Saturday, April 23, 2005

BlogClip -- 20% of what's needed

Tim West's review of the Libertarian Party's remodeled web site. Pretty much on target. I'd like to focus in on one of Tim's recommendations and offer an alternative proposal.

Quoth Tim: "Start assembling a LP team of photographers, bloggers, videographers, and ISP’s that are libertarians to volunteer to cover the LP 06 races across the country, and have them supply you with their work."

Actually, such a team (or teams) have already been assembling themselves for years (see, for example, the Libertarian Writers' Bureau), and the tech to exploit their work is free for the taking. So what's the hangup? I can think of two possible problems:

1) The LP powers that be overestimate the difficulty and cost of implementation; or

2) The LP powers that be fear the downside of an "uncontrolled" Party press.

Either or both would be understandable.

Let's take them one at a time:


Libertarian blogs are thick on the ground. Many state, and even county, LPs can or could be relied upon to produce timely, periodic updates and press releases -- even audio or video feeds of events. And nearly any kind of site can now quickly and easily be set up for syndication via RSS feeds.

All that's really needed are two things:

a) A "portal" mechanism -- a system that allows the LP administrator to add approved feeds to a list, and that then allows users to create their own "My Libertarian Party" pages incorporating whatever feeds interest them (the old LP site had a primitive version of "custom site" tech geared toward students, journalists, etc.). Some users might elect to see only the national headquarters feed, their state feed and their county feed. Others might decide to "subscribe" to a couple of well-known blogs, too. Still others might choose issues-based feeds from all over depending on their personal interests.

The cost? In terms of software, nada. There's all kinds of open-source software out there that can handle it well. There would obviously be the up-front cost of installing and customizing the system, and the ongoing costs of administration and bandwidth. But this tech is old hat. The kind of backend code that Yahoo! spent millions developing (or, on the movement side, that Free-Market.Net spent hundreds of thousands developing) is now available gratis and streamlined such that even relative novices can use it.

b) Also on the backend, an admin interface for "pushing" this incoming content to the mainstream media. That's a little less easy, but there are certainly commercial packages that can handle it and at root it's as simple as keeping updated media lists based on geographic area and subject and then getting out releases/advisories on stuff that the media should be covering, with links to the material that the LP makes available.

Don't get me wrong: There are costs involved. They are, however, minimal relative to prospective benefits. The LP was the first political party to have a web site, but right now it's getting its metaphorical ass whipped.

The Republicans forged ahead with the Internet equivalent of fax trees, etc., in the last few years, and now the Democrats have leapfrogged them. Howard Dean's new, refurbished Democratic National Committee is organizing "virtual precinct teams" and refining the fundraising model that made Dean a contender for the 2004 presidential nomination and his PAC a force in achieving the victories that the Democrats did pull off last year.

The LP had a huge head start on the Internet ... and blew it. But there's still time to catch up.

An open Party press

Scary? You're damn right it's scary. Pound for pound, the LP is no weirder than the GOP or the Democrats. But since they're a third party, it's the blue men and druids and naked, sword-wielding candidates who get noticed. They just stand out more in a third party than Lyndon LaRouche does among the Democrats or David Duke among the Republicans.

So, when you start suggesting that the LP's media operations be decentralized, there are legitimate concerns. It's bad enough when an isolated LP candidate starts babbling about fluoridation or Bohemian Grove or Area 51. Letting the babblers pipe their babble straight through the LP's national web site, and on to the mainstream media, would be a disaster.

On the other hand, there are mechanisms which can be put in place to prevent bizarre, embarrassing things from happening. Software can be set up to repackage -- and require approval of -- feeds so that nothing shows up on without being vetted first. Outgoing releases and advisories can be checked before they're sent.

And, sooner or later, there has to be some trust. If the LP is to grow and thrive, everything can't originate from the Watergate office. That office will never be big enough, or fast enough on its feet, to do everything that a national party needs done.

The Republicans and Democrats have organizations in every precinct in the US. That's a lot of organization (from some research yesterday, for example, I can tell you that there are more than 3,000 precincts in Missouri alone). Those organizations act independently to a large degree. Yes, sometimes they do something embarrassing. It can't be helped. But would you rather have (if Missouri is average) 150,000 organizations that occasionally do something embarrassing, or one organization that never does anything embarrassing ... because it isn't big enough, fast enough, rich enough or flexible enough (relative to the scheme of things) to do much of anything at all?

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