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Keynote: Jonathan Abrams

Filed in: culture, SXSW2004, Web, Tue, Mar 16 2004 21:04 PT

Pud introduced Jonathan Abrams. Abrams is wearing a “dirt bag” t-shirt. He likes the story that his girlfriend dumped him, and so he created the site to get laid. He says “it’s a little more boring than that.” Friends of his in 2002 were talking about using online dating sites. He had been connected to online dating long ago in Toronto, and said, “The problem wasn’t that they were missing photos. The problem was that they were missing women.”

The idea was to create a dating site that wasn’t a dating site, so people would be more comfortable (and “less desperate”) while using it. It was just a filter, “a different way of meeting people on the Internet.”

He loves Craigslist, and says that the anonymity there is an important part. But that’s not what they’re looking for on Friendster. Friendster is about your real life and interactions.

He had the idea, floated it to friends in March 2003, and saw some really interesting interactions, such as venture capitalists chatting up dominatrices, married men chattting up single women, and so on. (Seems it’s always the men chasing after the women, or the men after the men. Plus ça change…) He did say there are more women on Friendster than men.

Friendster was designed to be simple. He ridiculed people who want to have RDF this and interface that. He wants to have “regular people.”

“Everybody wants to create a viral service.” Friendster transcends viral marketing, on to “viral nagging.” Peer pressure to get on, to fix profiles, etc.

Then there’s the definition of a friend. “We do need some way of organizing this,” he says, although the concept isn’t very palatable.

“It collides your world together, for better or worse.” That is, no more blind dating. It collapses time and space. (A friend once explained his hookup site as “a replacement for time, tact and courage.” I’ve always thought this is a perfect match for Friendster, myself.) Lately, on Friendster, they’ve been setting access controls, but he doesn’t think there’s a technological solution for putting up a firewall between your professional life as a blogging accessibility geek and your personal life as a hardcore porn actor. Or something. Shut up. Stop reading this. This is not about me. Move along!

There are “Friendster addicts.” There’s the typical frenzy that dies off after a little while. But “people care about people.” John Kerry created a profile on Friendster. They’ve gotten big references from various media outlets.

“I think we’re all tired of things that end with -ster.” Amen, bruv.

He recalls Ryze in 2001, which was a business networking site. Social networking is now used to refer to sites that only have a few properties in common. Consumer companies, salesforce management, lots of stuff. Some people talk about social networking when they refer to MeetUp, or what they do in person, and that’s not what he calls social networking software. Maybe people will stop talking about it soon.

They will not charge people to login, or contact people. (There, you happy?) He mentions that new tools are going to be added to the system, but no details.

Lots of questions to things: gaming the system (see? It happens.), spam, etc. But, like, that’s why they’re hiring, right?

Question time. Is there a likelihood that people could use Friendster to connect with underage people? Yup. It’s already a problem with sites like this. But you can trace things back, unless there is a large number of false nodes that can’t be traced.

What about Six Degrees? He said it wasn’t really an inspiration for Friendster. It could have been a timing issue, that it was too early. Though they do have a patent that’s been bought by some LinkedIn investors which could be its legacy.

Someone asked about Friendster transforming this and that. Abrams discounts that. The goal was to “lower the level of stupidity on the Internet” to what you normally find in regular life.

He said there’s a phenomenon of people watching the status of people they’re interested in, and suggests a premium feature to track people’s profiles. Big laughs.

Fakesters? There are two kinds: affinity groups, like college grads, and they’re working on adding that kind of functionality. Then there’s obscenity, copyright infringement, and those just have to go because of liability issues. Overall, the abuse issues are really low on the site.

Any affinity groups based on health issues/illnesses? He doesn’t know. It may be happening, but he doesn’t know of it.

Predictions for opening up the platform to third parties? He’s exploring what he can do with Web services and APIs. But they have to deal with privacy and security issues.

And with that, I’m off to Los Angeles. Peace!

