October 24, 2008
Henke begins by contesting my claim that there are ironic echoes of Markos Moulitsas in his and Patrick Ruffini’s writings:
Actually, I don’t think it’s ironic at all that the analysis of problems on the Right is similar to the arguments made by the Netroots Left. For one thing, the “claims made by Markos Moulitsas” are in many ways intentional recycling of the movement on the Right.
This is certainly a fair point to make (although the link to the TNR article was broken, so I’m not totally sure what evidence he’s using to supoprt his point). While I suspect kos might disagree strongly, I can see how there are some ways in which his strategic push for a populist, patriotic Left powered by mass participation borrows from the playbook of the Right.
Nevertheless, an underlying assumption in much of kos’s work has been the idea that there is something inherent to the culture of the Left which has made it particularly well-suited to decentralized action online. To me, it sounds like Henke and Ruffini don’t agree with this piece of kos’s thinking at all, but I’d be interested to hear more from them on this.
Henke then goes on to build off my argument that the current cross-ideological differences in networked organizing have not been determined by technologies per se:
The underlying systemic inputs are very similar. The political/electoral culture and incentives, and the emergence of the internet (sic) as an important social and technological phenomenon impacted both the Left and Right at approximately the same time.
The difference in uptake and evolution is predominantly due to the political cycle. Democrats went through the wilderness from 1995 to 2003; they found their way from 2003 to 2008. Republicans entered their wilderness in 2007, though I would argue that the Right has been in the wilderness for longer. How long the Right wanders in the wilderness depends, in large part, on how seriously they take the lessons they can learn from the Left.
The emphases to underscore what I take to be the key points here. The notion of an evolutionary political cycle is an interesting one that I’d like to think about more. While I am not aware of rigorous empirical research that supports this kind of idea, I agree that it’s an attractive explanation of political dynamics in this country since the mid twentieth century. It would be great to find out if someone’s tested the theory more carefully.
In my offline conversations with Gene Koo, we’ve also been throwing around the idea that a stint in the wilderness may speed up the process of partisan innovation by unleashing some old fashioned creative destruction. Gene frequently uses the metaphor of a political business cycle to describe this and argues for something like a leapfrogging effect as the parties alternately innovate, win power, and then grow complacent until they are forced to innovate again. This is very similar to Jon’s point. It’s also clearly reflected in the recent experience of the Left, which had to overcome the flawed strategies of the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council to build a much more impressive grassroots machine for the 2006 mid-terms that may be on the vege of delivering a knockout punch two weeks from now.
Finally, Henke concludes by addressing what I see as the greatest obstacle facing an honest-to-goodness Rightosphere/Rightroots movement:
Does the Rightosphere not organize as well because of the nature of the online Republicans? Or do the online Republicans not organize as well because of problems with the Republican Party? I think it’s mostly the latter – something that can be fixed – but it will not be changed until a number of other changes happen within the Right and the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, there are powerful, entrenched interests maintaining the Republican status quo.
Once again, I think Jon and I mostly agree (apologies to any of you who came here looking for rhetorical fireworks – that was your first mistake). The main difference is that where he underscores the opportunity for a more profound break, I emphasize that a great deal of continuity is inevitable.
This same emphasis on continuity underpins my earlier claim that organizational/cultural differences will shape a Rightroots movement into something very distinct from the Progressive Netroots. The communications practices that helped the Republicans achieve electoral success in recent cycles – micro-targeting, direct mail, exceptional party discipline, and centrally-coordinated messaging – have “hardened” into organizations and personnel with a big stake in self-preservation (that’s those entrenched interests Jon’s talking about). New pathways to electoral victory for the Right will, at least in part, stem from the adoption of new organizing tactics. Nevertheless, I suspect that traces of the old institutions (in the form of people and organizational structures) will find a way into whatever comes next.
(Correction: I apologize for adding an “h” to Jon’s name in the original version of my previous post. I have subsequently changed it.)
August 25, 2008
Friday’s NYT offered characteristically “meh” coverage of the role of political bloggers at the upcoming party conventions next week.
The piece could have been so much than human interest fluff. Instead somebody opted to bury it in the fashion section.
Wonder if there’s a story about the changing nature of the media and the democratization of party politics in here somewhere?
Guess the editors don’t want to look at that angle too closely.
August 16, 2008
By allowing you to visualize the google search history for a given term across a few geographic and temporal dimensions, the tool lends itself to some wonderful applications – including this one – a glance at social networking around the world by a Swedish firm named Pingdom – which inspired Ethan’s post in the first place.
