I spent the evening listening to a number of people discussing the
future of the Obama Administration and how technology may enable it. I
live-blogged the event and provide my transcript below:
NYSIA January Monthly Meeting: Government By the People 2.0
Is technology changing democracy? With our panel, we’ll explore that
issue, look back at the presidential campaign, and ahead to the new
administration and look at the many ways that the Internet and
technology is reconfiguring the way citizens connect with politics and
- Josh Levy, Managing Editor, Change.org
- Micah Sifry, Co-founder and Editor, Personal Democracy Forum
- Rachel Sterne, CEO, GroundReport.com
- Tom Watson, Managing Partner, CauseWired
Bruce Bernstein (founder of NYSIA) makes intros and explains to the
audience how NYSIA helps grow small tech businesses in NY. Bruce thanks
Chase for sponsoring, and then intros Howard Greenstein, who has been
running the panels and special events.
Howard opens the event with a discussion on participatory democracy:
there is a potential for significant changes – how much is real, how
much is perception.
The question is: what can we (the entrepreneurs) do to make it
“work” for us. How can we use the tools the Obama Campaign has used and
use it to our advantage (small and medium companies)?
- Tom Watson: new book “CauseWired” (third printing) – came out in
November – online social activism. Politics to non-for-profit causes.
New firm – CauseWired Communications – turn them into Causes.
- Josh Levy: 19 different online social movements at Change.org
- Rachel Sterne: GroundReport.com
citizen journalism platform and make money off the platform. 3500
reporters on the ground. Rachel was a Business Developer at LimeWire
and a reporter on the Security Council at the U.N.
- Micah Sifry: Personal Democracy Forum curator, techpresident.com
blog, consulting with Advocacy Organizations on the Web. Primary client
is the Sunlight Foundation – grabbing ahold of the massive amounts of
the government data and shine the light on what goes on with Congress.
Q: Did social media tech affect the election?
MS: Should the question be about “new media” vs “old media”? If we
focus on YouTube, where candidates were sharing own content, initiating
own events – yes. I believe that Obama would not have won the
Democratic primary without the astute use of Internet technologies. The
Obama team believed they needed to ride the new wave. Normally, the
tactic for winning the Democratic Primary is about tapping big donor
networks, then big media cheerleading for you, then elected officials /
Hillary had all of those things, and Obama won. Obama was able to
continue to tap this unknown area. Hillary was supposed to win the
Super Tuesday race. But it was about the caucus states was about having
the most delegates. Obama organized technology to organize the massive
base of potential support into pyramids across the states. 2 out of 5
in the major swing states. Obama Campaign used their own tools to
mobilize and activate.
JL: that is the most specific you are going to get. At techpresident,
they were charting YouTube usage by the campaigns. What it did was
showed was the fact that the campaign could rout around the mainstream
media. Continue the platforms LONG after the media cycle.
TW: “bottom-up stuff” – Obama benefited from the bottom up. The core
of supporters did their own thing – and ignored the centralized
control. The social network “influenced” the MSM. Self-perpetuating
RS: parallels are occurring in the larger, MSM media – everyone can
participate, everyone can contribute. NowPublic, NewsVine, GroundReport
- MSM orgs are recognizing the benefit of access to the community (e.g.
iReport for CNN).
Q: We keep hearing how media has been routed around, even
subverted by the Obama Campaign – did McCain forget about this? What
happened to the Republician efforts?
MS: Was amazed to see the Repub field fall back from what was happening
in 2004. In Bush 04 – the operation was almost seamless – they gave the
campaign offices control over what they could do in their own
Merging voter list, marketing data and decentralizing to the edges
was much more successful in 2004. Kerry was unable to have the same
technology – and was not as effective.
EDITOR NOTE: I would claim that Kerry’s lack of success in the technology was because of a number of factors:
- We got a late start on technology because the tech people were on
the Dean Campaign and Kerry was not seen to win until the New Hampshire
primary. Without the year head-start on development, the campaign did
not have a strong technology infrastructure and I joined three months
before the Iowa caucus.
- The DNC suffered from a deficit in 2004, and Terry McAuliffe brought the DNC back to solvency by keeping costs down.
