Saturday, October 04, 2003

BloggerCon 2003 VII

Weblogs in Presidential Politics: Cameron Barrett, Eric Folley, Matt Gross, Joe Jones, and Dave Winer.

Cameron Barrett works on the Wesley Clark campaign. Eric Folley is a representative of the Democratic National Committee. Mathew Gross is chief blogger for the Howard Dean campaign. Joe Jones volunteers for the Bob Graham campaign. And Dave Winer is a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard Law School.

Dave Winer: Here are some ideas to start with: Link to everything. Don't just write about your guy or link to positive press. Bring on pied pipers. Bring in people from the outside who have experience with Weblogs. Independent bloggers on the press bus happened in the Dean campaign. It's OK to have PR people on your press bus, but it's not OK to only have PR people on your press bus. Suggest advocacy guidelines before some of your supporters begin flaming your opponents. It hasn't happened yet, but it's inevitable. A very pragmatic thing, publish your schedule on your Weblog. Something that turned out to be very controversial is that people should stay out of software. Let the software developers make the software. Software should be agnostic. Finally, speak about democracy. Talk about how wonderful Weblogs are for talking about democracy. Talk about Jefferson. Let a tear fall. And offer hosting for people. Those are just some ideas from someone who doesn't support any candidate, doesn't support a party, but does support the use of Weblogs for political campaigns.

Matt Gross: It's absolutely exhausting being the chief blogger for the Dean campaign. I can't emphasize enough how incredible it's been. March 15 we launched the first Dean blog. In June we moved to Moveable Type, and that's when the blog really started to take off. Since June 10, we've had 100,000 comments. Yesterday, we had 2,200 comments. It's really pushed the technology. There's a huge mania that's been built up.

I'd always thought of a blogger as someone who had a site and posted entries. When we launched the comments, people who posted comments were calling themselves bloggers and saying, "I'm a blogger for Dean." At first I thought they got the definition wrong, but it's the users, and it is the grassroots.

Winer: Maybe it's not the form. Maybe it's an attitude.

Joe Jones: I'm 19 first of all. I go to the University of Florida. I was about to come home for the summer, and I learned that Bob Graham was looking for interns. I wrote him and said I could do this and this and this. Then he wrote me back about a month later just before I had to go into for some surgery. When I wrote back, they said they didn't have any more internships, so I went in and asked what I could do. They said I could answer emails.

They learned I knew some HTML and asked if I wanted to take over the blog. I used to keep a journal on Blogger but didn't really know much about it. I taught myself CSS over night and started to fake it. I started to recruit amateurs who were blogging about Graham. It turned into a groupblog. It's all run by volunteers. I'm a volunteer. They wanted to put me on payroll, but I wanted to go back to school. I didn't want to be a dropout for Graham. But I hope it goes well and goes well into the general election.

Winer: How did you start your blogs?

Eric Folley: I've had a blog for a couple of years. Maybe it was something we could put up to get more content out there. The old Web site, as I call it, is mostly news releases, some longer feature pieces. There's a lot of stuff that our people see every day that can't be put out before the public. We were talking about this. After a week of writing HTML and the Perl code for the back end -- we didn't use off-the-shelf software -- we had the initial design and went back to the group. I was expecting us to get the name passed.

Winer: What is the name?

Folley: Kicking Ass. We launched it two days later. Our research department has gotten involved. We got the head of our delegate selection process involved. We got more and more people involved. Ironically, our communications team hasn't posted yet. They like it, but it's taken them a little longer to figure out what to do with it.

We wanted to make it as painless as possible. 18 people have permission to post to the blog. You put something up on a staff blog and people have an hour to get back to you. An hour is a pretty quick turnaround time. One little piece of news that we did break was a story about a group that released a new study about Bush tax cuts and their impact on spending deficits. That's not something we would've done before we got the blog.

Winer: Cameron, did you go after them, or did they come after you?