As Ethan points out, though, the search insights data also provokes a question about what it means to search in the first place (my emphasis):
The Insight data isn’t measuring traffic to those sites, or their number of active members, just the number of folks searching for those sites via Google. That may or may not be an effective proxy for interest in those networks. I’m a Facebook user, and I have the site bookmarked, so I rarely would find myself searching for the site – it’s possible that the search data is a more effective proxy for the strength of a brand in a particular market, or the level of interest from non-participants in a specific site
I had a good time playing with these theories by using the comparative graphing features to consider where different political blogs attracted a greater relative volume of searches. Sorry the maps display a bit small, but you should be able to download the files (or simply re-create the search) to get a closer look.
Here’s a fun, obvious one:
(note: the data is also normalized in relation to the highest value occurring within the query range).
Check out how they both spike after the 2004 election, but then the relative volume of searches for Kos stay consistently higher (peaking after the 2006 mid-term elections) than those for Insty.
Make of that what you will. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess without knowing more about the reasons people turn to the Internet (and Google) to find political information.
I think the story gets even more interesting when you compare the high traffic states for each blog.
And here’s Kos:
If you ignore the ratios for a second and just focus on the states in each list:
- Instapundit: DC, TN, NH, VA, MD, KS, NC, NY, WA, CT
- Kos: VT, DC, OR, WA, NM, MT, ME, NY, WY, CA
Once again, extrapolate at your own risk. All I know is that it does not track perfectly with voting patterns and that the overlaps (DC, NY, WA) are at least as interesting as the extreme mismatches (WY, VT, MT).
May 11, 2008
My new favorite academic blogger, Kathy G, takes a detailed look at economic theories of efficient labor markets over at Crooked Timber (she’s a guest there this week). I think it’s an excellent explanation of why labor economists should learn to stifle their gag reflex whenever some says “minimum wage”
Even if you’ve never heard of monopsony, it’s definitely worth checking out…
Normally, Kathy blogs at The G Spot. Sorry, Kathy, but I’m not wild about the name, but then again, who am I to cast stones?
April 5, 2008
Brazil’s Tribunal Superior Eleitoral will use 430,000 GNU/Linux machines for this year’s election, according to a press release (pt) published on the TSE website (h/t Ada Lemos). Giuseppe Janino, the Tribunal’s secretary of IT, promises that this migration will make the elections more secure and transparent, reducing the potential for ballot rigging and tampering.
This impressive news follows on the heels of a much less promising announcement: it looks like the TSE is trying to ban blogs and just about everything else on the Internet (link is to a portuguese language PDF on the TSE website) from covering the elections. Paula Góes analyzes Brazilian bloggers’ responses to this decision over at Global Voices, concluding that the TSE’s misguided attempt at limiting political speech is basically a disaster that will only generate confusion and resentment.
Ségio Amadeu, the former President of Brazil’s National Technology Institute, bemoaned the decision on his blog.
Yesterday, Kos responded to the pro-Clinton strikers. His post argues the following:
- The site has never claimed to include everyone on the left or all Democrats.
- The site has embraced a particular vision of political mobilization and the transformation of the Democratic Party (50 state strategy; grassroots oriented; change the DLC; reject consultants; no PAC money, etc.). Hillary Clinton actively opposes that vision.
- Clinton is not winning the primaries and cannot win without dividing the party and staging a coup against the popular vote via superdelegates.
- Clinton’s response has been to foment “civil war” within the party and for that she deserves whatever the blogosphere, Keith Olbermann, and others can throw at her.
The long quote below sums it all up nicely. The bold text was in the original:
To reiterate, [Clinton] cannot win without overturning the will of the national Democratic electorate and fomenting civil war, and she doesn’t care.
That’s why she has earned my enmity and that of so many others. That’s why she is bleeding super delegates. That’s why she’s even bleeding her own caucus delegates (remember, she lost a delegate in Iowa on Saturday). That’s why Keith Olbermann finally broke his neutrality. That’s why Nancy Pelosi essentially cast her lot with Obama. That’s why Democrats outside of the Beltway are hoping for the unifying Obama at the top of the ticket, and not a Clinton so divisive, she is actually working to split her own party.
Meanwhile, Clinton and her shrinking band of paranoid holdouts wail and scream about all those evil people who have “turned” on Clinton and are no longer “honest power brokers” or “respectable voices” or whatnot, wearing blinders to reality, talking about silly little “strikes” when in reality, Clinton is planning a far more drastic, destructive and dehabilitating civil war.
