First, Draft the Press Release

Open Republic helps activists grow their community, their support, their contributions and their political power. This is the entry point for the tech-averse political novice and a backroom operations guide for the tech-savvy political pro: Dean done right.

I believe some sage (Regis McKenna?) said:

Draft the press release before you design the product

The reason is familiar to any salesperson. They get deep into a presentation and they’re stopped cold by the dreaded objection #3a – the one that slows down most sales and kills half of them. If the engineers had only designed objection 3a out of the product, life would be good.

By drafting the press release, even 12 to 24 months before product launch, you’ll be forced to think about the product’s benefits rather than its features, and you’ll design a better product. You’ll think about benefits because you’re trying to engage editors and end users who don’t care about anything but what’s in it for them. You’ll answer why your darling is worth the brain damage of owning it.

End users never care about features – the engineers’ beloved blinkenlights – they care about the core utility of the thing. Most of our VCRs are blinking 12:00 because we bought it to play rentals, not to schedule recordings, and we have other clocks that keep working when the power goes out. Most people still don’t watch DVDs because every time they try to buy a player, the sales guy starts talking about 3:2 pulldown and their eyes glaze over. He thinks he’s selling DVD players, but he’s really delivering brochures.

A web page is essentially what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” an interruption in the customer’s search for an answer in a haystack of solutions. My friend Jerry Vass says that most people really don’t care to change what they are doing now, because it’s too much trouble.

Companies’ inability to deliver answers delays the purchases we’d otherwise leap at. Vass estimates that featureSpeak costs companies billions of dollars in delayed purchases. Customers seem to care most about dollars but we really care about the aggradollars we squander on the aggravation of owning anything we’ve not owned before. Aggradollars are the dark underbelly of the Information Economy that sounded so appealing when Paul Hawken described it in 1983.

Answers, not Solutions

The software industry believes its mission is to deliver solutions, but customers want answers. The great thing about an answer is that it includes a promise. Customers have learned that “solution” means “black hole”. We who’ve spent too much time packaging information for a computer screen have learned that we have to throttle our ambitions way back to be useful to our customers.

That’s why Open Republic must first be a trusted publication, not a software development operation. OR’s first obligation is to deliver the single answer an activist wants, not the data architecture solution she needs. The OR answer for the activist is direct:

Open Republic helps activists grow their community, their support, their contributions and their political power. This is the entry point for the tech-averse political novice and a backroom operations guide for the tech-savvy political pro: Dean done right.

Scores of smart, committed technologists are setting up consulting shops and development operations. They will all be competing for the attention and confidence of Misty Smith’s brother-in-law. Open Republic means to be the comprehensive and comprehensible companion and portal for the activist with questions that need answers.

Learning by Teaching

It’s axiomatic that the best way to learn something is to teach it. By building the indispensable guide to what’s available in the activist software market, Open Republic will understand far better what’s missing and what most needs improving. Armed with those insights, it will better spend its grant money inspiring activist developers to do what they want to do anyway, but with a better UI.

The Open Republic portal to the new tech of activism will have no shortage of donors. People and foundations experienced enough to have money to give know that the world needs more benefits and fewer features – answers, not solutions.

From recent comments:

Your description of OR seems like it avoids the pitfalls of so many recent posts I’ve seen around the ideas of how technology can support campaigns. By focusing on a mix of expert political advice with active critique/support of toolmakers, OR might just avoid the trend of scholastic laziness and technological navel gazing I see in most of the emergent democracy posts.

One important piece of this mix is the communication between experts, campaign managers and toolmakers. OR seems like it would be in a unique position to allow these people to tell each other of their needs and goals, and to bring together multitalented teams like the one you joined on the Dean campaign. While many of the social software software systems have questionable value as services for the general public, OR can benefit from the lessons they are teaching us about encouraging communication among relatively small communities like the one OR will support.

Trevor F. Smith • 3/24/04; 7:38:22 AM


Towards Trevor’s point – a couple of further quick thoughts.

  • OR should ideally draw on technical resources regardless of ideaology, so should look to include Republicans as well as Democrats (and independants)
  • I think OR should incorporate knowledge and skills being learned outside of the US in the realm of applying the Internet and connectivity to campaigns. While there are differences (legal and cultural), some of the most innovative uses of technology in the political process are not here in the US.

From the simple Fax your MP program in the UK, to using SMS messages to assemble protests (and/or get out the vote), to voting booths in Africa that do not require literacy (using photographs), innovations are now very much global.

Further, OR should probably address and look at how tools and technology can a means of reaching out beyond just the English speaking portion of the US population. Non-native English speakers are a key and growing block (well blocks) of voters, any technology being built likely should consider this going forward.

Shannon Clark • 3/24/04; 8:5
8:48 AM


8:36:17 AM    

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