lunes, septiembre 06, 2004

Siguiendo con la serie de artículos y reflexiones en torno al Flash Mob basado en SMS que aconteció el día antes de las elecciones generales de marzo en España, adjunto este artículo que me ha enviado Esteve Almirall (grècies Esteve!) donde queda claro que el fenómeno no será flor de un día...

Technology Equals Democracy

The Web is making it easier to organize volunteers and get out the vote. If this election does not hinge on it, the next one will.

By Erick Schonfeld, September 03, 200

Ever since Kennedy beat Nixon, the deciding factor in U.S. presidential elections has been TV, where simple messages, good looks, and vague promises tend to win the day. But starting with the early online mobilization of the Howard Dean campaign and the more than $80 million that John Kerry has raised online, TV may start to be eclipsed by the Web as the deciding medium. That would be good for democracy.

We can already see the outlines of how the Web can change politics by making it easier for people to participate. The large turnout of protesters in New York City during the Republican Convention, for example, and the assortment of their activities (from organized marches to theatrical unemployment lines to spontaneous dancing ) were possible only because activists cheaply and quickly promoted the protests online and followers got in touch with the organizers on the fly.

Once in town, protesters assembled in flash mobs, receiving text-message instructions at the last moment on their cell phones. A site called TxtMob was set up just to organize such gatherings and distribute intelligence to those on the street. A group of self-described "witches at the RNC" calling itself PaganCluster, for instance, sent out a message on Sunday night: "Ritual at 9:30 at obelisk." As protest detainees were being freed on Thursday, the group sent out another text message that read, "Action Union sq 8pm location tbd listn 4 drums." These communications are spontaneous intelligence for the disaffected.

This kind of organized intelligence is going to make the difference. has been leading the charge in e-mail campaigns and testing political commercials on its site, where people can vote for the most effective ads. The winning commercials will be aired on TV in swing states. Yes, TV still rules, but in four years targeted ads will stream right into your living room Internet/home entertainment device. Earlier this year many of Howard Dean's supporters threw parties in their homes; strangers would find out about the get-togethers online at sites like, and an electronic grassroots movement was born.

The political parties are catching on to the power of these participatory technologies. Both major parties have people who focus on nothing other than e-mail and interactive outreach. For the Kerry campaign, this resulted in the unprecedented amount of money raised in $20 and $50 increments from people who perhaps would never even have bothered to go to a political rally. And the Web lets both candidates communicate directly to the masses without editorial interference from journalists like me. More important, it lets politically minded citizens communicate directly with each other.

Both and offer ways for visitors to send recruiting e-mails to their friends, volunteer for the campaign, or contribute money. Each political convention also had its own dedicated website, where people could check out the speaker schedule and view videos of most of the speeches. Jeff Averbeck, CEO of Smartech, which is running the Republican websites, says, "Politics today is getting people to get up and do something." More than 1 million volunteers and 6 million e-mail and letter-writing activists have signed up for the Republicans this year over the Web.

All those people make a good test bed for sophisticated database marketing techniques. "When we send out an e-mail," Averbeck says, "I can tell immediately how it was received -- whether it was opened, forwarded, or discarded. We have code in the e-mail that shows me." The real power of the Web in politics will be evident next time around, when both parties will have enough information in their databases to target messages to people based on who they are and what they believe.

That's when it starts to benefit real democracy. The Web could certainly help the candidates bypass some of the entrenched political interest groups who aggregate votes for them today. Jonathan Bush, the president's cousin and CEO of medical claims processor Athenahealth, explains it this way: "The usual aggregators are Ralph Reed, the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO. These people get more sway than they deserve because they can deliver [votes] reliably. The problem is, there are massive swaths of the population that don't have an effective aggregator. The Web has a real potential to break that logjam because it represents a way to aggregate [votes] at a retail level."

The real key will be if the Web can help to actually democratize the political process. Strange as that may sound, only about half of eligible voters bother to go to the voting booth, so there is much room for improvement. If somebody could figure out a tamperproof way of voting over the Internet, then voter participation would truly be astronomical. But for the foreseeable future, those people will still have to find their way to the polls. So if the Web can help a candidate get just a small percentage of those nonvoters and persuade them to show up on Election Day, it could decide who sits in the White House.

por Oriol Lloret Albert