Keeping it Simple

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 2003-11-17 Print this article Print

Information technology has revolutionized the way political campaigns are carried out and corporations can learn from it. Can better use of the Web carry you to the White House?


Zephyr Teachout has no interest in technology for technology's sake. "We want the simplest, dumbest tools we can get," she says. The idea is to get people working, not to dazzle them, and to get their feedback on what could be done better as quickly as possible.

Take DeanSpace, which was launched in late October. They blog-and-community environment uses the Drupal open source content management system as a platform. It provides all users with simple ways for them to crosslink their sites, simplifying conversations between the opinion generators. Connected through the Really Simple Syndication standard (RSS), the DeanSpace bloggers can subscribe to other blogs and see posts at the other sites immediately in a news-aggregator window. Syndication also shows the Dean campaign whose views are most valued – and active. "If something goes on one site, and it shows up on 50 more, then maybe we put it our site," says Teachout.

Teachout, a native of Norwich, VT, who worked for Dean's 1994 gubernatorial campaign after graduating from Yale, was defending death penalty cases in North Carolina before joining the campaign in early 2003. She seems to take pleasure in going low tech. "There's the Internet, and there's the Web," she says. "The Internet is far more important than the Web." She's talking about things like list serves, unsexy stuff like Yahoo! Groups. "Geeks don't like them, but grandmas do. They're essential," she says.

The idea of posting campaign flyers online, to be adapted for local use and posted in the real world, originated in the mail groups. Now volunteers can print out a two-page flyer detailing Dean's stance on key issues, a list of reasons Dean will win, a one-pager specific to Iowa (that was designed by a Chicago blogger), and so on.

Ideas bubble up from the volunteers. So does talent. Zack Rosen developed the original model for DeanSpace as a volunteer; now he's taking a leave from his studies at the University of Illinois to work as a staffer in Vermont. Another volunteer-generated site aimed at college students, created as Students for Dean, was brought into the campaign organization and rechristened Generation Dean.

When a local group in Iowa came up with a community service plan called DeanCorps, the announcement was inadvertently included in a national press release. People across the country seized on the concept, and it's now one of the most popular local activities. "People love it, they love to get involved in that kind of thing," says Teachout. "It makes them feel politically powerful in an interesting way."

New technologies are still being added. For example, a video-on-the-Web service called DeanTV debuted in late October.

Granted, not every technical frontier has been conquered. How to best use wireless phones is still unexploited. "We have to go at that," muses Rowe. "There are more cell phones than laptops out there, and they are more accessible to some populations. We need to figure out how create a mobile cell phone network."

But Trippi says it's not the technology that matters. It's still people that run campaigns and people who vote. The Internet has just made it easier to connect the two.

In a Nov. 12 email to campaign workers, Trippi put it this way:

"The pundits still don't get it. They see your incredible fundraising numbers - and that's all they understand. But our campaign was not built just by money - it was built by the full participation of you and thousands of others who believe that each of us has the power and the duty to participate in our democracy."

Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.