I'm a political junkie. I admit and I've been politically sober for....ummm....a lot of years. Its important to admit it. I was in politics once and now I'm not but nothing gets the blood rushing to my head (you figure out which one) like political discourse and, with the rapid accession of technology and sudden interest in customer engagement a.k.a. constituent relationship management a.k.a. CRM (thank you, Barack Obama) and the revivification of a 60s-like environment in the U.S. its all good and exciting and I LOVE IT! For awhile now, I've had a spotty (but soon to be official) relationship - far less than I'd like - with the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet (IPDI), a think tank associated with George Washington University. In fact, I like these folks so much that I'm going to be the 2008 Practitioner Fellow for IPDI and I'm proud of that. They are concentrated on the application of web technologies and social constituent strategies to the electorate and I'm proud of being associated with the thinking. Which brings me to what I'm going to be jotting on here: The just finished 2008 Politics Online Conference.
Politics Online 2008 - Tipping Point or Tippling PointOn the balance, day 1 of the conference which was all I was able to attend due to work that I needed to do, was extraordinary with 600 of the most concerned, lively attendees I ever encountered. I have something of a political past and I saw a plethora of the idealist variety of politico - of course mixed in with the usual politic self-aggrandizing type who's in it for the "whatever they are in it for". But this is a younger crowd and IPDI brings that exuberance and social concern out - so that's who predominated. Exciting for an old child of the 60s like me - especially when I saw how they debated the issues that technology brought forth. My expectations on this were sky high and other than the opening plenary session, which I hated, it was amazing. I'll spend some time speaking to why I hated it and then more time telling you about the rest of the conference which more than made up for the "defensive contrarians" on the initial panel that opened the conference. Before I get into it, let me tell you that the work done by the Director of IPDI, Julie Barko Germany (and her staff and partners) was abso-friggin'-lutely spectacular. The level of conversation was something that was balm for the soul and fire for the heart - because it was typically (with some exceptions) about the application of technology for social good in the political realm. These were people who not only thought about the technology as cool but saw it as applicable to solving greater problems in the world - hunger, global warming, etc. They were Republicans, Democrats, representatives of every campaign, federal, state and local offices, party organizations and advocacy groups galore. There were technology vendors, of course, like Blue States Digital who seems to lead in developing state of the art political digital environments - though that is observation, not core analysis (that will come some time soon). But the discussion and buzz around how to utilize social media, CRM and social networks for campaigns, congressional offices, advocacy ad infinitum, was intense and bracing and fascinating and made one (me) want to roar back into action. So, as I listened to the plenary session in the AM, my dismay began to rise as I heard two academic elitists - meaning people who were more interested in defending their quirks and their positions by rising to the level of obnoxious than providing anything of value to the 600 eager listeners in the audience. What was horrible was the arrogance of all but the Google guy (former DNCer Bob Boorstin). I'm not going to give you their names but will call them the USC guy and the "So-Called Futurist." Their fundamental premises were cynical and they treated the audience with disrespect - and had little of value to say. For example, the USC guy bristled over one of the audience saying that 70% of internet traffic was porn and he almost yelled at the guy saying that this was untrue and that a recent USC study proved it was 40% - like that actually mattered. But even more was his assertion that with the rise of ubiquitous computing and the ability to increasingly personalize content delivery, he was afraid of "balkanization" - meaning that you would only receive the opinions and ideological statements and "stuff" that you wanted to hear - and he PROUDLY showed how noble he was with "I listen to Rush Limbaugh every day" - as if he deliberately exposed himself to dangerous toxins each day in the interests of free discourse and contrarian opinion maintenance and purity. While sitting there, I wondered what planet he lived on. Did he ever have sex with another person or go to a conference with 600 people or interact beyond third party communications? If you don't live 100% on the web and can't control all the activity that gets pushed to you AND you in fact, actually meet with other humans out there, then the odds of you never hearing opinions that aren't filtered toward your thinking are about ZERO. We are humans. We interact. We differ by a lot or a little but we differ - all of us. There is NO way his so-called "balkanization" can happen because we live in a society - and we will personalize all we want on the web and still hear contrarian thinking. Way the world works, bunky. The "So-Called-Futurist" was actually more offensive. He not only threw technology terms like WiMax and RFID at IPv6 at the audience without any clear explanation as things that will impact us greatly in the next 18 months but then got into this weird ubergeek discussion about trust, privacy, etc. that led him to say the best way to deal with these issues was by never joining social networks. He was SO proud of this. First, I doubt that the implementation of IPv6 or WiMax will be effectively even near complete within 18 months. For example, Sprint, who was the big pusher of WiMax and planned a 3 billion dollar investment, effectively withdrew that idea and investment sometime in the last few months because they began to see the issues that it brought up. While IPv6 is certainly the way to go, its impact won't be felt for awhile, because at the moment, there is a perception that we have sufficient room in the internet address space to hold on for a bit. He was saying what he was saying because he likes hardware and he likes to show off to audiences. His cynicism was blatant besides. His "I don't join social networks so I don't have to deal with issues" was no different in concept than a recluse who thinks the human species is 'dirty" and the best way to deal with it is to avoid it. Ugh.
