Royal Holloway keynotes – Micah Sifry: Open source politics

I spoke at Royal Holloway University’s Web 2.0 Politics conference on 18 April and had planned to live-blog the two keynotes by Micah Sifry and Michael Turk but unfortunately didn’t manage to. But I did make notes and have now re-worked them so they are sort of a deferred live-blogging stream-of-consciousness.

First up is the keynote by Micah Sifry, titled Open Source Politics:

Micah began by stating that political communications must move from being egocentric to network centric. That is, becoming less about individuals and more about loosely connected networks of supporters that coalesce and self-organise around specific issues.

This allows voters to become co-creators of the candidate’s political campaign and network effects, Micah argued, are the key to this.

Funding – we are seeing small, but significant revolutions in political funding taking place:

  • For example Ron Paul opened up his funds by putting all his campaign donations online
  • The database of donations was entirely searchable
  • Building on this, supporters started building useful tools that displayed fundsina useful and meaningful way
  • For example, they started making graphs that displayed funding from specific places, organisations or people – they then set-up the website where you can view the most interesting results [Edit: think of that resource as a journalist as well as a supporter!]
  • Apparently Obama is considering running an online to raise $1m in 1min – which may or may not be a good/successful idea!
  • Micah’s concluding point was that with micro-economics emerging on the web, big money doesn’t go away – but now there is a counter-veiling force. People can now say if that if the party does follow this or that route with policy or selection etc then they will donate cash to a rivel candidate etc. The micro-funding revolution makes parties/candidates etc more accountable

Micah also addressed, what he termed as, the Economy of Abundance:

  • This arises – in essence – from the easy and cheap availability of storage on the web.
  • Micah says that – politically, at least – the sound bite is being challenged by abundance of space online to have upload, store and search etc other messages, speeches, communications material etc
  • The media presentation format of 20 or 30 second glib or catchy but meaningless snapshots is being onverted
  • As an example: Barack Obama has approximately 900 videos on YouTube, and most of these videos are about 13mins long
  • The Race Video has had 4m views and as YouTube only counts a full play-through of a video as a view then there’s a lot of people who are hungry for quality, in-depth content that they can’t get from MSM. Where do they go to find it? Online.

Micah’s three conclusions were particularly insightful:


  • The network is more powerful than the list
  • Networks are resilient, but not nimble
    • If you have a network of 5,000 bloggers and one says something stupid then it’s not the end of world. However, if you take away the central point then they’re that not easily corralled
  • Networks and campaigns can be allies, but they ultimately have cross-purposes
    • Campaigns share tasks but not authority with their supporters
    • To get to a position of open source politics we need to give supporters authority
    • Micah asks can we ever get there? Ron Paul supporters were given full authority to shape his campaign, but then they raised money to spend on a branded blimp – was a good idea and use of funds?

For Micah, the big (and most interesting) question is where will the balance of power lie in the future and what happens to the networks once the elections are over. Once you have given supporters/voters a sense of power, they probably won’t let it go so easily.

Technorati tags: Royal Holloway University, Politics 2.0, Micah Sifry, Open Source Politics


  1. As always good stuff Simon. But what where they thinking of with the branded blimp? Or have I missed something?

  2. Hello Simon
    Brilliant stuff and really persuasive. Both parties are struggling with this, and it needs a paradigm shift which seems a way off.
    Sifry’s assertion that “political communications must move from being egocentric to network centric” is a massive ask! I just think of the politicians I know and smirk 🙂

  3. awesome post

  4. Hi, thanks so much for posting this — I’m writing a paper for the American Political Science Association pre-conference on Internet/politics etc. I was there but your notes are a lot better than mine! I’ll cite you and send you a copy if you like … writing about how to measure the efficacy of political party websites. SAO

  5. Hi Sarah. Thanks for stopping by and glad you found my notes useful – there were unusually coherent for me!
    Happy for the citation and would love to get a copy of the final paper.

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