Write Better English - Day 13

Filed under:

Last November, Mark Penn, then the chief strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton, derisively said Barack Obama's supporters "look like Facebook."

Chris Hughes takes that as a compliment.

Mr. Hughes, 24, was one of four founders of Facebook. In early 2007, he left the company to work in Chicago on Senator Obama's new-media campaign. Leaving behind his company at such a critical time would appear to require some cognitive dissonance: political campaigns, after all, are built on handshakes and persuasion, not computer servers, and Mr. Hughes has watched, sometimes ruefully, as Facebook has marketed new products that he helped develop.

"It was overwhelming for the first two months," he recalled. "It took a while to get my bearings."

But in fact, working on the Obama campaign mayhave moved Mr. Hughes closer to the center of the social networking phenomenon, not farther away.

The campaign's new-media strategy, inspired by popular networks like MySpace and Facebook, has revolutionalised the use of the Web as a political tool, helping the candidate raise more than two million donations of less than $200 each and swiftly mobilise hundreds of thousands of supporters before various primaries.

The centrepiece of it all is My.BarackObama.com, where supporters can join local groups, create events, sign up for updates and set up personal fund-raising pages. "If we did not have online organizing tools, it would be much harder to be where we are now," Mr. Hughes said.

Mr. Obama, now the presumptive Democratic nominee, credits the Internet's social networking tools with a "big part" of his primary season success.

"One of my fundamental beliefs from my days as a community organizer is that real change comes from the bottom up," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "And there's no more powerful tool for grass-roots organizing than the Internet."

Now Mr. Hughes and other campaign aides are applying the same social networking tools to try to win the general election. This time, however, they must reach beyond their base of young, Internet-savvy supporters.

By early April, Mr. Obama's new-media team was already planning for the election by expanding its online phone-calling technology. In mid-May, to keep volunteers busy as the primaries played out, the campaign started a nationwide voter registration drive. And in late June, after Senator Clinton bowed out of the race, the millions of people on the Obama campaign's e-mail lists were asked to rally her supporters as well as undecided voters by hosting "Unite for Change" house parties across the country. Nearly 4,000 parties were held.


Before helping build Facebook, the social network of choice for 70 millions Americans, the fresh-faced and sandy-haired Mr. Hughes, who grew up in Hickory, N.C., went to boarding school at Andover, where he joined the Democratic Club and the student government. In the fall of 2002, he went to Harvard, where he majored in history and literature. He and a roommate, Mark Zuckerberg - now the chief executive of Facebook - shared a room that was "just about as small as my cubby at work is these days," Mr. Hughes said.

Mr. Zuckerberg and another Facebook co-founder dropped out in 2004 to work on the site full time, but Mr. Hughes graduated in 2006 before venturing to Silicon Valley.


As supporters started to join MyBo in early 2007, Mr. Hughes brought a growth strategy, borrowed from Facebook's founding principles: keep it real, and keep it local. Mr. Hughes wanted Mr. Obama's social network to mirror the off-line world the same way that the Facebook seeks to, because supporters would foster more meaningful connections by attending neighborhood meetings and calling on people who were part of their daily lives. The Internet served as the connective tissue.

While many candidates reach their supporters through the Web, the social networking features of MyBo allow supporters to reach one another.

Excerpt from NYT: The Facebooker Who Friended Obama