My Geek Thesis: Drupal and the New Left

(update: This thesis has been published)

Remember the Dean Campaign‘s love affair with the Internet?

Meetup got a lot of the credit (and rightfully so), but there was another beast behind it all. Drupal — a European open source content management system.

After doing some reporting — I found out the choice to use Drupal was actually happenstance — the college student who wanted to develop Drupal just went into some chat rooms to find out what content management system was hot. Drupal, at that point only two years into existence, was named and the Deaniacs followed up by downloading it. A simple non-chalant choice, no?

But as the Dean campaign picked up speed through the Internet — that choice would end up having real political ramifications.

In dozens of states there was a young Dean believer who learned to use “DeanSpace,” a fork of Drupal, to help bolster the candidate they believed in.

As the election cycle progressed, however, the campaign seemed doomed. All these young, left-leaning individuals learned Drupal to no avail.

Or so it seemed.

I’ve recently met some of the key Drupal developers who created DeanSpace, which later became Civic Space — and eventually folded back into Drupal.

Why look into this now?

Because the Dean Campaign is looked at as a marker for both political campaigns and the greater blogosphere. It was the right moment for grassroots campaigns to organize through the Web and for the MSM to take notice of the blogosphere’s power. And we are gearing up for another big campaign cycle.

Since Drupal was the tool used in 04, it became “the tool” that the new young left learned and have since re-used in dozens of campaigns since. I see Drupal being used on a new site everyday. Most appear to be either publishing sites or grassroots campaigns/organizations. The question is — how much of a factor was its role in the Dean Campaign part of its spread? Did this influence keep it confined to liberal organizations? Can software become politicized?

My goal: to find and track the influential tech people from the Dean Campaign — get their story – and more importantly — track how their involvement with DeanSpace changed both political campaigns, the grassroots left movement and the content management system Drupal itself.

1. Drupal was altered by Deaniacs, but how much of the larger Drupal community was shaped by them? A good example: the latest release of Drupal version 5.0 was organized by a Dean alumni.

2. How has Drupal shaped the new left: How many young left-leaning people learned Drupal through the Dean campaign? Some of them formed Drupal developing companies after the campaign ended. Is Drupal the new left tool of choice? How many left-leaning organizations use Drupal because it was referred to them by a young, tech savvy liberal? More interesting than this: Do right wing organizations use Drupal?

3. Business displacement: The Internet is a tool that enables groups of like-minded people to meet and work together to do jobs that were formally done by profesionals. This causes business displacement. If I want to find great photography, I don’t need to hire a professional photographer anymore. I can go to Scoopt, iStockphotography or Flickr. What about if I wanted to start a campaign or organization myself?

In the past that meant paying around $500 to a big company like Condio, to build a single Web page for my organization. And that amount was re-applied for every single page. Drupal empowers the community to take control of campaigns. Have the big boys of campaigns been replaced?

Today the answer is obviously no. But any serious presedential candidate has to take social networking/user generated content, et al. into consideration.

This is where I begin. I’ll be working on this magazine article through the summer.

If you know anything — please get in contact with me (leave a comment below).

And just to keep me honest (and everything transparent), here are some recent readings (not exhaustive) and a
list of people that I intend to (or already have) contacted. (Note:
This is where that radical transparency thing gets mucky — this is
literally copy and pasted from my notes — not really cleaned up for public consumption — so please excuse the mess). It’s meant to give you a sense of what direction I’m heading.

Drupal 5.0 released

Drupal Blog

Drupal Camp Toronto (I went to NYC Drupal Camp, which is where I got the idea for this story).

Drupal developing 8 hours a day.

Lullabot (need to contact them soon)

Drupal for Churches

People to contact

Josh Koenign
Zack Rosen (will be in NY in beginning of March)
Aaron Welsh (in New York)
Noel Hildalgo: (New York)
Niel Drumm  (Lives with Zack â?? I can meet when I go to SF)
Echo Ditto (a company like Chapter Three): Tim Jones at EchoDitto

Dries Buytaert â?? created Drupal

Old school Durpal Guy: Jon Weisman (boston)
Aldon Hynes: Deanspacer who now works on Edwards campagin

Zyphyr Teachout: Big person in the Dean Campagin.
Someoen from big Three â?? Bad Type: Charged over a million dollars for a political site: Convio, Kintera Nathaniel Pearlman â?? he can give me
the neutral point of view. He has worked with Drupal â?? but not
Micah Sifry â?? a political writer and organizer.
Alison Stanton

Someone from

12 thoughts on “My Geek Thesis: Drupal and the New Left”

  1. Hi David, Good luck w thesis. If it’s helpful, I worked a lot with Convio and can talk about how that system inspired a different kind of content manager.

  2. hey dave, how about doing a comparison between the geeks in the Dean campaign who stayed open source (Drupal) and those who went closed source (i.e. Blue State Digital)?

  3. As a non-profit in South Africa, we are heavy users of drupal – but from a networking, campaigning point of view, its CiviCRM that is getting us *really* excited

  4. Drupal is also used on the right-wing staple of “liberal bias” — the Media Research Center’s

    CivicActions is also at the forefront of bringing Drupal to high-profile progressive causes — biggest one of late is Amnesty International.

    I personally don’t think that politics is driving Drupal development. And I don’t see a lot of innovations being funded by political campaigns.

    Andrew Rasiej tried a crack at an open source political campaign, and his campaign manager wrote up a post-mortem that detailed a lot of the barriers to why it didn’t work for them —

    I left a comment response to that post that I also posted here:

    Below is an excerpt:

    “I think a key lesson is to figure out how to tap into personal motivation and intention in the present moment — and open source communities thrive whenever they’re able to scratch the itches of the participants.

    “So what does an ecosystem look like where itches are immediately being scratched by those participating in the campaign? And do these volunteers have to be “Advocates” — or can they truly be “Participants”? And do the answers to these questions have to come from electoral politics?

    “I think that open source politics still has a future, but I think that most of the innovation is NOT going to come from electoral politics. I’m a lot more optimistic about the potential for open source collaborative media.

    “I think that as the tools and methodologies are developed for creating participatory rich media, then these new communication tools and strategies will eventually flow into our democratic process.”

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