Political Technology

"Hillcast" brings the conversation to your iPod

In hopes of "keeping the conversation going", Hillary Clinton is launching weekly "HillCasts" to those who want to know what she's thinking. Her website says you can discuss the HillCast on blogHillary, and you can get HillCast updates. Let's see: Blogs? Check. iPod/new technology related outreach? Check. Video? (Hillary TV) Check. Spanish-language media? Mobile outreach? We'll see...But either way, it seems obvious that Hillary is embracing technology to the utmost.

Below is an e-mail about the latest HillCast on Iraq.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.


Right now, there isn't one of us who isn't thinking about Iraq. That's why I went there recently: to meet with the commanders on the ground, to talk with Iraqi leaders, and to speak to the men and women who are fighting this war so heroically.

I came back even more determined to stop the president's escalation of troops into Iraq and to start the redeployment of troops out of Iraq. So I outlined a plan, and on Friday, I introduced it to Congress as the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act.

My plan accomplishes a number of goals. It stops the president's escalation. It protects our troops by making sure they aren't sent to Iraq without all of the equipment and training they need. It puts an end to the blank check for the Iraqi government. It calls for an international conference to bring other countries together to help forge a stable future for Iraq. Finally, my plan would begin a phased redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. I've been pushing for this for almost two years.

For more details about my plan, please watch Friday's HillCast, the first of what I hope will be a regular series of web broadcasts:


The Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act is a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope the president takes this road. If he does, he should be able to end the war before he leaves office. But let's not kid ourselves. From everything we've seen, this president is going down a very different path. He's fighting to escalate the war, not to end it.

I know we're at the start of a presidential campaign, but I think all Democrats should be focused on working together to push the president to change course. We have to end this war in a smart way, not a Republican or a Democratic way, but a way that makes us safer and gets our troops home as soon as possible. That's what I'll be fighting for.

But let me be clear, if George Bush doesn't end this war before he leaves office, when I'm president, I will.

Please watch the HillCast for more details of my plan:


Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary releases video statement on Iraq

Earlier today Hillary released what her campaign says is the first in a series of web video statements.  Called Hillcasts, this one is on Iraq.  You can see it here

In this cycle political video is migrating from 30 second spots to the web and eventually to mobile phones.  It will be interesting to see what form these videos take.  On TV videos are 30 seconds.  The video Hillary released today is 3 minutes.  Is this a good length? For her site? For youtube? For mobile media? As a former television producer I am fascinated to see the creation of this new whole form of political communications - non TV video - one which is being embraced with great intensity in the early days of politics 2007. 

The reinvention of politics, 2007 edition

A flurry of stories this morning about how the big changes in media and technology are once again transforming politics.  EJ Dionne writes his Friday column on Obama, Clinton and the internet; the Post reports this morning on the exlosion of Obama on Facebook, and the arrival of social networking sites as a major new organizing tool; and a new national syndicated Media General story on the "MySpace Primary."  In here you will insights from NDN, and one our NPI fellows, Joe Trippi. 

To stay on top of the latest about the emergence of a new politics, follow this blog and visit our NPI site at www.newpolitics.net.

I've been thinking a lot these last few days about the speed in which these tools are being deployed this cycle.  It has begun to remind me a little of 2003, when the hyper competition and money of a Presidential primary campaign caused incredible experimentation with the new set of tools available in 2003.   Led by Joe Trippi, the Dean campaign became the leader in imagining and implementing a new model.  It is clear that this same competition, the same passionate interest by average people, the same money is now going to produce an explosion of experimentation and a very fast reinvention of our politics around a new set of tools available in 2007.  There is no way to know what all this bring, and what our politics will look like next year.  But we do know that the able deployment of all these tools is now an essential ingredient for success in the early politics of the 21st century.  There is no going back. 

For fun, I republish an essay I wrote in late 2003, when all of us were marvelling about the reinvention of our politics, 2003 style:

Some Thoughts on the Internet, Politics & Participation

Posted by Simon on NDNBlog.org in December 2003

First, thanks to all who’ve been posting on the blog. We are enjoying the passion and intensity of the back and forth and want to encourage all to keep it up. The issues being discussed are essential and worthy of a spirited debate. Over time we will attempt to respond to questions being raised in a thoughtful, honest way.

