could also decide that, in the past 55 years, the technology has improved so much that you could conceivably gut the entire system and retrofit the body with a new engine, steering column, and so on. Especially since these parts are so easy to come by from the same auto parts stores.

But here is the rub: what if I told you that to get ANY of the parts mentioned above, you had to make them YOURSELF? And I mean actually handcraft the parts yourself with whatever machine you had available (like a CNC milling machine or a Dremel).

Now lets add one more dimension to this: you are going to either gut the whole thing and start fresh, and you are not quite certain you won’t make a mistake -OR- you are going to try to fix parts of the system and hope that each new part works with the older part. Either way, there are likely to be errors fitting the parts together.

You Don’t Get the Chef to Remove Your Spleen

Now, lets add one more complexity: have each part of the car made – by hand – by someone OTHER than you. And the only way to communicate is via the connections between your parts. You might suggest ways for your other coworkers to make their part, but for the most part, you only have control over how those parts fit with your part. And, remember, who is the person in charge of arbitrating the parts? Oh wait, is it you or the other person making the parts come together?

ANd one last twist: instead of mechanics, you have some of your older family relatives come in as well as your kids friends come to make these parts as well. None of them have any experience in machining parts or figuring out which bolt goes with which nut, but you put them on the task because they are available to work!

And what kind of Charger do you think will occur after all of this?
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Politics in a World of Social Data – who knows what about whom?

Originally cross-posted from The Social Engineer:

This past month, I have been reading Eli Parser’s “The Filter Bubble” on my iPad Kindle app – and I must say, Eli has done a bang up job of discussing the impact the Filter Bubble can and will have on our political and intellectual discourse.

As I continue to work on the problem of “influence marketing”, it brings back concepts of control theory to mind, and how tuning the inputs to a system can probabilistically ensure a bounds on response. And, as you begin to learn the “modes” of the “system”, you are able to generate more desirable performance from the “system” overall.

Eli uses the phrase “persuasion styles” (from Dean Eckles at Stanford and Facebook) which discuss the modes on how a person can be influenced to perform an act/action based on how the request is made, not simply by the content. And with so much Social Action data around on the web (and purchasable in large batches from companies like GNIP and DataSift), the ability to sift through the voting records, demographic records and Social Action records will be a powerful mix.

Political Influencer Marketing

So what is “influencer marketing“? As I described in an earlier post, some circles consider the measure of influence corresponds to your perceived expertise in a particular topics or arena. It harkens back to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” But in today’s world of social media focused on driving action – and advertising dollars being spent to drive purchases or brand impressions, influence marketing becomes more of a word-of-mouth advocacy concept – who is able to drive actions from whom by creating reciprocal or responsive actions to the original action.
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Republicans Sites are so non-inspiring…

Been having some fun while being across the pond – watching the coverage out in New Hampshire. Decided to take a look at some of the sites of the candidates that have not had the cash to build a campaign. So, enjoy my opinions.

Jon Huntsman 2012 Campaign logoJon Huntsman’s site is a chop off the WordPress template block. And sadly, his campaign seems not to have been updating the site for some time – the major post on his banners comes from a November 3, 2011 NYTimes article and a Lincoln-Douglas debate dated December 12th.

Let’s see what happens after New Hampshire.

Rick Sant logoRick Santorium’s site ( is a crappy mess of asking for $1 Million ($1M). And on January 10, at 7pm EST, seems as though the thermometer got stuck at less than $420M. And sadly, you would normally look for the “Skip to the site” link on the bottom of the page – but the page is so wordy and bad, they had to put the link on the top of the page. Oy vey.
Such a bad link...
When you get to the internal site – someone decided that the right-hand side of the site is where the main navigation should be. I guess that their designer spent a little time at the Gawker set of sites. Problem is – Gawker et al are very different sites (each site essentially an evolving news site) – and the Santorium site is a refugee of websites from 2004. And a blog? No – Conservatives need no such things. And the Facebook signup – seems as though he has a scary signup for the Rick Santorium Facebook app.

I can hear my grandmother exclaiming:

“What are you doing, giving your details to that strange man?!?”
more to come…
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Political Technology Answers for a Research Questionaire

I was contacted by a researcher in the past two weeks to get some thoughts on the technologies for political campaigns this year. Thought the answers to these questions might be interesting to my readership. Enjoy.

What was your involvement in the 2008 or prior presidential elections? What did you find most challenging?

I was the CTO of the John Kerry Presidential Campaign – providing technical leadership and social media guidance at the time (e.g., blogs, forums, online chats, social network presence for John Kerry).

