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November 17, 2003
The socio-political network
So, we have what seems to be at least a relatively new social phenomenon happening: a presidential campaign that's moving ahead in part because the supporters are feeling connected not just to the candidate but to one another. And that campaign (Dean's) has been creating an infrastructure that allows groups of supporters to meet and stay in touch...a social network. This happens through the real-world contacts made at MeetUps, through the Dean online social network (DeanLinks), through the Dean real-world event organizer (GetLocal), and through the open source software they've written to make it easy for anyone to create a group and to link to other groups (DeanSpace).
Let's say Dean loses either the nomination or the election. As others have pointed out, he could become the Goldwater of the Democrats: the person who loses the election but lays the foundation for a strong recovery years later. In this case, the groundwork would include a set of social relationships instantiated on the Web.
What would happen to that infrastructure? My guess - and keep in mind that I have never been right, not even once(tm) - is that the elements with the ties to local geography are the most likely to persist. Yes, it seems quite possible that we'll see some topical mailing lists emerge, and perhaps Pilots for Dean (via DeanSpace) will stay together for a couple of decades because it's a good place to ask for advice from like-minded flyboys and flygals. But I suspect (based on almost nothing) that it's the friendships made through MeetUp and the access to local people in DeanLinks and GetLocal that will survive the longest with the richest connections. Geo-based groups are a resource for all sorts of questions that almost always have real immediacy to them. For example, if it's January 2005 and you want to organize a bus to go protest the second Bush inaugural (nooooooo!), GetLocal is sitting there waiting for you. And if you want to get some folks together to serve Christmas dinner at the local shelter, GetLocal will be a good place to look. Then, of course, there are all the uses that will emerge and surprise our asses.
Much more fun to think about: What becomes of this social network if Dean wins...
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