You can also look back through the blog to find postings on issues that will give you a better sense our positive vision for the country. Few organizations on the Democratic side have worked harder this year – or spent more money – advocating for a better agenda for America.

Third, recently on the blog there has been an interesting discussion of the role of the Internet in politics. Several posts referred to the Internet as simply a new tool to distribute a message.

I don't agree.

Howard Dean's campaign is using the Internet – as well as non-net-tools – to organize his campaign in a fundamentally new way. Having worked on two successful presidential primary campaigns from the earliest days – Dukakis and Clinton – I can tell you that the Dean campaign is a fundamentally different animal than anything has come before. I believe the reason he has surged from nothing to frontrunner is his campaign’s innovative creation of a new and better model for how one builds a modern political campaign. It is interactive, participatory, respectful of its audience and thoroughly modern.

In the broadcast era of politics, which lasted from 1960 to 2002, a candidate had a "message" which was then broadcast out through TV, radio, print, mail, etc. to passive political couch potatoes. Crafting a message in this system was paramount for without it, there was nothing to sell to folks.

In the new model candidates can have direct one-to-one iterative relationships with their supporters. The idea of a "message" in this model becomes something much different. For what citizens now expect is not to be fed something fully developed - a message - but they expect to be able to participate in the development of the value system and community of the campaign itself.

Think of the difference between your experience watching TV and being online. With TV you sit. With the Internet you engage. One is passive, the other active. If you believe all this, it helps explain why Dean is succeeding this time. It wasn't just the boost he got from being anti-war. It is that he is clearly a work in progress, not fully formed as a candidate, and there is a sense that by engaging with him over your computer from wherever you sit that you are engaged in building a value system, a candidate and a community. Simply, with Dean, there is something for everyone to do. You can be part of building something, not just consuming it.

What has changed now is the expectation of the voter/activist/consumer. They will come to expect greater intimacy, greater engagement, greater choice, and greater community in their politics. The medium is the message now, and the message is participation. Those who do not understand this new moment and will be left behind the gazelles using the new model to leapfrog old models.

That's why NDN is promoting the lessons of 2003 and its change-leaders: Dean, Meetup, MoveOn, the DNC's datamart, and the bloggers. For the sake of those who want to build a new and better progressive politics – the core mission of the New Democrats for close to 20 years – we have to help lead our side to make the leap from the top-down industrial/broadcast era into the more distributed, citizen-led politics of the Internet Age.

So yes, the Internet is a tool, but Dean is using it in a new way that is transforming politics. This is not the first time new tools have created a fundamentally different reality Consider the atomic bomb. The automobile. The airplane. Television. Guns. Radio. The telephone. Air conditioning. Electricity. All tools. Yet their arrival did not bring a marginal change, as in a better way to hammer a nail. Their arrival fundamentally altered the world so that we have a world that is pre-atomic bomb and post-atomic bomb, pre- and post-tv, etc. I agree with those who have written that tactics without vision and values is not enough. But today the flip side is true as well. Increasingly the voters are hungry for more than a spoon-fed "message." They want what we should want them to want – to play an active role in the life of their nation, and to not accept the gospel of the thirty-second spot and the sound bite. The Internet once again makes this possible, and this is good for our politics, our party and our country.

The shifting norms of video advertising

A couple articles in the New York Times in the last couple days show how the world of advertising applied to motion media or video  is morphing. Today a story talks about the “surprising” fact that a decent proportion of people with Digital Video Recorders like Tivo do not skip ads. They make a big point about  a recent Nielsen Company report that shows that 42 percent of those who watch their programs at a time-shifted time, do, in fact, watch the commercials. The general assumption is that the percentage of those who watch ads is much lower, like very few. However, as Simon points out elsewhere on this blog, that number is more a creature of the transition to new habits. For 40 years people watched TV with ads and those habits will not change overnight. But change they will as the new options become easier and more ingrained in new habits.