Bruce Sterling

Filed in: politics, SXSW2004, 20:45 PT

This is my first SXSW, so apparently this talk is a yearly phenomenon. Bruce Sterling holds forth on basically anything that is interesting to him at the moment. It’s a roller-coaster ride that takes you from politics to software to geography to bioterrorism and back to politics again. So my notes are, well, not as good as the others. Sorry.

“Job 1 in the Bush administration is to get it spun… If you get it spun, then you don’t have to get it done.”

Bruce says that India is having a hell of a year. They’re getting rid of diseases, industry is firing up, they’ve got New Bollywood movies like Kalho Naho, selling actors’ clothes online.

He pumped up Gilberto Gil. “He’s the weirdest politician in the world right now.” Touring all over the place, getting third-world people wired, trying to “preside over the tropicalization of digitization.” Brazil is setting a lot of trends.

He segued into how the Internet is “falling apart at the seams” – “spooks” finding new ways to spy on us, people getting exploited just to send spam to others, and Microsoft email clients. “Outlook? This is like a flaw with a mailer attached to it.” Imagine what it’s like, he says, to be in China, and find all of this filth and dishonesty. The officials are incompetent to clean up any of it, and “it makes me indignant. I’m angry about it.”

He mentions Scott Ritter: “He was 100% Cassandra” when he shouted about finding weapons in Iraq. He ended up being buried in public (I’d have said “assassinated”) even though it turns out he’s probably right.

People are tired of being fed lies… it’s a dismal business.

Sterling was talking about khat, a drug popular in Somalia (I think he said it’s a “fuck-you-up narcotic”) that Americans wouldn’t touch.

Panel: Blogging, journalism and politics

Filed in: blogging, politics, SXSW2004, 17:45 PT

Joel Greenberg, the moderator, set the scene. There are 1,060,000 bloggers. 61k news analysts, reporters, and correspondents. 106k editors. 42k writers and authors. 136k public relations specialists. Two things he points out: more bloggers than all others combined, and more PR people than reporters and writers combined.

Sean-Paul Kelly of the Agonist: Showed today’s Austin American-Statesman, and how few stories on the front page are really of importance. Bloggers are “leading journalistic indicators” driving stories into the mainstream press.

Cameron Barret: The media spent all this time on Janet Jackson and not enough on actual issues.

Castellano, a radio host from KOBJ: Big mistake is that the people believe everything they read. Blogging serves a purpose, but there are so many alternative media that they can get online. Alex Jones, for example, is a nutcase (my word) in Austin who has a large audience. She was really down on blogging in general, and didn’t believe that it had any effect on traditional media (an observation that runs counter to evidence). Really came off sounding like someone trying to preserve their career path, rather than engage with the outsiders.

How soon will blogging be associated with other senses? (Me, to a neighbor: “this blog tastes terrible!) Barret: Audio and video bloggers are already out there. Other senses aren’t defined yet. Greenberg: Cheap stuff allows people to do this more easily.

How did Wesley Clark pay attention to the blogs? He was very aware of it, and why they were doing it. He sent in blog postings via his BlackBerry. Castellano talks about Dean’s blog, and how its failing was that it was preaching to the choir, so not a good approach to gathering new voters.

Kelly: Wolf Blitzer said that blogs are the left’s equivalent of talk radio. (Yeah, but it’s also the right’s equivalent of talk radio.)

Kelly commented in relation to a question that the editing process helps to take emotional reactions to, say, freebies, out of mainstream media, and bloggers don’t have that. Ergo, objective reporting is less likely. Barret adds that blogs need to be edited. “People want good writing. People want good opinions. The more you edit it, the better it gets.”

Someone asked how to get the people online to act offline. (Which is something I brought up to Zach Exley of MoveOn the other day.) Cameron Barret mentioned he’s been hired by the Kerry campaign to work on software to facilitate offline discussion and action. He said they were going to have materials available to people who lived in rural areas, were less educated, etc. (I really hope he doesn’t end up selling people short just because they’re not reading a blog. It’s more than just dumb hicks that they have to reach out to.)

Kelly says the primary interest in papers should be to inform people. Profit motive should be secondary.

