Participation on the edges

Spending today in Maine at popTech (Thanks to Te Smith for her help) and spent the days listening to how technology and visionaries are working to “make a difference”. And one of the conference speakers, Professor Yochai Benkler (see Dina’s post and Buzz’s post), spent fifteen minutes explaining the “future of open source’ – and how the centralized model has been spun on it’s head.

Intriguingly, this is what I heard at the start of the Dean phenomenon – that the conversation is occuring on the edge, and not in the center. Trippi was masterful in leveraging this energy (“You Have the Power”), but the challenge is – the process for electing people into public office is a much more complex than most people think. The engagement of the masses is not necessarily easy – but the lesson that I took away is supporting the community can derive benefit, but how do you generate deterministic performance (e.g. the meme you want discussed becomes the dominant one) in the timeframe you need?


The situations Yochai discussed regarding politics were the Diebold Machines and the “Stolen Honor” airing and withdrawl. Intriguingly, the “Stolen Honor” story is quite engaging – how Sinclair Broadcasting was shamed into reacting when the politically interested bloggers and supporters of Kerry got involved. Another story of community action like this would be the Rathergate story – the Killian memos and how the conservative blogosphere was able to shut down this story.

But the question is – how does a political campaign engage this distributed community? Consider that the priorities of a campaign (at the beginning) are to (1) raise money, (2) manage relationships, and (3) build awareness. They work the Democratic Executive Clubs (who is paying attention to a campaign 18-24 months out), Democratic Party leaders within the within the geography they are run in, and the campaign has to generate contributions to fund the campaign – which is shown as the only metric that determines the viability of a campaign before the majority of voters even become aware of the candidates.

The connection to the online community is a concept for most candidates or campaign managers – their focus is on the operation of the campaign and fundraising – communicating to the blogosphere is tantalizing, but not within the process of campaign management.

Consider the mechanisms for success in campaigns – you join a campaign as a supporter/volunteer/intern – you do the daily work of the campaign (phone calls, press clippings, envelope stuffing, event management) and build to your experience base in one or more areas (usually fundraising, communications, field or operations). Then, if your candidate wins, you enter the sphere of influence within the (fabled) Halls of Power. Now consider the motivations of the low-paid staffers at the start of any campaign – and consider the timeframe of building relationships within the online community.

Rarely do people gain this relationship rapidly – especially in a space where reputation and engagement is highly valued. How long does it take for a relationship to become valued with the members of the community that drives the press and generates interest in a campaign…

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