The second story is about some of the new ways that video on the web is being supported by advertising. The piece does an overview of the various ways, and specific companies, that are spreading the wealth of advertising revenues to bottom-up content creators. Right now all the attention goes to YouTube videos, but in that system the creators get nothing except fame. A competing company called Revver, actually attaches the ads to viral video, and give the creators of the content as cut of the revenue that is generated.

Anyhow, taking these two stories together, you see two trends coming together. The demise (albeit slower than expected transitional demise) of the old system of 30-second ads on traditional TV. And the rise of new forms of ads attached to video on the web. At some point in the next five years, a new system of advertising attached to video content will emerge, and more clarity will come.

Peter Leyden  

New Nielsen study on DVR impact on ad watching

Though the Times plays this story as good news for advertisers, I'm not sure how good it is.  Of those who watched the recorded show, only 42% watched the commercials.  This means that more than 50% of people using this new technology have already grown accoustomed to skipping ads. 

My family recently got our first DVR, in one of those new Comcast boxes.  It had an immediate impact on the way we watch TV as a family.  But those habits are evolving, and my sense is that the way we watch TV 2-3 years from now will be radically different from how we do today.  The real impact of this new technology - and others - will be felt over 2-4 years, and it is way too early from advertisers to feel a sigh of relief.  A 60% skip rate seems really high to me, like people are already making extraordinary changes in their relationship to this thing we call TV.   

Visit our affiliate the New Politics Institute at www.newpolitics.net for more on the evolution of TV and other media and how it effects politics.

techPresident keeps tabs on 2008 web strategies

Personal Democracy Forum has a new group blog called techPresident that reports on how campaigns are both using and affected by new tools. Among other things, it tracks the number of MySpace friends each candidate has (FYI - Sen. Obama leads the pack).

Blogs Define Libby Trial Coverage

The Libby trial is almost over, now that the defense has rested it's case, and one of the most important precidents it is going to be remembered for won't be in the decision.  That's because the Libby trial is a landmark for blogs:

For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Mr. Cox negotiated access for the bloggers.

The leader in coverage of the trial is www.firedoglake.com, who have a devoted legal team live blogging and providing analysis of the trial:

Even the Web-savvy may ask, Fire dog what? A collective of liberal bloggers, fueled by online donations and a fanatical devotion to the intricacies of the Libby case, Firedoglake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation. They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer, all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.

All day long during the trial, one Firedoglake blogger is on duty to beam to the Web from the courthouse media room a rough, real-time transcript of the testimony. With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake “live blog” has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial.

Blogs and the online communication revolution they are a part of are changing how we get our news, and ruffling a few traditional press feathers doing it.

In the courthouse, the old- and new-media groups have mixed warily at times. Mainstream reporters have shushed the bloggers when their sarcastic comments on the testimony drowned out the audio feed. But traditional reporters have also called on the bloggers on occasion to check a quote or an obscure detail from the investigation.

Some bloggers at the trial have seen their skepticism about mainstream reporting confirmed.

“It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” said Marcy Wheeler, author of a book on the case, “Anatomy of Deceit,” and the woman usually in the Firedoglake live-blogger seat.

Check out NDN affiliate the New Politics Institute for the latest analysis of the rise of the blogs and how progressives can engage the netroots. 

Al Franken: Candidate for a New Era

Al Franken announced his candidacy for the Senate today and he came out of the gate strong, with the 'look straight into the camera, no stirring strings, post it on YouTube" announcement that is fast-becoming the accepted way to launch a candidacy.  Republican/George Galloway punching bag Senator Norm Coleman had better watch out, because Franken's announcement was good, damn good, and his mastery of this new format bodes well for his ability to run a 21st century campaign. 

In the second half of the 20th century and even up through 2006, television was the dominant way politicians communicated to voters.  This gave us the good, great leaders who also happen to be great on television:

And the bad, undistinguished politicians with nice haircuts who look presentable on teevee.  There are far too many to list here, so I'll only offer two contemporary examples that jump to mind:

But, as Simon wrote, political ads are changing and so are the ways in which we watch them.  Quick, casual messages posted to the internet can have the same impact as slickly produced television ads that show the candidate playing with kids, listening to seniors and speaking in front of a big crowd, while a narrator speaks to the accompaniment of blandly uplifting music.  This new approach requires an understanding of how to create effective internet video and a candidate who can connect through the medium. 