But The Best Was Yet To Come - And It DidOkay, that gets rid of the ONLY blight on this wonderful event. Because the rest of it more than made up for these misogynists. The bulk of the rest of the day was breakout sessions and I attended two and at the same time moderated one of them.
Going to School and Learning Something Important - Two Times In A Single DayI attended two of the panels in breakout sessions - one on the development of mobile social applications and another on the application of social networking to political campaigns. While both were great, I want concentrate (for space and time reasons - though not the existential variety, the pragmatic - meaning I don't want this to be too long nor do I have much more time write it) on the latter not the former.
Social Networks - Political CampaignsThis panel was run by my friend and colleague, TechPresident blogger and key player at the Center for American Progress Alan Rosenblatt. Also, I might add a truly discerning drinker of single malt scotches. On his panel he had the social web jefes from Ron Paul's campaign, Rudi Guiliani's campaign, John Edwards' campaign, and a guy from Fred Thompson's campaign. As Alan pointed out, Clinton and Obama weren't there because that happened to be the day of the Ohio and Texas primaries so they were kind of tied up. This was packed and fascinating and buzzed the whole time. The discussion was about the application of social networks to campaigns and the lessons learned when it came to failures and successes in how to do them. Justine Lam, Ron Paul's key web strategist, pointed out that he had 84,000 Facebook friends, 106,000 Meetup connections and 109,000 MySpace friends and that level of connection was one of the key reasons that he was able to raise the kinds of funds he did - $20 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 for a campaign that couldn't win. She made the point that actually only Richardson and Obama built their own social networks (though I'm not sure that's the case) but they found that $1 million quotes to build one were too high so that they did more of a reach out and work with existing social networks. Many of Paul's supporters were already on the web - marginalized (her term, not mine) programmers and others who were Libertarians or anti-war Democrats or youth for whom "freedom" resonated as a message. The value of this was that by intersecting social networks of those who were likely to support him, the supporters took ownership of the campaign from the ground up. Guiliani's approach was too late and too little but there was a plan for social networks. The campaign developed a Team Rudy social application and the results were amazing - within a month email signups tripled and fundraising escalated to the point that at the nadir of the campaign (Jan 2008) they had their best fundraising month. But, as she pointed out, a bad message or bad strategy still trumps a web presence. The John Edwards campaign had a web strategy built around integration, interaction and accessibility. They were unique in their creativity too. THey sponsored a contest with Eventful that worked kind of like this
- Demand Edwards on Eventful in your community
- Ask Edwards question
- Then based on Eventful numbers someone won and Edwards would directly and personally answer the question you asked.
Making Data Actionable, DudesI was the moderator of a panel that wasn't all that exciting by name, but ended up being very exciting due to the participants. They were:
- Bob Greenberg - President of GH International (a forty person company) and the leading homeland security consultant in the U.S. - with a strong focus around the use of social technologies in homeland security (and he's my brother)
- Bruce Culbert, CEO of Isymmetry and the former head of BearingPoint's CRM and Supply Chain practices; creator of IBM E-business
- Scott Rogers, Senior Director of Customer Initiatives at David's Bridal - a practitioner star
- Thomas Vander Wal, the inventor of social tagging and President of InfoCloud Solutions - a Web 2.0 legend