- The DNC technology was somewhat underfunded – and did not have the
support as the Republicans did (especially with a Ken Melman who OWNED
a database company)
MS: In 2008, the situation was reversed. On the Republican side, Ron
Paul – enabled a tremendous amount of creativity. For example, the
“money bomb” – timing when the donations came in – became a virtuous
circle – who could generate the most donations to see how we could all
get together and donation and donate on the same day.
In the Republican primary, McCain was the “last grownup standing” -
McCain did not “get the Internet” and carried through with the campaign
organization. His campaign did do targeted ad placement and solid
google ad placement. But the phenomena of “mass participation” is no
longer the realm of the “early adopters”. 1 out of 3 participated in
actions online, 1 out of 4 watched home-grown video, and 1 out of 5
published content on the web.
Obama was doing extremely well on YouTube – of the 150M views on
Obama or McCain campaign videos videos throughout the campaign – 120M
for Obama, 30M McCain. But this was only one-tenth of all videos
generated. Campaign videos were only small portion.
The fundamental issue: the campaign did not just need a production team – but also a solid customer service effort.
RS: I do not think it should be a conversation of who did it better
- Repubs or Dems? Has anyone watched the consumption patterns? Dems
watch online, Repubs don’t? For all of the people not participating -
how are they going to be engaged in the process?
JL: Ruffini acknowledged they (the Republicans) dropped the ball. He
actually posits that there is no difference between parties. Stupidity
in terms of content crosses political parties (doesn’t everyone watch
those silly videos with cats on vacuum cleaners?). People use the tools
that are available to them. Usage of the web for “regular people”?
[EDITOR NOTE: Could we suppose that Dems have more $$$ and time to create videos?]
Q: The general spirit of the Obama Campaign supposedly to
“let the message run free”. But staffers who joined the Obama Campaign
suddenly found their messages were controlled from the top-down. Was
this good or bad?
TW: It was a demonstration of both top-down and bottom-up. So many
people had access to these [social media] tools – those people could
not be controlled. Obama’s Campaign was very well organized -
especially in the caucus states since the campaign had to have a
tightly controlled message to win.
MS: I think we get lost in the discussion about message, rather we
should be talking about organization. In talking with the Obama Field
People – learning that 1) they understood that they had massive
resources to tap (with all of the volunteer outpouring) and could have
responded to everyone with the standard campaign practice (get the
name, call them when we needed envelope stuffing). They understood that
that would be wasting the huge amount of energy.
They built the “organization model” – trained people into the Obama Camps and then created
the Obama volunteer teams. At the ground level, the responsibility to
gathering 5K votes to people that were not paid – because they had been
trained, given a lot of latitude and were constantly being metriced on
organizing effectiveness. In terms of capacity – we should not mistake
control of message as control of organizing or managing.
Q: how could people in the audience to leverage the concepts
from the campaign for their business? What can we learn from the Obama
RS: I think the great lesson learned is the trade-off of top-down to
bottom-up. Not in terms of control, but structure. Get rid of the bad
stuff, and keep the good stuff. An excellent example of a great use of
this concept: Off The Bus on HuffPo (Amanda Michell) allowed some of
the people to
benefit – which provided social structure. Creating rewarding and levels of content.
JL: most applicable – Obama has signaled that he wants to hear from
you. What are your ideas and to vote for your favorite ideas – and who
ever wins gets presented to the Administration. No network of carrots -
more of a free for all – people get to vote for their favorites. Latent
groups get mobilized – for example the marijuana crowd. They have risen
to the top of the list.
Not the “Wisdom of the Crowds” – it has to be as diverse a crowd as
possible – ethnic, class, etc. Proving that a well-organized group can
get their voices heard.
TW: “Everyone is equal” is not true. People that are the most
passionate, most time on their hands are most successful. Empowering
leaders need to do this – need to push the cause.
Q: Be specific – how did you figure out who was creating the
good content and who had the leadership qualities to generate the best
content. How would you best structure the social norms.
