Esther Dyson wrote a piece for the New York Times last week called Power in Participation about some recent trends in politics involving the Web and blogs. She mentions MeetUp.com, a Web site for that helps organizes physical meetings. When I looked at MeetUp my first thought was "I can't believe its taken us this long to create a Web site that does this." MeetUp is well done and has active groups in many different categories. Its also been discovered by the politicos, as Esther points out:
Meetup was recently discovered by the Democrats, most famously and effectively by Howard Dean. About 40,000 Dean supporters "met up" face-to-face in 740 locations all over the country, and -- to the professional politicians' surprise -- they've helped donate more than $25 million. Also, the campaign has organized its supporters at Meetups to write tens of thousands of letters to undecided voters, asking not for money but for support.
She also points out the use of Web sites by the Dean campaign:
Meanwhile, campaign organizations for Dean and other candidates have discovered the world of political blogging, in which both campaigners and their supporters publish online journals, or Weblogs. The bloggers comment, pontificate and argue among themselves. The candidates -- or their blogwriters, today's version of the speechwriter -- record their thoughts and adventures on the campaign trail. One result is excitement: Voters are getting involved and energized. They are engaging in face-to-face discussions with their neighbors -- often people they've never met before. And they are publishing their views, adding to the political discourse without the gatekeeping of newspaper editorial boards or campaign "messaging."
As I went out and looked at MeetUp.com and political blogs, I was struck by the fact that I don't see much participation by Republicans. I wonder why that is. Maybe its because the incumbent president is a Republican and so there's not as much energy in the campaign right now. I should note that George W. Bush does have a blog and is using RSS for its newsfeed, but neither of these are what you would call grass roots efforts.
One thing I noticed while working my precinct as a delegate was pitiful lack of any significant use of IT in managing the process. If you're a techie and want to make a difference in a campaign or in your local party, there's plenty of low hanging fruit. Now, getting in the door and not having them just shuffle you to the back room to staple signs on sticks will be a trick. You'll have to work pretty hard, especially in smaller campaigns to find someone who will understand the value of what you're bringing to the table. I think its high time that every campaign caught a clue from the private sector and even government and got a CIO-like figure who could advise the campaign manager and candidate on how IT could be used to add value to the campaign. Even simple things like suggesting the use of MeetUp.com and similar sites would be valuable.