My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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processing trippi

I just listened to Joe Trippi speak at Etech. Everyone was ecstatic, enthused, wanting more, wanting to see how to extend it further. I was disappointed, reminded of why i feel disenchanted with politics. In campaigns, the measurement of success is how much money is raised, how many people are behind the person, etc. Quantitative bits.

Well, i want qualitative.

What does it mean to have a candidate who can distribute their voices down the Internet channel as well as the TV channel? Everyone gets all excited because the Dean campaign had an interactive communication scheme online. What does that mean? How many people’s opinions were changed this way? Somehow, i get the impression that the digital interactive environment allowed those with the same views to talk to others with the same views. This is *great* for support groups, but dreadful for changing the system.

I remember a conversation i had with Manuel Castells. He was worried that the Internet only segmented people more, letting them self-segregate into gated communities based on similarity. I really took this to heart; i think he’s dead-on. All too often, the Internet lets us find like-minded people and solidify our intolerance to other views. ::sigh::

So, back to Trippi… Great.. the Dean campaign found volunteers online, raised money online. They figured out how to take traditional campaign metrics and utilize the Internet to maximize those. The mass media/Internet certainly motivated the party to pay attention… something new! But did it really change much? The marginalized populations in this country still feel marginalized. The way we run campaigns in this country are so focused on money and power that i think that we lose track of the point.

Of course, the talk was certainly focused on Internet campaigning, not digital democracy. And as a friend of mine pointed out, things like this are evolutionary, not revolutionary. So maybe this is just the first step. But dear me was it painful to hear the defensive justification about how money is spent.

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23 comments to processing trippi

  • Randy

    Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup.com and I talked about this very thing and he was adamant that the value is in the ability to get people activated and motivated. The concept is getting people back involved in the process.

    danah, I agree with you that the metrics are bull-shit, and they should be different. I also say that you get what you measure. If you measure money and power than you will move to make as much of it as possible. It is a shame politicians don’t move to collect moral and just stances, and values. Who knows … someday values and justice may become the more important metric.

    Now with regards to changing the system … sorry. By design the nature of the political system is unjust, and to fix it so it is just and right would take something just short of miracle.

  • I thought this analysis of the Dean campaign was particularly interesting:

    http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/02/03/exiting_deanspace.php

  • Timmy

    The trick is to use the internet to organize action outside of cyberspace. The Dean campaign’s Commons, Letter-writing, and distributed-phone-banking tools are really effective for this, but have received a lot less media attention than other aspects of the campaign.

  • http://www.abstractdynamics.org/linkage/archives/001640.html

    danah boyd on Joe Trippi + Manuel Castells on the segregation of information…

  • Abe

    Been very very sketched out by Trippi ever since I learned he was a daytrader / internet stock hyper only a couple years ago. Looks like he’s done exactly the same thing with the Dean campaign, pump it and dump it.

    I’ve been worried about the segregating effects of the internet for a while, so its both comforting and disturbing to know that someone like Castells shares similar fears.

    At the moment though it seems more like a potential threat then a reality at the moment. I’m pretty certain that amongst people drawn to a tunnel vision view of the world, members of cults, hate groups and anarchist squatters all qualify, the internet certainly is enhancing the tendencies to segregate.

    But at the same time I have a degree of faith that their are counterparts seeking to cross borders and broaden understanding, and the internet is still a good tool for this tasks. Course that’s a faith that’s being tested, I can only hope it holds up the future.

  • Lucas

    Internet campaigning fails for the same reason Christianity fails: it focuses on the man not the plan.

  • What is the effect of the digital campaign? None. The only advantage is that it shows a candidate has heard of the internet. Look what good that did Al Gore who was always banging on about the net being the future. The people who experienced Dean’s campaign because of this are the people who would have been on line anyway, looking to have their opinions about him confirmed. Ergo, it is all a waste of money and a misdirection of effort. Think of what could have been done if the resources were put into the drumming up registered voters who decided not to turn out, etc.

  • It would be easy to lay the blame fully at Trippi’s feet, but it’s not. (I’ll leave aside the money issue; that’s a different matter than the campaign’s effectiveness.)

    We’re treading new ground, like television in the late 50′s/early 60′s. Who then would have predicted the influence of television on the emergence of a Ameri-centric global culture? Who now can predict what will become of campaigning now that cycle times have completely collapsed and financing is no longer the domain of corporate interests?

    There is a transitional period that we must traverse, until some convergence is completed between new and old media, postmodern and modern. I found it puzzling that in spite of the inverse correlation between likelihood of voting and internet usage that so much emphasis was placed on the internet in the Dean campaign. At some point there had to be an equal or growing emphasis in the old media more likely to be consumed by those most likely to vote. An effective campaign must be able to navigate both a new media and old media campaign simultaneously.

    There’s been one other glaring problem with the Dean campaign: all politics are local, and newbie activists/young, untried activists working for the campaign as staffers or volunteers simply did not have the institutional knowledge about local politics to be effective. It’s the point at which the oldest of social software must be engaged; the campaign spent much of its resources trying to make up for a shortfall of which it was unaware. Even knowledge of simple local cultural conventions that would ease campaign efforts wasn’t available to staff/volunteers. This has nothing to do with the internet. Everything to do with the fact that somebody with traditional, modern campaign skills should have been brought on board sooner.

