Internet tools to shake up a broken political system

Shaking up a broken political system

The internet is democratizing one industry after another, why can't it democratize the greatest democracy of all?

That's why I started 3dna after the 2008 election, and began exploring how I could shake up politics with web tools. I've been experimenting with different ideas and concepts to see what works -- White House 2, NationBuilder, GovLuv, and Tweet Progress. I've learned so much, and am excited to have Jesse Haff joining up with me to take it to the next level.

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Exploiting Citizens United ruling with online ads

Nearly every progressive I know is freaking out about the Supreme Court ruling removing restrictions on corporations spending money on behalf of political candidates.

There are all kinds of reasons the ruling is bad, but the rules of politics are already ridiculous. Now it's worse, but you've still got to play by exploit the rules, because your opponent certainly will.

TPM points to a coming report from CampaignGrid (an online advertising platform for Republican campaigns) on how outside groups can use unlimited amounts of online advertising to drive signups and donations for a candidate.

Using a combination of display and search advertising, FSC Bank could advertise online and link to Congressman Goodfellow's campaign website to drive traffic and volunteers and donations to the website - however FSC Bank could not report back the results of these efforts to the Goodfellow Campaign.
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Planet Abuse

One of the big problems in building a movement is trying to get people to do "less" of something. If it's morally wrong, you shouldn't just do less of it, you shouldn't do it at all! Without the moral clarity of "murder is wrong," people just keep doing what they're doing.

This is a big problem for issues like climate change, rampant consumerism, pollution, trash, etc. "Pollute less" or "buy less" simply isn't cutting it.

These issues need to be framed into one thing that eventually everyone can agree is bad. Planet abuse.

This has been done before. Child abuse. It wasn't always a bad thing, but today many things, like striking a child in anger are widely regarded as wrong. Very few think kids should be forced to work. However, there is controversy on spanking children, and the age line of what constitutes molesting a child keeps moving. But if you ask someone "is child abuse wrong?" 100% will say yes.

If we started to talk about "planet abuse" we could eventually get a lot of people to agree that it is wrong, and then we can fight to define exactly what planet abuse is. Some things will be clear, and others will be murky and change over time. "You can't do that, it's planet abuse!"

I just googled this phrase, and apparently it's never been used before. Let's change that.

This came out of a discussion with Aaron Swartz.

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Tweet Progress gets Twitter lists

Tweet Progress is a directory of progressives on Twitter. A couple weeks ago, Twitter rolled out a new "lists" feature that lets people curate their own list of Twitter accounts, then others can follow those lists to see just the tweets from those people. This is great, and obviously I should make lists for all the people in Tweet Progress.

Only it was a little more complicated than that. Twitter limits each list to a maximum of 500 people, and each account to only 20 lists. There are over 4,000 Tweet Progress members so there was no way to create one big list. So I had to figure out some way to split up the list, but not too much or I'd run into the 20 list limit, and I didn't want to just do the top 500 with the most followers, since that doesn't really fit in with the spirit of the project. And I definitely didn't want to make any kind of editorial decision as to who should be included or not. There had to be a computer algorithm sort of way to do this.

Here's what I came up with. There are four lists. Mentors, Newcomers, Influential, and Highly Influential.

Mentors and Newcomers is similar to what you see on the Tweet Progress site, limited to the most recent 100 newcomers, and the 100 most influential mentors. Influential and Highly influential is based on Topsy, a great search engine for links shared on Twitter. Similar to how Google uses a 1-10 PageRank to rank web pages, Topsy uses a 1-10 metric to rank users, based on how frequently they are retweeted, who retweets them, etc. (more details here) They display this on the site with an "influential" and "highly influential" tag. I've incorporated that information into the Tweet Progress database and that's how those lists are determined.

I've just started playing with the results, and I can say that the influential and highly influential lists are exceptionally useful, you should definitely follow them to stay on top of what matters to progressives.

If you want to be included, just join Tweet Progress. The lists are updated automatically every night.

Also, sort of related, you can use GovLuv to create a Twitter list of who represents you in government -- federal, state, local.

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Should you hide bias or be honest?

The Washington Post is now forbidding staffers from "writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility."

This is a trap that nearly everyone who is supposed to be "unbiased" falls into. They think it's better to hide personal views than be open and transparent about it. I disagree.

I'm progressive, if you look at my tweets or google me, you'll figure this out in about 5 seconds. Yet, I make tools that anyone can use --, GovLuv, and White House 2 are completely non-partisan. Part of it is necessity, how can I possibly draw a line on whether something aligns with a certain political view point? And part of it is my desire to change the game. Technology can be used for partisan ends (Tweet Progress is a good example) but it's most effective at changing the rules of the game, and that's what gets me excited.

