Glad to be here! a long tail for politics?

I have just joined the ZDNet roster, and I'd like to take a moment to explain what I'll be writing about...with an example.

This is my first post under the ZDNet banner. I'm looking forward to the shift from Release 1.0, a newsletter that came out every month (or recently, every three months) to something that's more timely and less polished... and shorter!

I'll be covering whatever interests me. My goal is to cover "release 0.9" - things that aren't quite done yet, whether they are ideas, companies or technologies.  I like things *before* they are finished or perfect or well understood. And I plan to write a lot about things outside... not just outside Silicon Valley, but outside the US. (Amazing, eh?)  

Right now, I find it hard to get excited about Web 2.0 in general.  There seems to be a multitude of start-ups promising video, virality, user-generated content, reputation systems and more....  And I can't tell any of them apart.

But there are also lots of examples of people starting really wonderful services that transcend the buzzwords in order to do things in particular. 

Here's one that I have been in touch with lately, which provides a pretty good example of the kind of thing I like:

 It's not ready yet.  It's not Release 1.1 of something that exists already. And it's clever.

In this case, it'ss Voter.com (but note, the site isn't ready yet; this is still pre-alpha).  Voter.com (an old name now being applied to this new start-up) was founded by Rick Cowen, a serial *non*-Web entrepreneur with most of his experience in advertising and music (i.e. Los Angeles).  With the smarts of a novice, he has designed a system that is essentially a campaign tool in a box. He calls it a "political appliance."  It is distinctly not  yet another discussion board for earnest liberals or conservatives, or even an earnest discussion board for both liberals and conservatives. 

Instead, it’s a tool for a politician or a non-profit leader who wants to amass and communicate with an audience of voters or donors, but with more discussion and position papers and content than your typical nonprofit CRM system. It includes tools for "message development," market research, advertising, contact management and fundraising - basically, the essence of a  campaign cycle. 

To be candid, when Rick Cowen first showed up in my inbox (and then persisted through the months despite my neglect), I was expecting a sincere, passionate but awkward techy with a mission.  Instead, he’s a sharp-talking ad guy who wants to make money offering a useful service to an underserved long tail – people running for dogcatcher, public advocate, school-board president.  (Joe Lieberman could have used it, for example, to get a sense of how his message was being received - and perhaps to listen better to messages from voters.... But it is really designed to help  someone who wants to become the next Joe Lieberman to get a start.)

For $19.95 a month the would-be candidate gets the tools to solicit voters, explain his positions, raise money and so forth - just as an eBay seller can get his own store, either as a main base or to supplement an existing business. One-time-use mailing lists, fundraising and money-management tools and the like are extra.  The precise charging model is different from eBay, but the overall impact is the same: more little guys can enter the market and compete effectively with established, bigger incumbents.

That's for "candidates." For regular (free) users (called "voters"), there are tools for creating one's profile and stating one's views, tagging interesting posts from candidates and other voters, and (over time) all the usual social-network widgets.  The voters can go online and compare the various candidates, find out who in their area is running for what, communicate with other voters, ask the candidate questions. The candidate’s answers get posted for all to see. The candidate can also upload and promote podcasts of news interviews with himself, or make his own statements on whatever issues he cares about. 

If you think we need better politicians, this may be part of the answer: Making it easier for people who are not professionals to try their hand.  And if we don’t like the new entrants we don’t need to vote for them, but I find it hard to believe that a broader selection couldn’t help.

Like Spotrunner for small cable-TV (for now) advertisers and Google ads for bloggers and small advertisers, it’s giving the little guy capabilities that were previously available only to big guys – or incumbents.  The question is, will more politicians and more diverse politicians lead to better politicians? the quick and easy answer is that it's up to the voters - but they have to pay attention.


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