RS: With GroundReport – we created:
- rating system / Digg system to 5-star system – only content that is highly rated makes it up front
- abuse button (notifying us when copyrighted material was uploaded)
- On the flip-side: created the “editor program” – anyone was allowed
to apply, given greater power – set pages to draft mode, edit any page
on the site, etc.
- Best solution, we began to pay the contributors – GR has a revenue
share program – everyone who generates content gets a financial benefit
(similar to eGroups PowerList)
[HG talking about Steve Mann - SAP - rating system allows for 1M people can be managed
by 2 or 3 people, rating currency becomes a valuable job effort]
MS: these features are not going to work for what is coming. Tip of the volcano. Change.gov is
not run as a government website. 100K people voting on 70K issues. If
they do this in the Adminstration, they are going to see 100x
excitement. No one has made anything to address this contribution – at
Aud Q: how to use this for a small business? What does it take to achieve this?
TW: in a small org, the crucial aspect is that the head has to be a
“true believer” to do this. Can not outsource this stuff. Must be
authentic. Does not work if outsourced – long run it crashes. Has to
start from the top. [Aud: must have the CEO carve out time]
HG: on the Inc Startup Blog – you can see how CEOs of startups have used social applications that have made this happen.
TW: The Barack Obama Blackberry was a “key moment” in the campaign – a signal to the online supporters that he is “plugged in”.
Q: How many have looked at Change.gov and the questions?
This weekend – Obama Adminsitration has been dodging the top question
from Bob Fertik – war crime trials. Getting the question voted up does
not necessarily mean that you will get any action on this.
JL: two assumptions get made by the participants 1) the target will
yield to the will of the people – this is not true, the target is not
obligated to respond to the question. And 2) people can post what ever
they want and believe they have the right to have it be voted on.
Change.org removed a lot of this bad content. Moderators have to keep
things civil – these people see the elimination of
content/moderation as censorship.
RS: You always have to ask the question: who built the platform and
what were their intentions? BO built a platform for the campaign – this
platform is not designed for governing. Will the BO Campaign technology
platform match what they need in the governance of the country?
MS: I’m still waiting for Democracy 1.0. President is under no obligation to answer questions at
any time – we are fortunate to hear from him when he chooses to. We,
the people only get what we “demand”. We need to force the question
onto the agenda. The Obama Administration has made a number of forward
leaning promises – data, transparency – the Transition Team has been
more transparent. Promise of wikis and blogs. Cabinet Officials are
being requested to use YouTube for Fireside Chats.
Trying to get the Administration to be more responsive. But it still
will be limited bu what the organization wants us to see – even in
Bush believed that democracy was a consultation that occurred once
every four years. We, the people have a new tool in play – more people
can do more things, not as many gatekeepers – very healthy. What we get
out of the other end – is up to us. Not up to the electeds.
Q: iReport using a camera and was showing the use of a camera phone on Burris.
MS:It was fascinating that the camera was used for the people to -
arcane rules of outside the government versus inside the government.
Aud Q: Ted Perlmutter – Wagner School at NYU. What is
eGovernment going to look like? What about the policy side. If you want
to make for efficient government – to get to reasonable strategies,
what should we do? All of these folks are in public policy realm – need
to find a way to communicate the ideas to the community.
MS: reasons to be excited – govloop.com – 20-something federal
worker put it up on Ning – facebook for federal government. Sharing
ideas on how to value public service and such. Signs that the Obama
Admin is going to revive public service – collaborative forms of
Citizen to improve government service. US Patent Office -
peer-to-patent process. Beth Novak from NY Law School. Helping clear
the backlog of content – Beth is with the Obama Adminstration helping
with the ideas of using this content/methods.
JL: new kind of journalism – new advocacy journalism.
Aud Q: Charles from Next Stage – PoliticsOfColor.com – what
do you see are going to be changes in governance in the next four years?
TW: one tangible result – permission from the top of the Exec Branch to
all agencies to allow them to use the social web and social tools.
Not sure to what end, but people are allowed to use them. Will it
free up discussion? Will the general populace make this happen? Obama
will provide an explicit permission to do more.
MS: we will know more about the government. We will have more entry points in participating and improving government.
There will be unevenness within the government – 3M employees.
