Dean pioneers ‘net campaign

Teddy Roosevelt was the first national candidate to master the use of newspapers. Mass circulation papers were new at the time.
Kennedy was the first national candidate to thrive on television.
Howard Dean is the first national candidate to build his candidacy using the internet, as cited by the Washington post.
The party mainstream doesn’t get the point yet.
The Washington post article cites skeptics who “argue that a strategy relying on scores of largely unknown, undirected Internet supporters cannot work in a television-driven era that favors well-funded candidates.”
The Democratic party mainstream sees the internet as direct marketing medium (think spam) that raises funds for mass marketing.

“Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said the DNC’s e-mail list has grown from 70,000 to 1.4 million in a few years and will be a major focus of donor development. In a single appeal last week, the DNC raised $100,000 online in a day. In addition, the DNC is testing an “e-patriot” program, aimed at mobilizing activists, and will launch it to more than a million online Democrats this week.”

The Dean campaign thinks of it differently. We have the largest grass-roots organization in America right now, and we are going to try to utilize it,” said Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi. “If television took the grass roots out of politics, the Internet will put it back in.

Social capital and citizenship

Phil Agre, publisher of the Red Rock Eater newsletter, UCLA professor, and long-time writer about democracy in the internet age, has written an essay on social skills and citizenship.
This article is a frustrating blend of insight and blindness.
In it, Agre argues against the overly theoretical tradition of political theory, which describes democratic practices based on ideas of civic virtue, but doesn’t mention the practical skills required to organize politically.
The essay has a good critique of the myth of deliberative democracy, in which citizens debate issues publically in the town council, vote, and decide the issue. Public deliberation is a part of democracy, but public debate is a late stage in a long process in which ideas are defined and socialized, and the terms of debate are negotiated behind the scenes.
Because deliberation is a limited part of the democratic process, Agre says that the main role of the internet in a democracy is not just to deliberate, but to help with the process of issue advocacy, in which “issue entrepreneurs” spend time “identifying and researching emerging issues, distributing analyses of current events to an audience, organizing events, and networking with other entrepreneurs in the issue lattice.”
The article is setting up a false dichotomy here. At some point, advocacy needs to begin with deliberation. The people who develop and distribute propaganda start, at some point, by thinking, discussing, and deciding what that propaganda will be. The deliberation is richer with more people participating.
Overall, the article duplicates the flaw that Agre perceives in other works of political theory. Nowhere does the article mention an election campaign, or the process of passing a bill into law — atomic elements of the political process.
Also, the article expresses a naive preference for individual political entrepreneurs, who organize around issues. The article doesn’t mention fundraising, corporations, or interest groups — the main plot and characters in the U.S. political process. (Consider the recent FCC ruling that reduced limits on media concentration; the commissioners of the FCC, who are routinely wined, dined, and entertained by the media industry, blithely ignored over 700,000 voter comments).
Agre is shocked that the discipline of political science is separated from the practice of politics, yet he commits the same sin himself. The article’s bibliography cites a few historians and dozens of social scientists, but not one politician or political activist.
If the academic paper genre requires writers to cite only other academics, no wonder the ideas of political theory diverge so far from the real world.
via Cosma Shalizi. And thanks to trackback since I’d forgotten the source of the link.

Is Google God? the headline of Tom Friedman’s column today in the New York times. “Says Alan Cohen, a V.P. of Airespace, a new Wi-Fi provider: “If I can operate Google, I can find anything. And with wireless, it means I will be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime. Which is why I say that Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.”
Well, almost. The canonical description of a monotheistic deity is “omnicient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.” (Pagan myths, by contrast, would have pretty boring plots if the gods knew everything and were all-powerful)
Google comes pretty close to “all-knowing” and “omnipresent” with wireless internet access. But omnipotent, nope. Google doesn’t cause anything to happen, so it’s clearly not all-powerful.
Google’s omniscience is missing a few attributes, if you look a bit more closely. Google knows everything about the present, and a lot about the past. But it doesn’t report query results for in dates the future.
Another canonical attribute of divine omnicience is wisdom. Is Google wise? The top search result for enterprise application architecture is Martin Fowler’s book on the subject, which seems like a pretty good call to me.
Google will also tell you all about Jennifer Aniston, too.
The wisdom of the answer depends on the wisdom of the question.

