Technology, Politics and Democracy






Recently I spoke with Jascha Franklin-Hodge, CTO and co-founder of Blue State Digital about how technology is affecting politics and democracy in the U.S.

Blue State Digital was born out of Jascha’s experience helping Howard Dean’s seminal run for the White House in ’04. and is the technology and strategic services company powering Barack Obama (and many other Democratic leaders and social justice causes like Save Darfur and We Can Solve It).

These videos (there are three total) are timely in light of the staggering September figures from the Obama campaign:

  • 630,000 new donors (bringing total donors to 3.1 million)
  • 150 million dollars raised
  • Average contribution: $86

Here are a few observations I took away from our conversation:
Online U.S. political communities will morph from a campaign fundraising role to a governing role. Regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins in November, every 2012 political campaign, even the laggards, will be as sophisticated as Obama is today- and any campaign with that much momentum won’t be able to stop community participation at the White House door or the Capitol steps (“thanks for all the money and support, I‘ll see you in four years”). Online communities will follow politicians into their governing roles. This summer when MyBarackObama experienced the FISA revolt within his own community this became clear. This has far more transformative potential than the fundraising juggernaut we are seeing now. Powerful communities may come to dominate the agenda of incumbent politicians providing feedback, direction and policy input.


Microcampaigns and Swarm Politics: Rather than one centrally governed behemoth, MyBO is enabling a thousand small campaigns to flourish. MyBO puts the tools into the hands of anyone that wants to get active; from having your own blog, downloading voter lists to make calls with “Neighbor to Neighbor” or having your own fundraising dashboard to mark your progress. This kind of swarm politics has generated enormous amounts of energy (and money) from ordinary citizens. Jascha sums it up best “We are helping them run thousands and thousands of little local campaigns that roll up to a central set of issues or candidate or goal” That is unbelievably powerful.

Technology (infrastructure and know-how) will become a necessary core competence in all U.S. political campaigns. Jascha points out that campaigns traditionally mirror movie productions, with all of the resources, technology and logistics brought together for a short burst of activity and then disappearing once the final scene is shot; this results in an enormous loss of knowledge and skills that need to be relearned once the next campaign begins. Campaigns that maintain or are able to tap into a continuity of software, infrastructure and human capital will have serious advantage. Blue State Digital was conceived to fill that gap on the Democratic side of the aisle…

Open Data and transparent government. Part Three of the video series digs into the value of open data in government to allow citizens to hack and remix at will. When lobbyist data, earmark data etc. is available in standard formats it will be a great leap forward for more transparency in government. Great stuff.

Thanks to Brady for putting me in touch with B.S.D. and thanks to Jascha for taking the time to talk.

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