Cameron Barrett: Until too long ago, I was going to Dean Meetups. I wasn't sold on Dean and started looking around. A former boss of mine whose now the director of technology at the Clark campaign asked me if I wanted to go down to Little Rock. I quit my contract job, and two days later, there I was.

I've been involved in Weblogs for a long time. Like Matt, I find working on a political campaign extremely tiring but also exhilarating. And I plan to keep on doing it.

Winer: You guys are recreating our political system. Let's try that out. How many comments did you say?

Gross: We got 2,200. That doesn't physically bog down, but it's hard to read, so you keep it moving. A month from now, it's going to be even bigger. I've hired two assistants.

Winer: No human being can read 1,000 responses. How do you spread this thing out?

Gross: I don't know of any blog that's reaching this level of saturation. I'm a writer. What are some of the tools? When we win the nomination, how does one deal with the fact that you're going to become one of the largest sites in the United States?

Winer: Let's assume you do become the nominee, what are you trying to accomplish with your blog?

Gross: It's the same message of the candidate. The only way to defeat George Bush is for everyone to become involved and join the dialogue. It really is a two-way street.

Winer: Does it pay for itself? How much has the Dean campaign raised online?

Gross: I don't know the final numbers, but maybe $12 million this year.

Barrett: The Clark finance numbers aren't public yet, but I can say that two thirds of the money was raised on the Internet.

Winer: Cam, do you have any advice for your competitors?

Barrett: We're going to run into the same problem Matt mentioned: Too many comments on a single post. Use the comments to your advantage and get those people to start their own Weblogs.

Christopher Lydon: Is any candidate bloggable?

Barrett: They need to have a personality, be able to write well, and have something to say.

Question: What happens in the back room?

Barrett: It has to be personal.

Gross: I'd agree. On the Dean campaign, there is no committee discussing what goes on the Weblog. What attracts me as a writer to the blogosphere was that as an op-ed writer, the blogosphere has a 15-minute news cycle. That's what's exciting. It's constantly moving. When you slow that down, you reduce the other attraction of the blogosphere, which is the uniqueness of the voices that are out there. There may be multiple voices on a team blog?

Winer: Do you think the DNC blog is a blog?

Barrett: Yeah. It's a good blog. But when the DNC Research Team posts, I'm not interested because I don't know who they are.

Folley: We want people to use their names, but Research fought that and wanted to post as a division.

Gross: The chief blogger is the chief communicator between people who leave comments and the people running the campaign.

Jones: People don't care about policy. People don't have time to know about policy. This is a way to build community and buzz.

Gross: If you're a hierarchical campaign with the command at the top, the captains and the lieutenants, and it just goes down, the blog is nothing but window dressing. Blogging is revolutionizing presidential politics, depending on the internal politics, is the commenting. You get real-time feedback, and you know you're talking as though you're in the room in Burlington HQ. And you are. It used to be that maybe you'd send an email. May make a phone call. Now what you have is lateral communication at the national political level. Certain phrases, things, and ideas come up to us.

Question: I see blogs right now just as buzz. This is the first election in which they're being used, and we haven't seen any results. To be honest, I'm affiliated with another campaign.

Winer: Which campaign?

Gross: Be honest.

Question: Edwards. And if we're only reaching 2% of the population, that's not going to win us a campaign.

Gross: One of the things that's been interesting about the Dean blog is that 70-80% of the people who have come to our site didn't know what a blog was. At the same time, you need to treat bloggers as opinion makers. They have influence.

Dan Gillmor: Expand on that a little bit. The Dean campaign has embraced a lot of stuff they're not responsible for. You've been thrilled with the other people out there. The Clark campaign has not, at least reportedly, treated independent bloggers as well as they would have liked.

Barrett: I wasn't involved in the rift between the Draft Clark campaigns. But I do know that there was a problem legally between one of the Draft Clark campaigns and the main campaign -- and one journalist decided to make a story out of it.

Question: When your candidate wins, what happens to the blog?

Gross: It becomes the White House blog.

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