Thursday, February 05, 2004

Clay Shirky on Howard Dean and the Internet

I am a regular and avid reader of Corante's Many 2 Many group blog; some of the best in the business, including Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield, and Dave Weinberger are regular contributors.

Despite the very high level of ongoing content creation, Clay's recent piece on Howard Dean and the Internet stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is an absolutely brilliant piece, and contains key insight after key insight. Below are a few teaser excerpts; rest assured that despite the pithy bromidic nature of my quotations, Clay supports each of these in full and fascinating fashion:

"The press has a way of running fast epidemics, where an idea virus runs its course quickly, leaving everyone inoculated in its wake."

"The first time Dean appeared on our radar was when 300 people showed up for a Howard Dean MeetUp in New York City in early 2003...We were right to be excited about this MeetUp, but wrong about the reason, because MeetUp was founded to lower the coordination costs of real world gatherings... The size of the MeetUp in NYC was as much a testament to MeetUp as to Dean... it created a false sense of broad enthusiasm. Prior to MeetUp, getting 300 people to turn out would have meant a huge and latent population of Dean supporters, but because MeetUp makes it easier to gather the faithful, it confused us into thinking that we were seeing an increase in Dean support, rather than a decrease in the hassle of organizing groups."

"Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Generations of zealots have tacked these words up on various walls, never noticing that the two systems that run the modern world – markets and democracies — are working right precisely when they defeat these attempted hijackings by small groups."

"Money does not in fact buy votes, as candidates like Michael Huffington and Ron Lauder have shown — you can be very rich and still very lose. In Dean’s case, though, the effect was compounded by two other effects from above. By moving campaign donations online, they made it much easier to donate, so much easier in fact that raising millions from individuals was never the sign of strength we thought it was. (Support isn’t votes.) Like MeetUp, a lot of what the campaign achieved was by lowering the threshold to contributing, which helped create a false sense of strength."

"Since the 1970’s, anyone who has looked at the cultural effects of the internet has picked the same key element: the victory of affinity over geography. The like-minded can now gather from all corners, and bask in the warmth of knowing you are not alone... Voting, though, is the victory of geography over affinity. Deaniacs in NYC could donate money and time, blogging like mad or tramping through the cold to talk to a handful of potential voters, but they couldn’t actually vote anywhere but NYC. Iowa was left up to the Iowans."

Absolutely brilliant stuff. There are more real insights in this single piece than a week of the New York Times' editorial page. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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