As the election draws near more and more people are asking me for my advice on using the internet to campaign. My standard answer 'Spend it on TV and print' doesn't seem to be going down too well, so I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to reflect on the further lessons from Howard Dean's experience of the first political dot.bomb.
This has all been inspired by W.B Yeats. Recently, Anno Mitchell reminded me of his famous words about the awkward relationship between ideological fervour and talent, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity". The problem now is that the net gives the 'passionate intensity' crowd the ability to organise and evangelise remarkably successfully, wheras previously the down side of that package (being 'the worst') would have denied them access to the mainstream. What we owe Dean is that fact that this is a phenomenon that we'll be better attuned to detecting next time round.
I do have three bits of advice for campaigners:
1) It's great for organising your troops - work really hard on using it to get the information they need out to them. Let them at your rebuttal machinery. Spend most of your e-budget on this.
2) For the mainstream parties and their outward facing personas, the net still offers depressingly little beyond the chance to sell you message in a highly customised fashion to those people who show up on your site in the first place, most of whom will have already made up their minds. But these systems are worth building anyway, just to catch the odd dilligent floating voter who's sick of soundbites and who wants to know what you actually stand for.
3) Here's my optimisitic bit. Any contest that can be won by a constituency base which is thin but spread over a very large geographic area can be won with the help of the net. This means you can win a funding race, or a non-controversial legal campaign, or any race where it's you vs the status quo (as opposed to between you vs the rest of the country in polling booths). The problem for the next non-proportionally-representative general election is that geograhical density of votes matter, and the net can't deliver those, at least not at the moment.
So, what are you waiting for? Start raising money and start buying newsprint ;)