T-shirt idea for SXSW speakers

Filed in: culture, SXSW2004, Web, 06:08 PT

I know you’re blogging this.

Panel: Digital preservation

Filed in: culture, SXSW2004, Web, Mon, Mar 15 2004 22:34 PT

Out of Gas by David Goodstein: “we may have rendered the planet unfit for human life” Adam wants to make sure we have something to leave behind for future cultures. Platform obsolescence, cost of migration, and flawed or gamed metadata (says: Churchill; is: porn) are problems. What’s at risk is everything that’s out there presently, or anything that could become digital. Whatever life comes after us, we should store this knowledge we’ve acquired.

Aaron Choate, digital collections manager at the University of Texas: All we’ve been focusing on is how to make our information last until tomorrow. Present media will be obsolete within five years. Should be standardizing the process for digital storage. Library groups, etc., are working to ensure integrity of archived data. For example, they store images in uncompressed TIFF because it’s easier to reconstruct. They leave TAR files uncompressed so it’s easier to extract from storage.

Cory points to an issue with metadata: a white paper written in Word showed that a vice president of a motion picture studio ghost-wrote policy for a California politician. That’s worth archiving, not destroying.

Copyright is an issue in archival. The cost of clearance for all of this content that’s lying fallow is more than the money that could be derived from it, and they will physically disintegrate before their copyright does.

eBay has been “an amazing resource” for getting people to catalogue their physical artifacts. People have an interest in the exact statement of what something is when it changes hands. There is a reason historians study bills of lading.

So what can someone do to ensure that their content is archivable? Choate says it’s open standards. Content creators and archivists both need to ensure that they are placed in a copyright scheme that is archive-friendly. Cory added that there is a BitTorrent of ten years of BBS historical content, and the only way for the guardian of that content to ensure that it survives is to copy it as widely as possible.

Doctorow talks about scary legal moves to allow a follow-on copyright to belong to the sender of any information: “a disaster in the offing.” He says the worst thing you can do to any creator is to erase them historically. He adds a plug for Creative Commons, and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive. There are still some issues, says Tanya Rabourn, because there are some changes related to referenceability. Rabourn says there is context that goes along with the content, in artifacts like the state of the Web and software, that researchers may want just as much as the content itself.

Doctorow says look to nature. If you want your content to stick around, make sure that it is copied as frequently as possible. That’s why nematodes are still around. They’re just so darned plentiful.

Panel: CSS: good bad and ugly

Filed in: design, SXSW2004, Web, 18:34 PT

Tantek Çelik started with the good parts of CSS. Tantek sez: “CSS 2? Forget it.” CSS 2.1 incorporates errata, reflects current implementations, it’s a great spec. CSS Validator has been updated. CSS 3 is coming soon.

“I am probably known for opening the Pandora’s Box of CSS hacks.” But he’s converted, kinda. He advocates avoiding CSS hacks wherever possible. Since the last SXSW, there are new hacks, such as the midpass filter, which will only send CSS to IE5/Windows, so you don’t have to use the box model hack. (Tantek’s slides)

Eric Meyer demonstrated the bad. He used bookmarklets to show off things like table borders, missing alt text, etc. “So, Lockergnome redesigned.” Nested tables, missing alt text in the old version. Much better now, but still overusing CSS classes. They should be having list items inheriting from their container, and saving lots of unnecessary markup.

He showed off the WWW2004 Web site. Meyer was careful (thanks Eric!) to mention that IW3C2 is not W3C. We don’t have anything to do with their broken site, much to our chagrin. It’s an ugly, ugly site. An example: alt="blank space (graphical space holder)". It doesn’t come close to validating. Evil. Eric fixed it real quick. It’s a 60% reduction in the weight of the document.

Doug Bowman talked about image replacement. It can be better than the img element because it can retain structure, and be altered on many pages via CSS. But then, there was Joe Clark’s A List Apart article on Fahrner Image Replacement, explaining that screen readers don’t work with it. You can add title attributes, but screen readers will skip over it unless they’re configured to read them. There are numerous alternatives out there, which all have their own downsides. But experimentation is good because it pushes the field forward. CSS3 has a content property that can apply images, which is good, and you should use it when it comes around.

