Keeping It Simple

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 2003-12-01 Print this article Print

You may think Howard Dean is a flash in the pan, in a quixotic quest for the presidency. Better pay attention, though. How his campaign has used blogs, meeting services and other tools of the Web has laid bare the essential power of the Internet to make o

Keeping It Simple

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. The blog-and-community site uses the Drupal open-source content-management system as a platform. It provides all users with simple ways 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 unsexy stuff such as listservs and Yahoo! Groups. "Geeks don't like them, but grandmas do. They're essential," she says.

Ideas bubble up from the volunteers. The thought 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, for example, Dean's stance on key issues, a list of reasons Dean will win, a one-pager specific to Iowa and so on.

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

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

In a Nov. 12 e-mail 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.

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