Julie Bergman Sender's recent paper on the topic points out that good internet video requires a good narrative and the Franken announcement has an excellent one.  He begins by addressing the white elephant in the room: can a comedian be a serious candidate?  He then talks about where his values come from - growing up in a middle class family and marrying a woman who grew up poor and never would have made it to Harvard without social security and Pell Grants.  Franken moves onto the challenges of today, talking about the concerns he's heard from ordinary Minnesotans who are finding it harder to find good jobs, afford health care,  send their kids to college, save for retirement, and who, like all of us, worry about what they see and hear from Iraq.  He finishes by tying his campaign to the great legacy of progressive Minnesota politicians:

Our state has sent some strong progressive leaders to Washington form Hubert Humphrey to Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone and now Amy Klobuchar.  Minnesota’s public servants might not always look and sound like typical politicians, but they stand by their principles and lead by their values.  That's the kind of leaders I think we need more of these days and that's the kind of Senator I'll be.

But its not just good writing (SNL misses you, Al) that makes this video so effective; it is a great performance too.  After all, until now that was Franken's job.  On SNL, in Comedy Clubs and even on his Air America show, Al made a living entertaining people.  But he's not an entertainer cum politician in the tradition of B-movie stars like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Franken's success comes from being able to connect with people in a much more direct way, be they studio guests laughing at his Henry Kissinger impersonation or commuters nodding in agreement with his commentary on the Al Franken Show.  It's the casual, genuine nature of Al Franken's entertainment that makes this video so effective.

Al Franken may just be a new kind of candidate, someone who combines celebrity with authenticity, and can use that one-two punch to communicate with voters more effectively than ever before.  In this new era, voters are going to demand more than a pretty face and an expensive media campaign and it looks like Al Franken can give it to them.

Supercomputer in a chip: the inexorable march of computing power

Today in San Francisco, Intel will present their newest chip breakthrough to an industry conference. They now have a microchip the size of someone’s fingertip that has the same computational power as room-size supercomputer of just 11 years ago.

The chip is five years out from commercial use, and there are some software barriers that have to be overcome in the meantime, but the basic model has been cracked on how to get there. So we will have supercomputers able to fit in our cellphones in the span of five years.

This is just the latest example of a process of that has been going on for more than 30 years in Silicon Valley – about every 18 months a new generation of computer chips shrinks in size, roughly doubles in power and drops in price.

For those who want a lay person’s explanation of this process and what this new chip means, check out Tom Abate’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle. For those who want a more geeky explanation, check out the New York Times story by John Markoff, the dean of tech reporters out here.

And for those who want more on how these tech changes fit into the larger political transformation, check out the New Politics Institute website, and especially our talk, The New Politics Begins.

Peter Leyden

Customizing Ads down to the Individual Consumer/Voter

A good article in the New York Times  today on a trend that is picking up steam in the private sector advertising world, and could easily port over to politics soon. The story lays out how the combination of advanced digital tools and the internet are allowing mass customization in the production and distribution of advertising.

The story highlighted how several  companies are providing the means for giant corporations all the way down to small business owners like individual real estate agents to tailor commercials using a wide range of stock material. So a local car dealer can go on the web and use these services to easily create car commercials targeting his or her local audience.

The companies also help place the ads in cable  niches (and soon other arenas like mobile phones) so that the tailored messages actually reach the individuals they were designed for.

And since the internet ties this all  together, an advertiser can adjust the message within minutes before it will air. The story gave an example of Wendy’s tweaking halftime commercials on NFL football games to reflect how the games were going.

This “molecular marketing” is still very new in the business world, but you can see the obvious implications for politics. With time, you can see a wide range of political ads targeting a wide range of constituencies, and getting placed in media that gets closer and closer to connecting with individual voters.

Some political media consultancy or  campaign is going to leverage these pioneering companies, or emulate their model and start the migration of political advertising into this micro-targeting space. Keep watching for this.

Peter Leyden   

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