So, don’t use FIR. It’s over. Figure out how appropriate things are with other image replacement schemes before you do it.

CSS designers are getting ripped off a lot lately, says Doug. That’s uncool when design agencies are doing the stealing. Adaptive Path, Stopdesign, and CSS Zen Garden are some examples of sites being stolen. He says he gets a message once a month saying his stuff has been lifted. (Doug’s slides)

Brian Alvey was next. IE added the contenteditable attribute to allow editing HTML. Mozilla now supports it using the Midas engine, but naturally, they work differently. (Which is to say, Mozilla’s implementation doesn’t, like, suck for output.) There are 13 million different controls available for editing HTML. He’s fascinated by this editing thing. “Things that edit pages, I’m really not into.” He likes tying it into content management systems. He wants more flexibility than just really simple content editing.

Kimberly Blessing batted cleanup. She is from AOL, and is on the CSS working group. They still have customers on IE 4 for OS 9. Yes, they still use font tags, bold, tables, what have you on their site. But they are moving forward. Management has finally learned what there is to gain. Their front page has less tag soup. They’re working on valid XHTML and CSS. They made a grid design that lets them change the look and feel of documents based on where a user is in a site. And the suits dig it.

Tantek says that the way to get what you want in the long term is to watch the W3C, including the mailing list at He says to look at the latest drafts of the W3C documents, and if you see something you like, “speak up.” He showed the list of CSS module work going on, with page after page of information.

Doug was interested in IE7 and is wondering if it’s going to be good enough for design-oriented work on a larger scale.

Panel: CSS and high design

Filed in: design, SXSW2004, Web, 17:04 PT

Chris Schmitt was the moderator of a panel on CSS and high design. All of the cool kids were in attendance in this session.

Dave Shea: There are only a few CSS-based sites: ESPN and Wired. And they were well-designed. But not the artistic free-form design that design geeks could get down with. Designers wanted to play, without worrying about page weight, etc. Et puis, voilà: CSS Zen Garden. There are 200 different styles just laid over simple semantic HTML. “The benefits of CSS have been proven again and again”: lower cost, easier to manage, all the stuff you’ve heard before, but still need to listen to if you’re not on CSS.

Dan Cederholm showed off a demo of “accessible tabs with CSS” using image replacement. He does confess that current image-replacement techniques are not yet perfect, such that screen readers don’t work with them. And readability is problem for people with low vision. But he uses “accessible” to mean usable by more browsers, which is unfortunate to people like me, who use it to mean usable by people with disabilities.

Doug Bowman explained that changing color schemes shoudl be “as easy as flipping a switch.” Wired has eight color schemes, one for every day of the week, one for the weekend, and two of what hockey teams would call their “third” schemes. Likewise, stopdesign. He showed off “sliding doors,” as seen on A List Apart. (Doug’s SXSW slides)

What do we do with Internet Explorer and its broken CSS implementation? Dave Shea: “We’re stuck with IE for five, ten years.” Doug says, at least it’s stable, we know what its bugs are, and can design around it. All agreed that most of their new clients don’t even have to be sold on CSS, since the case makes itself nowadays.

Question: Since customers keep asking, what about Flash? Chris said Flash has made great strides in accessibility (true), and that you can make good apps now in Flash that are accessible (mostly false). Doug said “Flash is evil.” (Small cheer.) CSS can create a lot of the same sexiness of Flash, while still being more flexible.

Panel: Emerging democracy

Filed in: politics, SXSW2004, Web, 00:05 PT

Here’s what I captured about the emerging democracy panel from yesterday. It’s interspersed with some commentary, which I think I’m going to have to break out into a larger entry on its own. Anyway, on to the story.

Jon Lebkowsky of Polycot: Held up the election of Schwarzenegger in California as an example of direct democracy. Activism, he says, is an application. He talks about “post-broadcast politics.”

