03 May 2007

Well, I Spoke Too Soon...

During my Generation Gap talk a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the difference between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns with respect to using current technologies. The Clinton campaign seemed to be more of the same broadcast politics that we have known and (not) loved since the Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which a small group controls the campaign's message, and casts it broadly to the public. In contrast, the Obama campaign felt far more UCaPP-y, with enthusiastic volunteers collectively building Obama's identity via social networking environments like MySpace.

Well, it seems like the bloom is off the online rose, as the Obama campaign has moved to take top-down control of the volunteer-created Obama MySpace page, along with its 160,000 enthusiastic "friends." The result has been devastating: "Yesterday, the profile had just over 160,000 friends. Today, that url has only about 12,000. And it's under new ownership. Joe Anthony, one of the super volunteers of the Connected Age, has lost control of the page he started to the professionals on Obama's staff."

As details of the tale emerge, there is an air of sordidness to the mess, with accusations of extortion and deceipt flying back and forth. However, the key questions that Micah Sifry surfaces are perhaps the most important aspect of this growing debacle:
Is it true that once a voter-generated site gets major traction, the campaign affected has to control it? Can a front-running presidential campaign--even one as devoted to empowering supporters to take their own initiatives and connect to each other through social network tools as the Obama campaign--afford a major site run by a campaign volunteer outside their control? Is such control even possible?

The most intriguing thing about this whole mess is this is the first time I can think of where the grass-roots activist at the bottom of the pile has a megaphone as big as the folks who tried to boss him around.
Indeed. One of the attributes of UCaPP effects is the inability to conventionally control the emergent, complex entity that is the resultant valence political organization. This raises the interesting question: what happens when you put BAH controls on a valence organization? What desirable effects are precluded in the name of control and formal structure?

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