People like me have two choices — look the other way while Clinton attempts to ignite her civil war, or fight back now, before we cross that dangerous line. Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult choice. And it’s clear, looking at where the super delegates, most bloggers, and people like Olbermann are lining up, that the mainstream of the progressive movement is making the same choice.
And the more super delegates see what is happening, and what Clinton has in store, the more imperative it is that they line up behind Obama and put an end to it before it’s too late.
I agree with Kos’ assessment of the primary situation and the problems with the Clinton campaign’s reprehensible actions. I also agree that the pro-Clinton “strike” on the site is a violation of the norms established many years ago. This was clear from Allegre’s diary entry announcing the strike, in which s/he argues for a strange vision of Democratic unity in which party members don’t criticize each other (in a really bizarre twist, Allegre then mis-attributes that idea of unity to Barack Obama…this is polemical bunk). The Daily Kos leadership and community have never embraced that kind of vision. From a strategic perspective, I agree that they never should.
Kos’ post interests me for other reasons then. In it, he re-iterates the norms governing the community through a reference to the founding ideals of the site and an extension of those ideals to the current primary election situation. The preservation of the site’s original ideals depends on such occasional interventions from the community leader. In turn, the ideals and norms maintain the basis for large-scale collaboration and conversation.
But if that’s the case, does it negate what I wrote earlier about the significance of defection from large-scale collaborative communities? I don’t think so. Highly symbolic defections like this one still matter even if they are not grounded in an accurate interpretation of community norms. This skirmish, no matter how mundane or over-blown it has been, is part of the ongoing process of managing discursive production on the site.
March 15, 2008
If, like me, you spend too much time lurking around in the blogosphere you already have a sense that the dailyKos and MyDD communities have squared off behind the Democratic candidates. This was hardly surprising and certainly didn’t seem out of place in the flame-friendly environment of web-based conversations.
But this might be something new: yesterday evening, one of the many prolific community members on the Kos site, Alegre, announced a writer’s strike of Hillary supporters in her diary entry. Responses – both positive and negative – piled up quickly, including this one apparently from WGA member Jeff Lieber.
I am not really interested in discussing the merits of the arguments in the strike debate. Rather, I want to draw attention to the questions a strike raises about the nature of governance in Web 2.0 communities.
I blogged about this a few weeks back in one of my early posts. Building effective institutions of governance in the context of collaborative peer-production presents a number of deep problems. On Kos, conversation management is probably the most obvious of these. To understand how conversations are managed on Kos, though, you have to understand a little bit about the technical platform of the site.
Currently, Kos uses Scoop, a conversation management tool originally developed by Rusty Foster for the Kuro5hin community. The features of Scoop have helped Kos scale from the one-man show it once was back in 2002. Scoop includes a built-in, decentralized system for generating and measuring reputation among site users. Basically, every registered user can rate the other registered users’ comments. In addition, by commenting on other users’ diaries, community members can bring that diary increased visibility. The result is a massive conversation that pretty much runs on autopilot.
With the exception of Kos, ct the tech wizard, the contributing editors, and the handful of community members with front-page privileges, this reputational system structures the conversation among the site’s users. The problem is that the system isn’t fool-proof – or flame-proof. Angry blocs of polarized users can “approve” negative comments, thereby generating a feedback loop of discontent. Their opponents then retaliate in kind and create their own “peer-reviewed” circuit of annoyance. As the negative momentum builds, the argument attracts more attention through the site’s reputation systems and results in further polarization and negativity. The threat of a widespread disengagement becomes credible as more and more people find reasons to defect from the cooperative knowledge production model that makes the site so interesting in the first place.
My analysis may or may not be sound here, but the most important question – as Lenin always understood – remains: What is to be done?
Telling everyone to “just be nice” doesn’t work. The actions of the flamers already run counter to the behavioral norms set out in the FAQ on dKosopedia. Similarly, the strike seems unlikely to achieve the stated aims of those who have threatened to leave the site. Rather than bring about a return to civililty, the departure of Clinton supporters for MyDD and other sites will only reproduce the fragmentation of the political blogosphere within the progressive community. It is too early to know what this would mean for the netroots’ project of building a new democratic politics. But does it really have to come to that?
Instead, why not design a new technical platform to manage the conversation? What would such a platform look like? It would need to incorporate many of the existing features that have made Scoop so powerful and effective. However, it would also require some mechanism for recognizing negative/hateful feedback loops and enabling the community to address them in a more productive way. Political dialogue – whether between members of opposing parties or merely supporters of two Democratic candidates – will continue to be divisive. The trick is to leverage that divisiveness (is that a word?) so that it can produce a self-sustaining community that continues to generate strategic political advantages.