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October 12, 2004 » 1:37 am

Online Community Summit: DeanSpace

Zack Rosen, Zephyr Teachout, Nicco Mele, key contributors to Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign, spoke about their online efforts last Thursday at the Online Community Summit. Some key points:    (2EP)

  • As Dean volunteers started using MeetUp regularly, the campaign started hosting regular conference calls with MeetUp leaders as a way of disseminating information through its communities.    (2EQ)
  • One of the early grassroots activities was distributing flyers as PDF. Nicco recognized this and decided to distribute official flyers as PDF also. Once this happened, the grassroots flyers largely dried up.    (2ER)
  • Related to the flyers issue was the vetting process. Initially, the campaign reviewed contributed flyers, but on the advice of its lawyers, it decided not to officially approve of any outside work to avoid liability. This was not a problem, and according to Zephyr, the community tended to be more risk-averse than the campaign. After all, they wanted to elect Dean, not hurt his chances.    (2ES)
  • The cross-pollination between the different mediums was relatively low. In other words, folks who blogged didn’t necessarily participate in MeetUp.    (2ET)
  • Replacing volunteer organizers with paid organizers tended to kill communities, regardless of how good the people were.    (2EU)

The theme of this talk was that the campaign was reactive, not proactive. It tended to watch things happen and to try and facilitate the good things, rather than start things themselves.    (2EV)

My takeaway from the talk: You can’t organize self-organization. There are things that you can do to catalyze it, but in the end, if the circumstances aren’t right, it’s not going to happen. What you can do is get out of the way when it does happen. This is an important lesson for folks trying to replicate the success of the Dean campaign and other self-organization success stories — Open Source, MoveOn, Indymedia, etc.    (2EW)

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