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August 13, 2003

Gaining power by losing control? 

I've been following David Weinberger's blogs (eg here and here) about the US Presidential campaign of Howard Dean. So I spent some time looking at the Dean campaign weblog , a pretty extraordinary example of its kind.

As Weinberger suggests, Dean seems to get the net and how to use it. Look at his site; loads and loads of outbound links, often to communities over which he can exert no control. For example, he includes links to unofficial groups like Hack for Dean, Geeks for Dean and the perhaps inevitable Rock for Dean It's a web of content from people all over the country.

Some criticise him for not putting many messages in himself... but perhaps that's the point, it's a site for his supporters. He's taking the risk that some of these people are going to say things he won't agree with and maybe embarass him - in return for building a different quality of engagement and support. Has he perhaps figured out that giving up control in favour or making connection can be very powerful?

He's also using Meet Up technology so people can meet face-to-face with other supporters. Even here in London I've uncovered two Dean meetings in the coming weeks. So when people join this campaign, they get a chance to meet for real, not just virtually.

I don't pay close attention to US politics and I haven't compared other campaign sites, but something tells me this is a pretty significant change... I wonder where this leaves the ideas of Spin Doctors that got the UK government elected? Their recent shortcomings call to mind Norman Lamont's jibes about John Major being in power but not in authority. Or I would say it's a choice between different kinds of power - egotistical control freak or the power of the conductor.

And it makes you wonder about the internationalisation of democracy, since anyone in the world can engage with this campaign if they like. As indeed I just have.

This sort of thing will leave the tired world of image-led branding gasping for air (hot air of course). Out the door go conventional pretences of closely "managing" public understanding. Instead we get a far more engaging series of passionate engagements where human beings themselves get to do what they like - meet, talk, argue, enthuse - with the brand acting as a super-host for the conversation.

No telling what will happen to Howard Dean's campaign. But here's a sign of a big change in the way of the world.
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