CLONMEL -- Disaffected Irish citizens use social software such as electronic discussion lists, mailing lists, and blogs to express opinions. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether these electronic instruments affect the national agenda. There is a lot of talk in America about social software failing to sway the vote in the favour of Howard Dean during the Democratic Presidential primary.
Howard Dean, whose campaign made the earliest and best use of social sofware, did remarkably poorly in the opening round, coming in a distant third to two people he was expected to beat.
Clay Shirky wonders, "Did the use of tools to gather the like-minded create an environment where the faithful were more like Dean believers than Dean supporters, when support (and particularly votes) is what he needed?"
Dean did poorly because not enough people voted for him, and the usual explanations -- potential voters changed their minds because of his character or whatever -- seem inadequate to explain the Iowa results. What I wonder is whether Dean has accidentally created a movement (where what counts is believing) instead of a campaign (where what counts is voting.)It is hard to demand results from software alone. Good software tops off good underlying processs. Using mailing lists and discussion boards to affect political change in Ireland has always been challenging. Shirky explains why.
And (if that's true) I wonder if his use of social software helped create that problem.
Participation in online communities often provides a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness to interact with the real world. When you're communing with like-minded souls, you feel like you're accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual world takes no notice, as is its custom.I search out communities that respect flat hierarchies as a result of this. I have little patience for organisations who pigeonhole their staff into cubicles marked by job titles and desks weighed down by fat manuals detailing procedures.
There are many reasons for this, but the main one seems to be that the pleasures of life online are precisely the way they provide a respite from the vagaries of the real world. Both the way the online environment flattens interaction and the way everything gets arranged for the convenience of the user makes the threshold between talking about changing the world and changing the world even steeper than usual.
Shirky thinks careful use of social software by a well-oiled campaign will produce results because they would complement the "Get out the Vote" efforts.
Clay Shirky -- "Networks, Economics & Culture"
Social Software weblog -- "Is social software bad for the Dean campaign?"
MeetUp -- MeetUp by using software
Margaret McGaley -- Irish e-voting discussion list and forum
Boards.ie -- electronic fora for community activists