Finally, I hear Joi Ito actually speaking. The printing press created the “public”, which created polling, etc. Ito says the “vote button” on the TV, like what you found in California, is not emerging democracy. “Chaotic systems can function, as long as you have the right feedback systems and the right kind of rules.”

Adina Levin said that’s a nice 1000-year view. But the view from the grassroots is a little different. There have to be strategies for activism. The failure of the Dean campaign was a “failure of the API“: failing to convert things into actual votes. (Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying for months.) “We need to learn something about how government works… right now, it’s not about emergence, it’s about showing up…”

The democratic system is based on 18th-century technology. Applying new tech like Technorati and Daypop to politics could help politicians listen better. (Hrm. Not so sure about that. That sounds like the loudest voice wins.)

Wilcox: “The Dean campaign gambled enormously” by using blogs. Campaigns that have done the most with the Internet had the least to lose. He decided in 2002 to run a decentralized campaign because he couldn’t afford to run a centralized one. Trippi got it because of his work in Silicon Valley. Reagan and Clinton were the only successful modern presidents because they could repeat themselves over and over again when they were at the mic. People often check in once or twice a month. The Dean campaign was off message too often, or moved around too fast. In the political system, you have entrenched people who don’t want to lose power. They see it like the record company sees peer-to-peer. “The counterrevolution is coming. It crushed Dean.”

Zach Rosen: This idea of emergent democracy “is too far ahead for me… it’s just science fiction (right now).” The transformation in emergent democracy is cultural. The big problem was that “people weren’t making decisions” at all.” Only 40% voter turnout, and not a strong awareness of the issues they were voting on. He says, while he has the mic, he has authority, and the audience doesn’t. The TV has authority, and we don’t. Emergent behavior is happening in places, like the Dean campaign, or open-source culture. IMC is about 10 years ahead of everyone else. They’re setting up civic centers around the world. They are an emergent system, organized all over the world. (I had to mention to the person sitting next to me that I was involved in the Seattle IMC, and gave up because it was completely frustrating to participate in the political process as they had established it. People took an affinity group and created a shadow politics behind it. Oh, plus I got a job that kept me too busy to volunteer meaningfully for anything.)

Ito: In emergent systems, the position of authority is not the position of control. It’s one of custodianship.

Levin suggested that an example of emergence was getting people who were good and angry about not being able to plug in to the walls here to organize and complain about it. (The fine they threatened has gone away for the duration of the conference as a result of Joi, Cory Doctorow, and to a much lesser extent, me squealing.)

Joi said there are a lot of problems with direct democracy, that could cause things to swing toward the extremes.

Lebkowsky: “Everybody can be Tom Paine now. But everybody can respond to Tom Paine.”

Question: How about getting the poorest and least-educated wired. Wilcox says there’s a “fundamental obligation” to get people a decent education. Low literacy isn’t the digital divide, it’s a functional problem.

I had to ask: how can you ensure that the system can’t be gamed? Ito responded that it’s because the system is so open. And that’s where I have to stop before I launch into a tirade about how this, like so many new systems (see: libertarianism), appears to depend on a unit-wide consensus in order to function. That is, it’d be a great system if there weren’t so damned many humans involved. Stay tuned.

Joe Trippi

Filed in: politics, SXSW2004, Web, Sun, Mar 14 2004 22:40 PT

Zach Exley of MoveOn introduced Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean (and organizer of the Change for America blog. He said that Trippi was “a part of the history of the Democratic Party and politics,” because of his work on many campaigns.

“Both parties, since about ’76, spent every waking moment” trying to stifle independent candidates. As soon as Carter left Washington, he said, politicians tried their hardest to make sure outsiders never made it into the political arena. In 2003, the Democrats crafted the primaries to ensure that the guy with the most money became the nominee. The Republicans figured this out long ago (see: John McCain). An “insurgent” like Howard Dean had to overspend in order to make that system work for him. He says that was the only strategy someone could have pursued. He says, look at Wesley Clark or Joe Lieberman: those who eschewed the system set out to trap them were dead in the water by New Hampshire. The system is broken, says Trippi.