In 2008, I was working as a consultant for various campaigns but no front-line positions during the campaign. At the time, I was engaged with other non-political clients that absorbed my primary attentions.

In 2004, the most challenging issue was convince the mainstream political machine that online campaigning was more than a ATM and a cheaper form of direct marketing (e.g., email campaigns). Creating a campaign-wide understanding of the power of social media was the greatest challenge. When John Kerry made his first win in Iowa and mentioned his website at the podium, the surge in contributions was so significant that he began to use this mechanism again and again (see

At the time, social networks were still the pervue of students and technical individuals – and was beginning to make in roads, but the solutions were still not engaging voters in an effective manner. In 2007, Facebook began to focus on the communication aspect of social networks – optimizing their NewsFeed to surface information that they sense you would be interested in – from your network.

As more information began to surface regarding what their friends were doing regarding politics – and how geography shrank – people were becoming more informed through the social networks because the social proof of being involved was demonstrated on your NewsFeed. This acceleration of information and social proof made social networks THE preferred information channel for the Obama supporters.

MySpace and other social networks did not provide this kind of informational filtering – which is why at the time, I believed social networks were not going to be instrumental in the 2008 election.

Some people point to the site as a success in the 2008 campaign. I would suggest that it was used as an advanced house-party tool for supporters to coordinate for other events. But as a source of unbiased information like Facebook was providing (e.g., the algorithm determined what you would like) or Google (e.g., the algorithm determined what the public thought was relevant for what topic), myBO was all-Obama, all the time. If it was integrated with the NewsFeed more effectively, it would have been even more effective.
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After 100 Days of Repug rule – where’s the Jobs Bill?

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Some honest, actual, non-rhetorical questions for my conservative friends who vote Republican

From my friend Gadi Ben-Yehuda, can someone answer this?

Gadi Ben-YahudaI seriously, not-joking, really-do-want-to-hear-your-answers don’t understand how people who profess to be conservative (and especially those who profess to be conservative Christians) can vote for Republicans. I’d love to hear answers only to these three questions (and please don’t answer with “the Democrats are worse,” this is tantamount to saying “yeah, I’m a herion addict, but at least I don’t do meth!” Yeah, OK, but you’re still a herion addict and that’s disgraceful).

  1. For Fiscal Conservatives: Paul Ryan’s plan doesn’t balance the budget; it just shifts wealth from poor to rich. If you’re truly intersted in deficit reduction, why not vote Democratic, and see taxes go up on the rich, thus both to stimulate the economy and pay down debt? In short, tax cuts, especially those being peddled by the current republicans, will not enhance our GDP. Nobel Economist Paul Krugman sums it up: “real revenues per capita grew only 19 percent over the same period — better than the likely Bush performance, but still nothing exciting. In fact, it’s less than revenue growth in the period 1972-1980 (24 percent) and much less than the amazing 41 percent gain from 1992 to 2000.” How can you vote for such a fiscally irresponsible party (and again: you can’t say “Democrats are worse!” – you have other options, like not voting.)
  2. For Libertarians: I honestly don’t know which should be the main sticking point for libertarians, but the underpinning of all the particulars (drug laws, blue laws, abdication of responsibility to regulate industry resulting in curtailment of liberties by unaccountable corporations) is the extension of government into our personal lives and the refusal to regulate the corporations that increasingly impinge upon our commons (water ways, air waves, landscapes) without proper recompense and often without regard even to our lives. How can you vote for a party whose ultimate policy success would see the curtailment of liberties for all but the very richest Americans?
  3. For Christians: How can you vote for a party that is now literally seeking to take food away from the poorest Americans so that the very richest can amass more wealth? That is what the Republican House just voted for. That is what you will support if you vote Republican in 2012. Not to put too fine a point on this, but you will be voting expressly against Jesus’s teachings.
    • Your Christ did not say “what you do unto the most powerful of them, you do unto me.”
    • Your Christ did not advocate on behalf of the merchants in the temple.
    • Your Christ did not suffer and die on the cross for a tax cut.

    He spoke to and about the poor. He scolded the powerful and exhorted them to feed the needy, to turn their attention to the downtrodden. He did not rail against homosexuals, he did not exculpate his disciples of murder if their victims were doctors who performed abortions. How can you vote for a party that pursues policies that are in direct contravention of the teachings of your God?

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Save NPR funding!

Breakdown by percentage

When do we start really cutting?