EFF’s Fred von Lohman on RIAA lawsuits

It’s plain that the dinosaurs of the recording industry have completely lost touch with reality,” said Fred von Lohmann, EFF senior staff attorney. “At a time when more Americans are using file-sharing software than voted for President Bush, more lawsuits are simply not the answer. It’s time to get artists paid and make file-sharing legal. EFF calls on Congress to hold hearings immediately on alternatives to the RIAA’s litigation campaign against the American public.
via BoingBoing

Successful blog communities

The Seattle blog portal sparked some reflections about what makes a metablog successful.
Seattle’s blog portal, and the Austin metablog, come out of existing communities. People want to read other people’s posts.
The TopicExchange for the Clickz Jupitermedia Weblog in Business Conference was successful at gathering posts from the conference. I remember the aggregator for Kevin Werbach’s Supernova conference last year was excellent, too.
They were successful because there was a community of people, in the room and outside of the room, who wanted to follow people’s takes on the conference.
Thought that the Sam Ruby wiki should have a trackback aggregator; looks like TimA may have got to it already.
Communication patterns:
* A real-time event with people following in-person and remotely, or
* An active project, where people are working individually and together, or
* An ongoing community, where people are blogging individually and want to stay in touch


At the JavaOne conference, Sun launched, the first commercial developer community to incorporate wikis and weblogs (disclosure: Socialtext consulted on its design). Ross Mayfield covers the announcement, here.
The Java developer community has pre-existing blog and wiki communities, including,, and JSPWiki.
The communities take different approaches. is a classic metablog — a portal which aggregates Java-related blogs using RSS feeds. The organizing unit is an individual java developer with a weblog.
The organizing unit in is the development project. Sun wants existing development projects to affiliate with, and gives them a set of tools including mailing list, weblog, wiki, and cvs.
So far, content is produced using an editorial model: articles from O’Reilly, plus bloggers who are invited in. Any Java developer can sign up to join a mailing list. But you need to join a particular project, or be invited to blog. also plans to use RSS to aggregate content from other communities.
The discussion on the and JavaBlogs shows some classic tensions between a commercial software vendor, which wants to support a community of developers, and developer community, who self-organize, and want support from the commercial vendors.
It will be interesting to see how the communities evolve. Will there be syndication and federation techniques that bridge communities in different locations, or will developers choose affiliations?
Meanwhile, this is a strong sign of commercial interest in the value of weblog and wiki tools in supporting developer communities.
As with the hybrids between independent blogging and traditional journalism, the interesting question isn’t the “purity” of any model. It’s the process of evolution at work creating new variants. The most compelling new variants will survive.

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point is a catchy book that explains how social epidemics work.
* epidemics don’t spread gradually; instead, there is a tipping point that turns a small trend into a mass phenomenon
* small changes can have big results in the outcome
* several types of people: salesmen, connectors, mavens; play important roles in catalyzing epidemics
The exposition isn’t rigorous but the writing is memorable. Gladwell has lively stories and catchy names for the roles people play in spreading epidemics. Stories about Sesame Street and Bernhard Goetz provide colorful illustration for the idea that small changes have a big results.
The lack of rigor bothered me less than it bothered Peterme. The book has footnotes, so readers who want more rigor can go find it.
One peeve with the book is that Gladwell questions common theories of gradual social change; yet takes the cultural constructs of our society for granted.
* people want to be “cool”
* fashion trends begin with the self-expression of outcasts and are popularized through the efforts of mass marketers
* teenagers inevitably experiment with dangerous activities like drugs and smoking
These things are socially constructed. Many of the problems of teen culture can be explained by a social structure where teens can’t do anything useful, and forces them to “spend years cooped up together with nothing real to do.”
Mass marketing is a modern invention; do the same dynamics apply to pre-modern social trends: the spread of religions, technologies, languages?
This reaction isn’t a criticism of the book. It’s a compliment that the book is so memorable that it invites readers to think about whether its ideas apply in other domains.