Aud Q: David in City and State Govt – extremely impressed with the
Obama Campaign. People care about who their President is. John Kerry
could have gotten the same participation. There are a lot of government
agencies chomping at the bit – no one is much coming to you. How can
you listen to the minority?
[EDITOR NOTE: this is the famous 80/20 statement - who in the 80% will speak for the 20%?]
JL: all this talk about tools – we need a cultural shift on how
governing is happening. Having a blog does not guarantee transparency.
People need to have an ethic of BEING transparent. City and state
governments who live on the old model will die off.
RS: motivation to get involved – people saw a real tangible result. Need to replicate this.
Aud Q: Ted Santos – Turnaround Parners – evaluates human resources.
Obama was great with tools for immediacy – real time reports on what
kind of feedback they were getting. Granular information – not sure.
Inside the Obama Campaign, were they using the social network to GOTV
and tracking how issues were being handled effectively?
MS: Obama was a special case – clear vision, did not change the
message, knew what he wanted to say. Not every politician is that good.
Big network effects do not happen in lower lever races. In the NY
Senate – a State Senator had an open-house for bloggers on a Sunday -
100 people showed up.
JL: #1 thing – what is EVERYONE else doing? State Senator realized that the area was
Aud Q: Chris social networks. YouTube just announced HoR and
one for Senate – for speaking to their constituents. Do you think there
will be a rebound for people trying to be getting their message out -
MS: everything but national security policy. Excitement to be open -
24K government websites- 1500 web managers have a web master council.
They are really excited by what the Obama Administration portends. In
the National Security – not going to openly show it, but internal
sharing is there.
Aud Q: Jugan – H1B Tech worker – When people try to
participate in the social networking forums – the H1B visa topic comes
up, it is not popular. With the current hierarchy schemes that are used
to rank topics of interest, what measures are in place that allow for
minority opinions are brought to light. Not everyone has the same level
of net savvy or command of English, what measures are available to be
MS: it is not a fair process.
JL: every website has its own way of dealing with it. We have improved as people criticize us.
Everything we do wrong, we try to improve.
Everyone that are reading those sites are not indicative of the US
audience. If there are not people who are caring about the issue, then
RS: ytes – it is the majority. The Internet is the perfect place to find the community and forum for those topics.
unlimited bandwidth and airtime [Isn't this the echo chamber]
MS: if you can link to a specific question and organize a group of people around it, then you can make this happen.
American political process is not fair – people game the process all
the time. All of the parts are games. Cost of entry is lower,
engagement is easier. Bandwidth is larger – the conversation is somewhat more open. it is better than what we had before.
Aud Q: How do we get the leaders to receive more information?
JL: would love to have this content elsewhere.
MS: Change.org thought only 10 – turned out that sub areas became
important. Tens of thousands of people are self-advocacy has been
(emails have been sent around).
Aud Q: CooperReport.com – do you think witht he new Administration
that we would have known about issues about the “Bridge to Nowhere”.
MS: this is a Congress choice, not an Administration choice. Sunlight
Fondation is trying to get al non-emergency leglisation of the
36 hours before the vote. Chance we will see this more often.
Aud Q: William Sealy – how technology is influencing governments involvement into people’s lives.
Obama’s speechwriter was at a party and looked terrible. Cover of the Washington Post -
within five minutes. How do you think the public cope with the lives of the public officials?
RS: this is less of a political issue, more of a generational issue – public lives are documented online.
Astute they are allowing content online. Tide will shift.
Q: What will be different in a year?
MS: Going to have a commonplace expectation that there is a feedback
loop – members of Congress and the Adminsitration that there will be a
central place for people to comment.
Funny thing about every member of Congress – will they keep the comments open? Bills in public?
RS: I do not know – how slow government changes – interesting to watch
how sophisticated the American public will embrase their own agency and
how the companies will be applying more activity and
JL: stop having panels on how technology is effective politics – it will be like discussing how telephones affect business.
TW: govenrment will be slightly more open, people who supported BO will
be in polite war with him, most change will occur out of the community,
not in government.
HG: Sanjay Gupta announcing on twitter