Sorry all – but here is something that got my goat. More and more I am reading about the problems of the deficit and the fact that the Federal Government is looking for ways of cutting the deficit. But can someone please explain to me why attacking what amounts to $32M in Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) funding is such a priority? I mean, come on – we have a $1.3 Trillion deficit this year and a Federal deficit of over $16 Trillion. We are talking about one-half of one-ten-thousandth of the current year deficit. CBS News has a great breakdown of what is happening – including the resignation of NPR’s CEO to save the funding.

You ask: how did I come up with that number? Well – based on what is on Wikipedia, the 2009 budget was $164M in total. And in an article in the Christian Science Monitor, the CPB contribution to NPR makes up approximately 2% of the NPR budget.

So, keeping with the mission of the CPB and the overall effort to keep a free-and-fair programming, the “deficit hawks” are going after essentially $32M in that grant. The good that NPR and the CPB does for our country – especially across the rural parts of our country – is incredibly valuable. When are the Congressional “deficit hawks” going to go after the real portion of the pie that is gauging us?

Take a look at the graph to the right. We are going after less than 1% of the Discretionary budget. Something seems wrong with this picture, right?

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Speed of a Meme: Is all there is but twitter and Facebook?

The Future of Real-time Publishing
Moderator : Brian Stelter (@brianstelter)

I recently spent some time at the Social Media Week event on the Future of Real Time Publishing – where we were watching the tweets coming from Storyful’s Egypt feed. The four characters on stage were going over some of the challenges for the real time publishing issue – which was extremely entertaining. But then the moderator asked a very simply question: “Is all there is but twitter and Facebook? Is there nothing more?”

The panel got into a discussion about the longevity of the services, the many masses of people on the services (read: audience) and the systems themselves. The next question was whether or not the Tunisia uprising would have happened if not for twitter and/or Facebook. One of the panelists suggested that it would have, but much slower and much more bloodier.

As I listened, I wondered if there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what social networks and the connection between Facebook + twitter + mobile phones means to the political process – both in political campaigning AND governing.

We Live in Lower Friction Times

About three years ago, at a BarCampNYC event, I spoke on the topic of “The Speed of Memes” – the idea being that memes are carried across the knowledge-sphere a lot faster than they ever did before. And with each new improvement on communication technology – we have seen changes in how events unfold in our lives.
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Are the Senate Repugs are setting the stage for a 9/11 rescue next year…

After I got home watching TRON: Legacy, I turned on the DVR and started watching the last Daily Show of the season. And what I saw sickened me.

In the 111th Congress, the Senate Republicans are still filibustering over the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. After their continued use of 9/11 in the past nine years, I am sickened at the acts of the Senate Republicans and their insane delays. And then to note that none of the major news outlets even set any time to this particular outrage.

Maybe they are being smart, since the Repugs could be thinking that they will only stay for this bill but avoid the DADT? I assume they are afraid because if it comes to the floor, the Dems might add an amendment to that bill that the Repugs would not want – such as DADT.

Can someone get their head out of their a$$ and get this issue resolved? At least before the Repugs could use this as a big deal in the 112th Congress next year?

UPDATE: looks like things worked out in the end.

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Could Obama be thinking of one-term and done?

Tired President ObamaA couple of days ago, a political consultant was talking to me over drinks at a Xmas event and I heard him muse that maybe President Obama might be thinking a “one-term and done” strategy.

Instead of trying to focus on the next election and triangulate (as Clinton would have done) making the next two years more about political pandering versus repairing our country, President Obama may actually think it would be a better the idea to announce – in the coming weeks – that he is not going to run for re-election.

Incredible thought? But, consider the benefits:

  • President Obama would not need to expend all of his energy fighting the election battle for the next two years, especially when we need to focus on the matters at hand – in terms of the economy, job growth, our deficit, climate change, etc. Rather than pushing the political water uphill, he could focus on fighting the good fight in Congress.  Without an election looming over him, he could build upon the legislative victories he has accomplished and then continue to the betterment of his “legacy” – and our country’s future.
  • With President Obama fighting on in Congress, it keeps him above the political fray and allows for other players like Sec. of State Clinton and VP Joe Biden to take the brunt of the battle of the election.  Both battle-tested and extremely experienced in running government, they would make for a powerful force.   Today, the Republicans are going to cause all sorts of problems to make Obama look bad as President for 2012; they would fall short of a Presidential election cycle where the Democratic President was pounding them on one side and the Democratic primary candidates would be hitting their standard bearer from the field of battle.

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