For the Week of June 23, 2003
Regardless of how Campaign 2004 turns out a lot of political history has already been made in Burlington, Vermont.
This is the campaign office of former Gov. Howard Dean , an office my wife and I visited last week. Dean's relative success is driven partly by his early stand against the Iraq War, and sustained by a stump speech that shows as much anger toward Democrats as toward Republicans. (Republicans might argue how relative that success is, and joke that calling a Democrat a "success" these days is like saying you run the best custard stand on the North Pole.)
Instead of talking about Dean's politics, I thought it would be fun if we talked about this as an exercise in Internet Marketing. Because that's what the Dean campaign is.
Start with the main site. It is filled with pointers and calls to action. Click here to give money, click here to learn about Dean fans in your area. Click here to hear his stump speech, click here to get regular e-mails from the campaign. Multiple calls to action are a key component in successful Internet marketing, whether you're selling candles or a candidate. Nothing is being hidden here, either from Republicans or other Democrats. If you want to copy this, go right ahead.
Next let's go to the blogs. Dean has two, a campaign blog and a commentary blog. The "official" campaign blog, run mostly by Mathew Gross (with help from others, including campaign manager Joe Trippi), is called "Blog for America," and recently moved from Blogger's Blogspot to the main Dean server, where it runs on Movable Type software. Thus it has an RSS feed, extensive commentary by ordinary readers, and support for diverse file types like pictures. It is also extensible, flexible, and based on Linux. Most important it is interactive. It isn't top down, it's peer-to-peer.
A second semi-official Dean blog still lives on Blogspot . While the "official" blog takes "official" positions on issues, the Blogspot blog is free to even be skeptical of the candidate. It asks readers to research attacks on the candidate, and collects hard questions for the candidate. (There are also a growing number of unofficial Dean blogs, which are sometimes quoted on the main blogs. These are entirely the property of their owners, and if they suddenly turn into Bush blogs next fall that's their choice.)
What does this mean? It means you can look at the Dean campaign several times each day, if you're so inclined, and always find something new. It means you can talk back to these people and (sometimes) find your contribution highlighted. The potential power of this, in a Presidential campaign, is unprecedented. And think of what it could do for your used car dealership.
Here's what I learned in Burlington. All this is being done by just a few people, in one corner of one floor in one office building, in a small college town that is about as far from the beaten track as you can get in the Lower 48. These are full-time staffers, but they're not spending all their time managing these resources. Imagine what they can do with a few selected online volunteers.
Most coverage of Deanistan involves Meetup , which continues to organize monthly meetings for Dean fans (and potential fans) around the nation. In order to make sure the Bush campaign can't close down Meetup, claiming it's an illegal campaign contribution, the Dean campaign now pays Meetup for its work, and if any other campaign - local or federal - wants to use the site Meetup would be happy to have their business.
Recent coverage of the campaign involves HowarddeanTv , which may be the weakest link in the chain. Currently it only supports Microsoft Windows and most of the content is static video. Compare the feeling of "watching" DeanTV with the feeling you get interacting with one of his blogs and you get some idea of the paradigm shift I'm talking about. On DeanTV you're in the audience. With the blogs you're in the game.
One other important point no one has mentioned. Various people in the Dean campaign are willing to use anything they can find to self-organize, including ad-based services like YahooGroups. It doesn't take money to make the Internet work for you, but it does take time. Once you have time you can get an enormous bang for almost no bucks.
One story that has drawn a lot of play from political pros lately is word that both Democrats and Republicans are building extensive databases on all of us which they hope to activate at the appropriate time. I don't consider this a big deal. Any company can build such a database, although it's important for their party that whoever wins the Democratic nomination has a database that is compatible with the party's. What matters more is how effective you can make that database, how many orders you can get from 100 direct mail letters, or how many people you can get to show up for you on a warm summer evening.
Let's talk about results. In early June Dean went to Austin and scheduled a rally. Volunteers did all the work, mainly using the Internet. The event drew 3,200 people. Here is some perspective . At the height of the McCain phenomenon, after he won in New Hampshire, he drew 1,500-2,000 to a South Carolina rally. Dean, whose national support remains in the single-digits, drew twice that number in the middle of Bush country, nearly 8 months before any primary. Could any other Democrat do as well? No, they don't have the infrastructure.
More results are coming in all the time. Dean won a Wisconsin straw poll, won it handily . Dean is now poised to win the endorsement of Moveon.org, a liberal PAC that claims 1.4 million members, because Dean has turned his campaign's full attention onto their online primary (scheduled for this week .) If he doesn't win there, I will be surprised. If he does win he will have some powerful online allies, who will bring more infrastructure to the party.
And that's the key word, infrastructure. In order to have a chance at becoming President Dean must scale his present effort by a factor of 1,000. He got 34,000 to his last Meetup, Moveon claims 1.4 million members, but it takes 100 million votes to become President. Can he do it while maintaining the personal touch? That would require enormous bandwidth, and a huge commitment of resources to the Internet (as opposed to TV ads .) My guess is he will make that commitment. But there are still powerful people within his campaign that have more faith in the "old-style" politics of big money designed to buy big blocks of big screen TV. Time will tell.
Beyond its importance as political history-in-the-making, however, consider the Dean campaign as a case study for any Internet start-up. There are important lessons here for your business, even if your political instincts tell you Howard Dean is the Son of Satan.
Every new business is an insurgent campaign. Whatever it is you're selling, you're an insurgent campaign. You can apply the lessons of Deanistan to your own business right now, adapting them to suit the needs of your customers.
- You need calls to action, the more the better. The more options you have, the more places you put those options, the better.
