Saturday, February 14, 2004

P2P Politics

There is a must read article by Jay Rosen over at his PressThink blog. It is an insightful analysis of the speech Joe Trippi gave on Feb. 9th to the O'Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In. I'd also recommend reading the transcript of Joe's speech.

Joe's analysis of both "broadcast politics" verses the "point-to-point politics" (my term) developed by the Dean campaign, as well as the his comments on the point at which the latter failed to comprehend the impact of the former, are fascinating. "Broadcast politics" is defined by Trippi as the traditional one-to-many organizational style of political campaigns and the few-to-many organizational style of broadcast media in the reporting of political events. The two combine to produce a hierarchical system that gives inordinate power to a select few (campaign managers, party leaders and media pundits) at the expense of the people the political system is supposed to be helping, the everyday voters.

"Point-to-point" or P2P politics offers an alternative organizational system in which both campaign activism and political information are distributed between the leaves of the tree without having to go through the central authority in the trees trunk. This allows for a more rapid dispersion of organizational efforts (meetup) as well as a broader net with which to bring in interested volunteers and raise money. Anyone who is familiar with the benefits of networking technology will see the power of this model.

Where the deficiency lies is in the nexus between traditional broadcast politics and P2P politics. Translating the needs and methods of one realm into the other proved to be much more difficult than Trippi had foreseen. This was never more evident then in the final weeks of the campaign as the broadcast media increased attention on the campaign (see my Google News Poll postings that showed a 2-3 fold increase in news coverage of the campaign in the 6 weeks leading up to Iowa). It was at this point that a critical communication breakdown occurred between those who understood that the broadcast system was hurting the campaign while the P2P system was off in its little fantasy world in which Dean was still the clear front-runner.

This ties in with some analysis I have read that suggests that the Dean campaign was never as strong as it was advertised (and thus its failure was not as big as it appears to have been). It suffered from the same self-delusion that lead some early net pioneers to think that it had completely supplanted the old way of doing things. The reality was that it merely caught the old system off guard and, in that moment of confusion, took on the temporary illusion of dominance.

There has been some confusing reporting on Joe's speech, including reports that Joe "blamed" Dean's decline on the endorsement of Al Gore. That is a simplistic reading of his comments. Joe's point appears to be more that the traditional "broadcast politics" system did not awaken from its stupor until Gore's endorsement. But, once it did, it marshaled its considerable resources to confront and overwhelm the P2P operations of the Dean campaign. Where the Dean campaign failed was in getting the message out to its P2P resources that this was happening without giving weight to the typical "campaign in disarray" stories that the broadcast media loves to report.

In other words, the failure was not in P2P politics but in the Dean campaign's incorrect use of it at the most critical moment in the campaign. I suspect Joe's feelings are probably still to raw for him to fully own up to his own failure in this regard, but I think this speech was his first attempt at acknowledging it. (Note: I'm not singling out Joe in this regard. Most of us Dean supporters made the same mistake.)

P2P politics is still a viable alternative to the broadcast politics that dominates our system today. After all, consider that, even in its nascent stage, Dean's P2P campaign managed to energize a base of supporters much larger than any campaign has ever achieved at that early a date and to bring in campaign cash in numbers that still dumb-founds the establishment. If a campaign that was as weak as Dean's now appears to have been could still beat the big boys when it comes to garnering money and volunteers than just imagine what a stronger campaign could do with the same methodologies!

Consider this in terms of other analogies: the video game industry makes considerably more money today than it did before the Atari crash of the early 80s and the online business market continues to grow despite the dot-com bust of 2000. Which is just another way of saying that the innovators are not always the ones who ultimately benefit from the power of their innovations.

P2P politics will continue to grow in influence because some smart cookies in the traditional broadcast politics arena will realize that it is a powerful way of organizing a campaign. But they will learn from the mistakes of the Dean campaign, figure out the secret of integrating the two systems and blow the rest of the field out of the water (until they figure it out as well).

I just hope that it's the right guys who figure this out.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home