Conference Notes Politics Social Software

Live from Etech: Joe Trippi…

Rapid recontextualisations make my head hurt. Nonetheless today I’m not in Los Angeles having fun with friends in drag. Today instead I’m watching Joe Trippi talking about American politics and the consequences and effects of the Dean’s internet-enabled online fund-raising and campaigning tools. The basic conclusions of his talk are quite simple:

  1. Broadcast media was supposed to give people greater access to democracy, but instead it’s failed us completely;
  2. All it meant was that to persuade people in the country, candidates had to go to the people with the real money in order to buy screen-time;
  3. Let no one believe that campaigning isn’t about the money – it is;
  4. We have to give the ownership of politics back to the people;
  5. The only medium that can restore that ownership back to the people – both in terms of getting funds raised from the grass-roots and getting home-grown organisation happening among the people – is the internet;
  6. If the people are paying for the campaign then special interests have less impact;
  7. The tools weren’t there a couple of years ago, but they are now;
  8. The press are describing the Dean campaign’s online strategies as a failure – as a ‘dot-com crash’;
  9. But how can it be? They raised an enormous amount of money from the grass-roots, and a year ago Dean was absolutely nowhere.
  10. That now we have to find new tools in order to help this kind of people-owned democracy happen in the future.

The weirdest part of the session was the pretty-much standing ovation at the end of the event that revealed the whole thing to be (as suspected) pretty much more of a political rallying speech towards the web community than a descriptive or didactic piece. Nonetheless, some interesting insights in amongst the passion.

One thing that did occur to me, though, was whether or not – given the importance of money to politics – the BBC could possibly think about adding a fund-raising tool into iCan. I can imagine the outrage that could surround that, but it would be tremendously interesting and useful to have an independent arbiter displaying nothing but statistical information about candidates and political parties and then helping to actually engage the general public by allowing people to donate money directly to a campaign.

Another thing was how useful UpMyStreet Conversations could be in terms of poltical campaigning (or at least political organisation). I think I might have to introduce the concept into the proceedings at some point. It’s not a system that would necessarily work terribly well in the US – given that their ZIP code system is so radically different from UK Postal Codes – but in principle I think it could be a tremendously useful mechanism for getting campaigners in contact with one another, for advertising and promoting events and for having local discussions about policy. [Although I guess if it was possible, someone might have done it already, given the fact that apparently Clay Shirky introduced Al Gore to the site a year or so ago].

Addendum: Please forgive me for the obvious and rampant discontinuity of posting styles – drag-act nurse babes (hey Sean) and American Politics / technology may not be obvious bedfellows. Although come to think of it, I’m sure there are associations and relationships that could be drawn between the two…

13 replies on “Live from Etech: Joe Trippi…”

Right Method, Wrong Man?
Tom Coates is visiting the U.S. from London and giving his observations on the election. He believes that the press has mischaracterized the Dean Campaign as a “dot-com crash” because it is an easy metaphor…and that the internet can successfully…

What’s the difference between UK and US ZIP codes? In the US, they’re all in numerical order by location in columns across the country, with the 10000s being up by Maine, the 3000s down here in Florida, and the 90000s being in Southern California. (I’m not sure what Alaska or Hawaii are.)
I kinda thought one of your ideas about UpMyStreet involved activist organizing, actually, since it kinda seemed a natural.

Certainly one of the plans was to allow people to self-organise around issues in their local area, but it occurs to me that it might be a really good kind of tool for a political party to run across a country. For example, can you imagine the Conservative party (for example – since they’re more distributed over the land being a rural party) having a dedicated version of UpMyStreet Conversations to help them connect campaigners and key workers across the country? They could have something on their website saying “meet up with and connect with campaigners in your local area” and could get a few hundred regular campaigners to publicise events on it, and put out appeals for help and stuff. It could work really well…

We actually tried something like this at The Gay Vote at the last election — which, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the more apathetic polls of recent years, so I never really got to find out whether it didn’t take off because it was a dud idea, because we didn’t have a critical mass of users, or just that people weren’t motivated enough.
Basically, people who registered on the site saw their “home” constituency — and also were able to communicate with other people in the same constituency via the site. Any member could mail any other; you could view and contribute to on-site conversations on any constituency; and you could mass email all other members in your constituency only.
It’s been an ongoing (and unfortunately *extremely* part-time) project of mine to revive that section of the site once we decided to bring The Gay Vote back online as a general resource, rather than (ahem) a general election one. It’s kind of nice to know that other people are thinking along the same lines.

There is/was a US version of UpMyStreet Conversations that actually came out before your work. I was half-heartedly pitching the idea of a UK version around when you got yours out the door.
The name was possibly zip[something].com, and was possibly started by an ex-CNet person in the Bay Area. Or maybe it was just reported on CNet. It had a green swoosh in the logo.
Hmm. I’m normally better at remembering obscure URLs than this. I’ll see what I can dig up.
I seem to recall that US zipcode data is easier/cheaper to get than UK postcode data too, if you’re in the mood to code something up quickly…

ZIP+4 is about the equivalent of the UK postcode; right now, the five figure ZIP code is about the equivalent of the first three characters of the UK postcode. That’s to say, my current ZIP of 28806 is about the same size and population as the TS8 area I used to inhabit…

I don’t think there’s any way iCan will stray near campaign finance. I, too, see political tools potentially being plugged into UpMyStreet Conversations, though.

The problem with the ZIP +4 thing in comparison with UK postcodes though is that almost no one in the US knows their +4 postcode, unlike the UK postcode system. This is also probably because it’s a nine figure number rather than a six character digit. Also the UK postcodes have an apparent logic to them, which isn’t as obvious in the US. And then there’s the question of how often the postal codes change and how you’d track those changes. Although I take your point – Nick – in principle you could buld a UMS Conversations in the US – it’s just I’m not convinced it would be easy for people to use.

Um, I don’t think ZIP codes change. I’ve never heard of them doing so. Telephone area codes change. And I seem to remember hearing about the 4 digit suffix changing on someone once, but that’s such an ill-formed memory I wouldn’t trust it.
The postal service does make using ZIP+4 on websites seem easy:
Oooo — and actually, they *do* change, according to one of the pages in this handy link-cluster:
Namely, this one:
It just doesn’t happen too often. Apparently, the gov’t uses ZCTAs instead of ZIPs to collate data — ZIP Census Tabulation Areas. And that last page does have tools for dealing with ZIPs & addresses.

Actually, I agree with you, Tom — I was mainly making a factual comparisong for those in the States who don’t have a sense of the average size of a community defined by a postcode.
The big problem with ZIP+4 (beyond the fact that no-one knows their +4) is that the code’s specificity combines with the more widely-dispersed population in the US — and, basically, a commuter culture, as seen by the number of suburbs without pavements out front — to make the links much more tenuous. Meaning that you’re more likely to make community connections on an issue-based or interest-based model (i.e. than on the location where you sleep.

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