Richardson Was No Dean Online

Posted by Katherine | March 3, 2008 – 10:49 pm
Bill Richardson in radio studio
Connecting the old-fashioned way [Jay Tamboli / Flickr]

Emmett O’Connell lives and blogs — largely about politics — in Olympia, WA. He was enthusiastically involved online in the Dean campaign in 2004; this time around, he helped set up a community site for Bill Richardson long before Richardson even declared his candidacy. O’Connell liked the way Richardson connected with people, but over time he found that this engagement never translated to the web in the way it did with Dean. He explains why he eventually disengaged from the campaign:

The eventual real killer for me was the ask Bill feature on his website. When they launched Ask Bill, they billed it as a way for anyone to ask Bill a question, sort of like the Youtube debates. But, it was hardly that. It was basically him just answering canned questions to a camera.

This is the guy that would stay in a room until all the questions were answered, but they were trying to pull off this lame imitation of that. The web is so powerful, they could have made a big and good deal with it. They could have allowed people to vote for what question they wanted answered, for example.

Anyway, here’s the summary:

2004 was the election where civicspace was born. People took deep action into their own hands and used tools like meetup.com and hacked drupal to make it work for them.

2008 was the election when every campaign that mattered bought Blue State Digital’s campaign suite and expected the excitement of 2004 to automatically replicate itself. Which, at least in my mind, it didn’t. The tools you offer don’t bring life, people using their own tools and the campaign letting that happen is what brings life to a campaign.

That said, its not all the campaign’s fault, I ran into a lot of unimaginative people along the line. I received a lot of emails from people who had contacted the campaign, willing to help, but were frustrated that they hadn’t received any direction.

I should have asked them, why do you need direction? You like Bill, you know where you live. Just do something, see if it sticks.

It’s interesting that despite the intervening Web 2.0 revolution, O’Connell doesn’t appear to see a campaign using the web as vibrantly or effectively as Howard Dean’s did in 2004. As a result, he’s decided to focus his blogging and political attention on his own hyperlocal community.

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