    Agh, there’s so much to say about this, probably better posed as learning opportunity for development of Version 2.0 of this movement.

  • eDem Highlights

    Based on a quick search for “digital democracy” over at feedster, it’s clear that this conference is going to be…

  • I just read the text of his speech. Yuck. All it says to me is that marketeers have discovered a viral method they hadn’t discovered before. It just means that they will infiltrate. I agree Zephoria, he makes it sound like it is all about money. Anything he says about changing the poiltical agenda sounds like lip service.

    It hardly rewrites the political scene. Yippee -the Dean campaign worked out how to switch on their Mac. This is expansion of the marketing that radio, newsreel and tv started. Hurray – this might one day get a middle aged male member of the ruling class elected. Let’s take over the bakery, not worry about the icing on the cake. If we don’t use our power for good we can go the way of tv and radio and become the media of the elite.

  • It is a shame politicians don’t move to collect moral and just stances, and values. Who knows … someday values and justice may become the more important metric.

    But if humans could agree on what is just and moral, then we wouldn’t need politics, and we’d barely need government. Some people think the Iraq war is just, others think it is unjust. Since the beginning of time there have been disagreements about what is moral. People can agree that money is important, its fungability for other things of value is central to its definition as “money”. But there is no agreement about moral politics.

    I know there are cynics who believe that the other side (whatever side they are on) don’t really believe their own propaganda, but from what I’ve seen, talking to people, I’m under the impression that most people who get involved with politics do so because they believe passionately in the causes they support. Feminists and Ronald Reagan and John Lennon and Jerry Falwell all believe in the causes they support.

    More so, most political alliances are fragile – people agree on some issues, but disagree on others, so they have to put aisde their differences and work together. As much as possible, they have to avoid mentioning those subjects where they disagree passionately. An obvious and historic example would be the clash during the 1960s between the old left and the New Left. The New Left believed that women should be allowed to have jobs, whereas the old left had fought for high wages for men at least in part so that women could stay home and tend to the kids.

    Politics is about negotiating compromises among people who can barely get along. Thus it becomes easier to talk about money and votes because they are objective measures, and don’t spark rage in people who want to be allies.

    However, as Danah points out, the talk about money and votes is discouraging for some. To avoid all the issues that spark rage (that is, to avoid all the issues that stir up strong emotions) is to avoid a politics of emotional engagement.

    Can we have a politics that is both emotionally engaging and yet not enraging to those who wish to be allies? Can we find issues that strike deep chords and feel authentic, and yet that appeal to so many people that broad based coalitions can be built around them?

    That is a damn good question.

  • I remember a conversation i had with Manuel Castells. He was worried that the Internet only segmented people more, letting them self-segregate into gated communities based on similarity.

    That is far away from my own experience of the Internet – so much so that I have trouble seeing how this could be the whole story regarding online commucations and communities. I remember coming of age during the 1980s and I was absolutely starving for opinions and debate other than what I was being spoonfed in the suburb where I lived. All news basically came through The New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, or one of the 3 broadcast networks. The conformity of the news sources was stifling, it made me want to scream.

    Things began to change in the early 90s when both Borders and Barnes and Noble decided to become national chains. I will always remember the first time I walked into one of these super-stores, a Borders bookstore near Bryn Marw in Pennsylvannia. They had dozens of political magazines, representing every shade of political opinion. It was a miracle, it was like the whole world had just changed. It was like I’d been dying of thirst, and then I discovered this ocean. Then in 1994 I got on the Internet, and discovered mailists, which was also an improvement.

    Nowadays weblogs let me drink every imaginable stripe of opinion, not only in America, but in any country where people know how to write in English. I can read Crooked Timber to get a variety of British Left perspectives, I can read Riverbend to get an Iraqi woman’s account of how things are right now in Iraq.

    Anyone with the slightest intellectual wanderlust is better fed now than at any time in history.

    This isnt’ to say that communities of special interest are not forming in cyberspace, we all know that they are, and most of us have particpated in them. But that’s hardly the whole story of cybersapce, or weblogs, right?

  • nick

    Internet campaigning fails for the same reason Christianity fails

    One has to laugh; for all the philosophical and scientific objections to Christianity, two thousand years of development can really not be called a ‘failure’ from the point of view of someone with three-score and ten years (on average) to rack up on the planet.

    Anyway. Is the Dean campaign to be a Moses or a John the Baptist or something else? That’s to be seen.

    and danah: Castells, I think, has developed a slightly more nuanced and optimistic attitude in recent years; at least he sounded that way when I asked him a similar question. Track me down at Etech and I’ll explain in more depth.

  • Danah, everyone?

    I found the Trippi talk disappointing because he pointed fingers. He blamed the media and the primacy cycle. He didn’t take responsibility for the disorganization in his own campaign and the lack of precinct organizing savvy that made the Dean get-out-the-vote effort less effective than Kerry. He didn’t take responsibility for communication failures and flaws. After all the candidates had taken up the anti-war message, he didn’t move on to other issues like health care and fiscal responsiblity.