Now, people are collecting thousands from rich people just to run ads, and the traditional media is only getting smaller. “People got taken out of the process.” It’s now about using money to lock people out of the process. There are 33 lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress. That, he said, is why we don’t have health care. “My $25, my 4 hours in a precinct can’t change a damn thing.” So, the Alamo where Dean made his stand is called the Internet.

The Internet is “the single most powerful tool ever placed in the hands of the average American.” It helps build communities, online and in real life, and cause bottom-up change, not just in politics, but with things like Napster, etc. MoveOn is the “tip of the iceberg” in the area of political change.

Dean got 650,000 supporters, raised more money than any other non-incumbent, including Bill Clinton. It was done at an average of under $100 per person. (Applause.)

“Blogs are an amazing thing.” (Thanks, Joe!) Things like black-box voting discussion came out of the blogosphere, not the media. Trippi discovered MeetUp because he discovered it on someone’s blog. By February 2003, there were 2,607 MeetUp people for Dean. It grew to 190,000 people meeting locally.

“Every day, there’s another American waking up thinking, ‘I can make a difference.'” (Applause. Where is that guy, anyway?) They got $3.7 million in donations online, more than the other candidates, and they were among those people. “This year, there are 2 million people who would borrow $100 to get rid of George Bush… If they would do that, it would change politics forever.”

“The television set is power. It’s the wrong kind.”

Three minutes after they put up 50 posters, each state “for Dean.” The first comment came from Puerto Rico, saying you missed us. They fixed that, then got a comment from England saying they didn’t have one for Americans abroad. They fixed that, and got a thank-you from Spain. The thing is, this all happened in the course of 10 minutes. Dean was an open-source approach to politics.

He told the story of the red bat. Someone on the blog suggested that Dean hold up a big red bat at a New York rally if he raised $1 million that day. Thirty-five minutes later, when the line had been crossed, with the work of a campaign worker, there he was, live, with a bat in his hand.

Trippi says it’s “crazy” to think that politicians are “immune to bottom-up change.” “Have they not read the Constitution?” (Applause, but this time not just from that one guy.)

It’s smart politics to raise a million with a gala dinner while spending $350k on the expenses. Dean spent $100k running an ad in Austin taking Bush to task on the war. Dean made a million on that. “Now, in this world, you spend $100k… (get) millions in free play on CNN… make a million, and in their world, it’s wasteful media spending.”

“The genie’s out: I don’t have to exist. You guys exist.” Dean “gave (the Democrats) their backbone.” They’re “sounding a lot more like Howard Dean than John Kerry.” (Big applause.)

Someone had suggested that he go after $10 from 2 million Americans rather than $100. Then he could come back around and say, look what you get for $90 more.

He dropped the hint that Dean is going to launch something on March 18th around technology and politics, and that he wants in. Interesting.

“The campaign was in trouble long before the Dean Scream.” He says the big event was Gore’s endorsement, though he’s glad Gore did that. All of the other candidates at that moment said, “We have to go kill Dean.” Then the media and the candidates both went after Dean, which Trippi says was the first time that had ever happened. Kerry and Gephardt supporters backed a 527 organization running the Osama bin Laden ad in Iowa. Republicans put up $1 million from the Club for Growth on attack ads. “The entire world went kaboom.” Iowa is the oldest state in the country, with 65% of caucus-goers over the age of 65. So Gephardt is running ads “scaring seniors about Medicare.”

The single most important event in this entire election, believe it or not, was John Kerry writing himself a $6.4 million check” in Iowa. He says there’s nothing bad about that from his perspective. But had he not done that, it may have been Edwards-Dean in Iowa. Trippi says Kerry was smart to have done it, but it’s a sign that things should change.

Given his effusive praise for bloggers, I felt I had to say something as he walked out. And what I managed was, “Good job. I blogged the whole thing.”


Filed in: politics, SXSW2004, Web, 21:00 PT

I want Molly Ivins to introduce me someday. Ivins, the most consistent anti-Bush voice in the media, said she was looking around for organizations to get Bush ousted, because, as she said, “these people cannot govern worth shit.” Then, she discovered MoveOn, and said to herself, “Sonofabitch, the cavalry has arrived.” MoveOn, she says, “has almost single-handedly put people back into politics.”

