Conference Notes Politics

Live from Etech: Digital Democracy Part II

Two more Digital Democracy Teach-In events come and go. The guys from put together a couple of presentations including some useful statistics and a few nice punchlines, but I’m not sure I learned anything particularly new during it. Certainly I didn’t feel my head trying to articulate itself into any strange new shapes. And next up the political weblogging panel, which I’ve decided to abandon almost on principle – not because it’s about weblogs, but because political weblogging as an end unto itself seems to me not to have matured past tabloid tactics of name-calling, mischaracterisation and “Am I right? Am I right?“-style calls to the converted. My general impression of this part of the event is that it’s more aimed at explaining current fairly-mainstream technologies and approaches to politicos rather than looking at the emergent technologies that might interest the geekier audiences (and me).

6 replies on “Live from Etech: Digital Democracy Part II”

Wise choice. The political blogging was comically awful. Only without the comedy.
There is also something quite surreal about giving a-list political bloggers a platform like that. THe only rationale available is: “we listen to these people quite alot – so lets listen some more!!”.

Ok, where to start?
I’m not a Etech so I can’t comment much on the panel, but I didn’t see anything close to an a-list *political* blogger in any of the literature. All I saw where a list tech/social software bloggers, and a couple non-blogging borderline A list political figures. The real A list political bloggers exist in a whole other ecosystem ( and note that the first few are currently mistakes, the political bloggers are certainly not up to Technorati code abilities).
As for “political weblogging as an end unto itself seems to me not to have matured past tabloid tactics of name-calling, mischaracterisation and “Am I right? Am I right?”-style calls to the converted”, that may well be true in the UK, but its very clearly not the case in the US. A few facts:
1- Trent Lott – A bit more then a year ago he held the position of Senate Majority Leader. A quick look at some info the UK parliament leads me to believe this position is roughly equivalent to that of being the Chief Whip in the House of Commons. He no longer holds that post and its almost entirely because of bloggers forcing the story of his racist statement to become news.
2- Audience – The largest US political blogs now have *daily* readerships on par with the biggest *weekly* political magazines. And there are far more large political blogs then political magazines. When it comes to in depth political writing blogs are now the prime medium in the US.
3- Money – Take a look at the weekly rates that the top blogs are charging for ads ( ). Its not a living wage yet but its getting close. Actually Talking Points Memo seems to be pulling close to $4,000 a month which is a living wage for plenty of people. This month saw the first few coordinated mass blog ad buying sprees, and initial results seem quite positive.
Then there are the donations. When Atrios asked for money for a new laptop he raised more then enough in a few hours. And to top it off someone straight bought him one off his wish list to boot. Same thing happened to Talking Points Memo when they asked for money to fund covering the New Hampshire primaries as a full time blogger. He raised more then enough money to cover expenses in only a few hours.
If this space grows there are going to be a significant number people political blogging as a profession within a year.
4- DailyKos ( ) Not even sure where to start with this one. Plasticbag and Joi Ito might strain the MT comment system, but they still function. dKos shattered MT switched over to Scoop (the engine behind and is rapidly growing towards Slashdot dimensions. Its pretty much graduated from the blog category, although some characteristics remain. The community here is large, active and vibrant. It was completely unanticipated, but the users leaped on Scoop’s diary functions and the site now host thousands of blogs.
Visit the site during a major live event like a state primary or presidential debate and you’ll find dozens of people commenting intelligently in real time in an true emergent conversation. Its a remarkable thing to watch unfold.
Then there is the fundraising. Power is far more about the ability to move money then the actual possession. And dKos is in the midst of developing paths to channel political money that have never existed before. Its about to scale up too, read about it here ( )
5 – Bush AWOL – In the 2000 elections this story basically got ignored by the press. But blogs have been pushing it ever since and only in the past couple weeks has it begun to become a real story. And the blogs are still ahead of the press, with Calpundit breaking real ground in the investigation only two days ago ( ). That’s real journalism not tabloid tactics. And it comes from a blogger who until now basically just talked very educated trash and never showed any real journalistic inclination.
6 – there’s more, but I’ve typed enough for now… Suffice to say there is a ton going on in the political blogging world that doesn’t quite get noticed by other parts of the blogsphere.

and this news fresh in. One of the first bulk blog ad buyers is the campaign of Ben Chandler, who is running a special election to fill an open House seat in the southern state of Kentucky. In 10 days of ads they raise $40,000 with the ads costing an estimated $2,500. That’s an impressive rate of return. Even more impressive is the fact that pre internet in all probability very few of those donors would ever have even heard of the campaign, save maybe on back of the newspaper mention.
Yep the political blog space is evolving at light speed.
[ ]

Anno and I tagged the talks as winners of the Private Eye-esque ‘first mention of how 9/11 changed everything’ and ‘first mention of De Toqueville’ awards. The former was utterly specious; the latter was kind of messy out-of-context stuff (it’s good that you can Google for the quote in context).
Anyway, what I ended up discussing instead of going to the political blogging sessions was about the symbiotic ‘buy-in’ that’s required for the role of blogs as a political rebuttal tool or rhetorical ready-reference takes effect. That’s to say, you need more Josh Marshalls who can translate the discourse of the blog-space; or, more heroically, you need sufficient numbers of campaigners to throw their hands in with a net-based model to force an adaptive rather than a reactive model to develop. And I’m hopeful of neither.

Political blogs: a brief guide
Well, voting for the best political weblog in the Guardian awards is now over. It’s all a bit of fun really, and regardless of the outcome, readership to this site is up on average 20% since before the shortlist was…

Comments are closed.