So I'm in a somewhat similar position to the Washington Post. I don't want conservatives to feel they are locked out of what I'm building, so the natural inclination would be to hide my personal views. But I don't because I think people will trust me more when I'm honest about who I am. Very few people do this, particularly reporters, so people are naturally suspicious. This is part of why bloggers are gaining audience over newspapers and cable news is becoming more personality driven.

The funny thing is, I haven't gotten any pressure from conservatives to stack the deck, and they love using both and White House 2.

But some progressives (not most, just a few) have actually tried to bully me into favoring them. Either changing something on the site, or even preventing conservatives from using the tool entirely. Not gonna happen.

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How Twitter Can Fix Both Retweets AND Replies

Twitter is planning to make retweets part of the API, but the way they are planning to do it fundamentally misunderstands the way people are retweeting. Sometimes, people want to just amplify exactly what the other person is saying. Twitter's proposed changes handle that well. But people are also using RT to add an additional comment, sometimes as simple as "wow," and sometimes it's more of a public reply like this retweet from me:

"it's rude *not* to tweet during #wlip RT @baratunde If I live tweet during We Live In Public, will the universe collapse? #wlip"

Dan Zarrella goes more into the specifics of what's wrong with the proposed changes.

With and Tweet Progress, I've spent a good deal of time with the Twitter API, and I think there is a very elegant solution to this problem that also fixes replies.

In the same way that Twitter ditched "replies" for "mentions", they should ditch the concept of a reply to a tweet, and instead let people "attach" or "refer" to a specific tweet, which would then be included along with the new tweet.

This fixes a number of different problems.
1. It handles all the situations that RT is currently being used
2. It gives people a full 140 characters to respond or add their own commentary to another tweet.
3. Conversation threading, which is currently a total mess, is now much more explicit and will probably even work.

This is a good user experience because some third party clients are trying to do it, but it doesn't work very well because it's basically guess work. Twitter can make this explicit and solve several problems at once, rather than create a new problem by mangling retweets.
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Turn Obama's "online town hall" into an FAQ

Micah Sifry points out that Obama's "online town halls" are really just "transparency theater." Referring to Wednesday's online health care forum:

They produced a forum that was less spontaneous and less-townhall-like than if all the questions had come from citizens live at the event using no technology at all. In effect, Obama's health care forum was like last year's CNN/YouTube debates--only instead of CNN producers hand-picking the video questions, here the White House eliminated the middleman!

Instead of the online town hall, I think the Obama administration should re-conceptualize this as an open and transparent FAQ. In other words:

  1. Let people submit any questions they want whenever they want. Don't just run it for a couple of days and then pick and choose from the questions.
  2. Track which ones are most important today, this week, this month. Obama or a staffer can answer the ones that bubble up to the top of those lists, in whatever format they want, via a town hall, or just a blog post.
  3. The questions that are always popular, simply get answered on the site, like an FAQ. Anyone who comes to submit that question again can already see the answer.
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People from 26 Countries on the list for NationBuilder

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, UK, US, and Zambia.


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Imagining White House 2.0

This is the full-text of my "Imagining White House 2.0" presentation for the Personal Democracy Forum conference. 

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Introducing - Petitions Designed for Twitter

I saw Clay Johnson's post last week about Twitter being the future of email marketing. I've always found it's easier to show than to explain, so I built a petition site (with Jesse Haff, the designer from Brave New Films) that takes full advantage of Twitter.


It's very simple. Here's how it works. You sign a petition by tweeting it, and other people can sign the petition just be re-tweeting it. There's no need to go to the site, except to start a petition. If you are re-tweeted, you get credit for the referral, and will show up in the "Smokin' Recruiters" link on

We put one petition up last night just to work out the bugs:

But here's the coolest part about doing petitions with You target your petition to another Twitter user, so each time someone signs, the tweet shows up in their mentions. It's insanely viral. Then, all the targeted person needs to do is click on the link and log in with their Twitter account to respond! then sends a DM to the person who started the petition to verify if it's completed.

So you can go from outrage to petition idea to people signing in about 2 minutes. And we track right on the petition page how long it's been with no response.

We'll be adding analytics, similar to what people have come to expect from email marketing. There are some extremely cool things possible with Twitter analytics because nearly the entire social graph is public. Things we've been trying to track with email for years that just weren't possible, are now possible with Twitter.

Recent events have made it clear there is huge potential to tweet change. can help.

UPDATE: There's more at TechPresident.

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