    It was all somebody else’s fault, none of it was the responsibility of the campaign or the candidate.

    I thoroughly agree that much more can be done by enabling groups to self-organize. But when you’re running a presidential campaign, your guy needs to get more votes on election day. The Dean campaign didn’t do that.

    If we want to use the internet politically, we need to close that gap.

    Money corrupts. Campaign culture has become mostly about the money. So-called grass-roots organizers who talk mostly about the money, not the community or the change they want to bring, are bragging about the price tag on their soul.

    I hope the mood isn’t to hail Trippi leader and martyr, but to be grateful for what the Dean campaign did with some of the energy and motivation, and resolved to figure out how to make it work in the longer term.

  • David Weinberger said something great about the so-called “echo chamber.” Some of the time you want to talk to people who are different and learn from them. Some of the time you want to find supporters, energize supporters, and acheive a goal. You don’t have to do both things at the same time.

    To reduce discrimination against queer folk, the people to organize with aren’t the rabid Christian right, they are likeminded and sympathetic people. Over time, also increase the number of like-minded and sympathetic people through experience and persuasion.

    When you’re learning and coalition-building, it’s good talk to everyone and find common ground. When you’re trying to achieve the goal, you find allies, co-ordinate with them, cheer with them.

  • David Weinberger said something great about the so-called “echo chamber.” Some of the time you want to talk to people who are different and learn from them. Some of the time you want to find supporters, energize supporters, and acheive a goal. You don’t have to do both things at the same time.

    To reduce discrimination against queer folk, the people to organize with aren’t the rabid Christian right, they are likeminded and sympathetic people. Over time, also increase the number of like-minded and sympathetic people through experience and persuasion.

    When you’re learning and coalition-building, it’s good talk to everyone, find and create common ground. When you’re trying to achieve the goal, you find allies, co-ordinate with them, cheer with them.

  • Is it called the echo chamber effect because you posted it twice? Just kidding, Adina. I think it is true that the online networks we create are partly about meeting with similar minds, and partly about coming into conflict with others to either change their minds, have our minds changed, or to produce a synthesis of ideas.

    Apophenia, although I see what you mean about worrying that the web just helps create further gated communities, you could also argue that the alienation of modern urban life justifies coming online at the end of the day and finding people of a like mind. You may have just spent all day working in a office with people you don’t like, for a business you hate the principle of, for a token wage which doesn’t reflect your value in society. I think coming online to find people who will give you a foot/brain/ego rub is a good way to relax. And plot the downfall of the western world.

  • The Castells comment, apparently at odds with the notion of the Internet as breaking down boundaries, is merely a reflection of the “reversal” media law – breaking down boundaries is the extension/enhancement. There are, of course, two more to consider – obsolescence and retrieval (the latter often being the trickiest to discover.) So there is no inconsistency to the student of Marshall McLuhan.

    With respect to the Internet-powered Howard Dean Campaign, we are retrieving 1960 again, the first real use of television’s effects. It took a number of years before we really figured out how to do “broadcast politics” really well (“well” being a relative term), and it will take a number of years before we figure out how to do network politics really well – essentially gaining a new form of active engagement. The other thing to note is that the mass-media television networks have tremendous vested interests in continuing their style of “network” politics, as much as the RIAA has a vested interest in continuing the sale of plastic-coated aluminum disks as long as possible.

  • I think my main worry is that yes an effective way will be found to mobilise political will and influence opinion via the net, but that it will be found not by us here, but by the forces of darkness who found a way to exploit tv and radio for the means of sustaining vested interests rather than using them to help found democracies in Europe and north America.

    I understand the argument that the net is a whooly different medium, that it is infinite exponential and by its very nature underground. But there is no telling how that might be subverted in the future. Did John Logie Baird know Hitler would be using TV with a decade? Can you imagine the governors of the BBC in 1945 believing the market forces could ever exist which have led to Murdoch owning half of the world’s TV?

    Unless we use the potential the internet and associated networks then we will lose it to people who think at best its optimum use is raising a few bucks for Dean, and at worse want to impose a catastrophic constriction on all media.

  • processing trippi

    I just listened to Joe Trippi speak at Etech.

  • A note on the Digital Democracy Teach-in

    This Monday I attended the Digital Democracy Teach-In at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. Originally I was going to tag along on Britt Blaser’s introductory session to talk about campaign games, but at the last minute Joe Trippi signed on…

  • I have found it so in many social settings: a certain number of people drawn to an activity are also drawn to warning others drawn to that activity about how unrepresentative, cut off, marginal, statistically tiny, they (we) are. It allows for being outside and inside at the same time.

    Two posts for you folks:

    The Tripping Point
    http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/02/12/point_trippi.html

    Trippi Didn’t Say What Reuters Said He Said
    http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/02/14/reuters_wrong.html

  • eDem Highlights

    Based on a quick search for “digital democracy” over at feedster, it’s clear that this conference is going to be…