- You need interactivity. This is not TV, and it's not publishing. This is the Internet. Make it intimate.
- Don't restrict your efforts to your own site - use anything you can find to spread your message.
- Don't depend on designers for traffic. Instead use writers to create content that is constantly changing to maintain interest.
- Splash screens? We don't need no steenkin' splash screens. The faster your page loads, the faster you can get an order.
Stand out, sharpen your message, get buy-in early and often, use all the media the Internet offers, and you can do anything.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
We have a winner. "The Blankenhorn Effect" has won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards.
"Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame. One result is I have begun working on a follow-up book, describing the future direction of technology, to be called "The World Of Always On." Buy "The Blankenhorn Effect" at Amazon.Com , or at least say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.
If you can convince some more published reviewers to read "The Blankenhorn Effect" and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond. This is a collection of columns from a-clue.com, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.
I have written recently for BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of "The Blankenhorn Effect" on my "Moore's Lore" blog . (Get my old ClickZ columns here
You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know . Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Your list is your most important asset. But what happens when someone forgets who you are and you get on a "spam" blacklist? Your asset becomes worthless.
Need a-clue on how to avoid that? Get your list audited, and managed professionally, by the fine folks at Whitehat , part of the American Computer Group , a long-term leader in database services for direct marketers.
When your list is truly opt-in, not only do you become a white hat yourself, but your e-mails are read, even anticipated, by your audience. That means higher conversions and more money in your pocket.
If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.
Takes on the News
Yahoo's Big Win
Yahoo scored a major broadband coup last week, as British Telecom ditched its own OpenWorld offering in favor of a re-branding under the Yahoo banner.
Yahoo had already proven its mettle in this area by taking over the marketing of SBC's online service , now known as SBC Yahoo . For SBC Yahoo has created simple tools to get users to switch ISPs and spearheaded the move from dial-up to broadband .
There is a danger here. In the future, when BT screws up Yahoo will take the fall. But the risk is worthwhile. While at Supercomm I went to a reception for InvestUK, where I was told that BT has over half the country's broadband market, despite its problems. (Yahoo, indeed.)
Microsoft Getting Away With It
Microsoft will no longer ship stand-alone versions of Internet Explorer, and it won't support IE on the Mac, either . It would seem that Microsoft has succeeded in killing Netscape and has gotten away with it. So now they'll go after the anti-virus vendors .
Microsoft is not the only company getting away with it. Ken Lay is still rich, so is Bernie Ebbers. Gary Winnick is still rich, and so is Frank Quattrone. What separates these "worthies" from "convicted swindler" Sam Waksal? Waksal is a Democrat.
It's important to understand this period is not unique. I have been saying this for years, and Bill Moyers won big headlines recently for repeating it . A Civil War generation, corrupting everything for the benefit of a few, it's a re-run. Bush advisor Karl Rove admits open admiration for Mark Hanna, who did the same thing for William McKinley in the late 1890s. Back then the victims in our war were the Spanish (although Cuba played a bigger role then and might now) and the occupation that went awry was of the Philippines .
What might please Republicans most in all this is the analogy of Clinton to Grover Cleveland, another fat philandering ex-governor whose mistakes destroyed his party and whose reforms came to nothing. Yes we covered most of this ground last week, but there's another point to be made, something Moyers said eloquently and I completely missed.
That is, politics isn't the only place where progress takes place. Politics can ratify progress, or regression, but it is not the final arbiter. History takes place when people organize, when they write, when they try to do the right thing despite the odds.
And real growth doesn't rise out of corrupt practices, either. It didn't in the 1890s, and it won't now. Microsoft can't get out of the Moore's Law trap. Large companies are now offering their toughest problems online, offering cash for solutions, and getting solutions from people they never dreamt knew anything. Linux won't win because it's better or even because Microsoft has done something wrong. Linux will win because of simple math.
The same is true in politics. The how or when isn't nearly as important as the fact of it.
Technology Needs To Suck
The biggest problem with technology today may be the lack of stuff that sucks.
Even Windows NT Server doesn't suck. A new friend in New York said he has been running NT for months, non-stop, with no problems.
Why should some tech suck? When new applications or capabilities fly off the shelves, it's often because people want what the stuff does desperately. New products are then rushed to market, they all suck, and vast new markets emerge in writing about solutions and helping people make them suck less.
You can see it all clearly in Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor The plot is as simple as a romantic comedy, and as unchanging. I want to add this, everything crashes, I try these incremental fixes, which don't work, and then an expert comes in and magically makes it all work. The hunger, the desire, the frustration, and the Magic Expert are all elements of the story, as is the conclusion, the Happy User with a lighter wallet who now can do what his neighbor cannot. Boy meets tech, boy loses tech, and boy gets tech back with help from a friend.
Wi-Fi can suck a bit, and handheld technology (especially for dysgraphic touch typists like myself) is still pretty sucky. But these markets are still too small, and the frustrations too easy to either live with or fix, to jump-start the market.
The World Of Always On starts with 802.11 applications, many of which will work in the background. As the market grows, there will be stuff that sucks. Data won't get from the chip to the server, radios will need tuning, and home servers will suck big-time.
This will not be a bad thing. When Jerry starts getting frustrated again, and his columns start feeling that jazz again, you can smile. The growth starts going when the greats start grumping.
Clued-in is the Open Source Development Lab , Beaverton, Oregon, which hired Linus Torvalds away from Transmeta Corp. and will make him a "fellow."
Clueless is Computer Associates, which is adding censorware to its anti-virus and anti-spam suite, under the name eTrust Secure Content Management . Here's a better name, Corporate Lobotomy. When employees are treated like children they play elsewhere and you have no idea what they're up to.
A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com.