She had a local political corruption anecdote: the Texas Speaker of the House is under grand jury investigation. She says, “We are rooting for an indictment just out of Texas political tradition.” Five out of the last six Texas Speakers of the House have been indicted, and the sixth was shot to death by his wife, who, Ivins says, was not charged, because Texans “recognize public service when we see it.” (Big laughs.)

And without further ado, Zach Exley and Eli Pariser.

Eli had an announcement. He got a call from the White House exchange. It was Karl Rove. They spent a long time talking, and as a result, he’s endorsing Bush. (More big laughs.) But he could say that, and it wouldn’t matter, because MoveOn is about the people doing the work. There is so much concern about Bush brewing that the force is just there to be applied.

Zach pointed out how easy it is to harness that force online, and pointed out Joe Trippi in the crowd as another example.

Eli says MoveOn was a “total accident”. He was working for a nonprofit in Boston on September 11, 2001. He started thinking about the consequences. He tried to think about what to do. They didn’t need blood, his family was safe. So, being a Web guy (and, Ivins interjected, after doing his patriotic shopping), he put together the site, with some basic advice on how not to prosecute a war. Put up a petition, sent it off to friends, and he thought he was done. The next Monday, he had 3,000 messages in his inbox. Then the guy who put up the site for free called, freaking out. There were 40,000 signatories to the petition he put up. BBC calls, and says, we’re hearing a lot about this, who are you? (Zach adds, “I’m 23 years old. I don’t know who I am.”)

He said “It was clear that people wanted to stay involved.” So he got hooked up with MoveOn, which was already established as a result of the Clinton impeachment.

Zach took over, saying, imagine what this would have been like if Eli had to do this before the Web, with a snail-mail chain-letter petition. “The thing that made it work, was that it was just so damn simple… to click forward on an email.” There are 2.1 million people on the MoveOn list. They said they can “use this as a way to rebuild the community that we have lost” over the years. Dean had people meeting in coffee shops, and they weren’t working together before. Exley was a union organizer before this, and they had to organize the leaders to show up in the same place together to sign up for the same issue. But it was like herding cats.

They had the idea of a candlelight vigil, and set up a site to pick a location for their city’s vigil. They had 6,500 vigils worldwide, and as many as a half-million people. Without being able to contact people, it never would have happened. And people knew that they wouldn’t be the only ones there, which is powerful in and of itself. Eli says there was a vigil every 20 blocks in New York City. And he had a story of someone in the Midwest who was convinced she was the only one in her area who felt this way, and then discovered that there were a whole lot of others in the same zip code.

Exley says there are vestiges of community still around, like the Elks Club, but they’re dying off. Even political parties, which had a similar role, are suffering.

They have tried to emphasize the accidental nature of their phenomenon. They don’t want to be known as political geniuses. Thousands of movements are attempted and fail. But “you gotta get out there,” says Eli, because “the potential for this medium is huge.”

They had someone come on for a one-minute keynote. (This was a lottery they organized beforehand.) Someone from VoterVirgin presented their platform, “Everybody’s doin’ it in ’04.” People can get packets from them to get out the vote in a very anti-conservative sort of way.

Exley got an idea out of the question period: they could set up a voting system where people could vote with their dollars, literally, for a given ad. When it reaches a certain threshold of support, MoveOn could run it. Interesting. Dangerous, too, if you think about it.

There’s only one thing I wanted to say to add to all this, which is: mailing list are not votes. Money is not votes. Only votes are votes. MoveOn, and other political organizations, need to get voters as close to a ballot as humanly possible. The Dean campaign is exemplary in this respect: the support they felt online simply didn’t materialize when it came time to, you know, show up. I suggested getting people and absentee ballots together in a serious way as a means of countering this, but I’m sure there’s more to be done to turn the potential energy of 2.1 million subscribers into the kinetic energy of 2.1 million or more voters.

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