FaceBooking and Answering Putnam at Yearly Kos

YearlyKos is in town and, while I’m not a political blogger and this isn’t my scene, I am into listening to smart people. The second interesting panel of the afternoon, Roots: From Online Organizing to Community Activism, looked at the opportunities, and limitations, of Facebook. (If you haven’t heard of it, Jeff Jarvis likes it.)

I’m no Ethan Zuckerman, so paraphrases follow. (Like Ethan, however, I do score at baseball games.)

Pachacutec spoke of the Roots Project’s successful use of Facebook and accompanying challenges:


  • The Facebook infrastructure is easier to manage than is Drupal.
  • Success brings problems:“Once you start scaling” in FB, and reach more than 1,000 members, you can no longer send them messages due to anti-spam restrictions.
  • In FB, no one knows what a perfect app is like; there is no clear model.

Randall Winston of Project Agape spoke about Facebook Causes, which is apparently being used by more than 2 million people and is added by 40,000 users a day.


  • The Support Breast Cancer Research Cause has more than 730,000 members and has raised more than $20,000. The recipient, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, didn’t learn of the campaign until it received a $12,000 in the mail. The creator of the Cause started other Causes on the same day– this one took off, the others, also health related, did not. Why?
  • Causes builds on FB’s “atmosphere of truthfulness…people are treating FB as an extension of their real life.”
  • Why FB works: people want to be validated and feel good about themselves. Prior to Causes, a group, such as Save Darfur, could reach hundreds of thousands and becomes a trend, but the Save Darfur Coalition had no way to reach out to them.
  • In FB, “reaching critical mass is so important;” a large community is needed in order to figure out what works.
  • “We come at it from a very naïve perspective;” want to see Cuases grow into off line engagement
  • Causes don’t’ have the scaling problem that Groups do. Causes media apps are coming.
  • FB is web’s largest photo site, by far.
  • FB “duplicates a social graph.”
  • The “average user logs” on to FB 12-25 times a day.

Justin Krebs of Living Liberally talked about the relationship between off-line and real world activities. In addition to Drinking Liberally, he mentioned Traction and Bus Project.


  • Not everyone is ready to become a hard core activist; some of us still need bridging moments. Personal connection can be a bridge, a “gateway drug into progressive politics.”
  • Robert Putnam said little about the internet in Bowling Along; we can now say that the net is not TV, it is not the villain. “It may not be the hero, but it is trending positively.”
  • I prefer face to face, but there are real communities that only exist online.

The panel chair, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, closed with a comment that seems to be emerging as a theme: “Last year we were struggling to be seen– I just got an email from reproter at MSNBC asking me to link to his blog.”



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