Dean and the Internet

Calblog provides a link to an interesting story [Ed. — no, I won’t provide the link. Go check out Calblog and get it from her] over at Wired that looks at Dean’s use of the internet:

[B]loggers everywhere are thrilled. Even those who hate the candidate love the way the campaign is being managed. “I’d vote for SpongeBob SquarePants over Howard Dean,” writes Derek James in his political blog, Thinking as a Hobby. But Dean’s organization, James admits, is being run “in a very smart, very democratic way.” Bloggers are fascinated by Dean for philosophical and also parochial reasons. They feel they have a right to be proud. Dean has become the front-runner by applying their most cherished rules for attracting attention and building a social network on the Internet.

“We fell into this by accident,” Dean admits. “I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization.”

I blogged about this a while back after reading a Times article on Dean’s internet campaign. Read that here.

I still say that this is doomed to failure. While the Wired article fawns over Dean’s internet campaign, the article is biased at its foundation. “I like Dean’s pugnacity, his antiwar stance, and the way he is challenging the timorous leaders of his party. A couple of months ago, before I took this assignment for Wired, I sent him a hundred bucks over the Web,” writes the article’s author. I still think that the internet apparatus of his campaign closes the information his campaign is getting. He listens to his hardcore supporters who are already in a mob mentality. They aren’t paying attention to cliffs in front of them.

Three thousand is a small number. But all campaigns depend on a feedback loop, and 3,000 passionate supporters who are connected via the Internet are influential in a way that an equivalent crowd would never be if you had to gather it via direct mail or a telephone survey. Dean’s Meetup members quickly recruited others, and by late March Dean had beaten Witches. Growth followed an exponential curve; Dean’s new supporters contributed money, his piles of money won respect from the media, and media attention pushed Meetup numbers higher. Most of the Democratic candidates who polled in the low single digits a year ago still poll in the low single digits. They never gained momentum. Dean’s early use of Meetup lowered the feedback threshold, just as a good supply of kindling makes it easier to light a fire. In the third quarter of 2003, Dean raised nearly $15 million – most of it in small donations – setting a one-quarter record for a Democratic candidate in a presidential race.

By mid-November, the Howard Dean group on Meetup would have more than 140,000 members, though Meetup would matter less. After demonstrating his fundraising prowess, Dean bagged endorsements from two of the country’s most powerful labor groups, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

But for today, the Internet remains the key engine of Dean’s election bid and he has yet to merge his grassroots movement with the traditional Democratic power structure. I’m here to learn more about what makes his Net campaign work.

The Dean campaign allows too much democratic input. From my campaign experience — which was overwhelmingly successful — too much input from supporters can be a bad thing, particularly when the candidate takes all of the advice to heart.

There are professionals in the business for a reason. Let’s hope Joe Trippi relies on them more. Actually, okay, let’s hope he doesn’t.