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The Secret of eGroups!

BY Patrick Ruffini | Thursday, June 12 2008

Ever since the kerfuffle on MyBO earlier this week, I've been spending a little time poking around the site. I even cross-posted something to get the hang of it. 

MyBO is often credited in mainstream media with helping build Obama's remarkable volunteer operation. At the same time, the conventional wisdom among webbies is that internal social networks don't work. Nobody wants to create yet another profile (particularly on a site with such a limited audience), and best to concentrate your energies on existing social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn

My initial runthrough found many ways in which MyBO failed to live up to the hype, including:

  • The friending feature, which is at the core of most social networks, is nearly useless. I may have been a stranger in a strange land, but I couldn't find anyone on the site whom I'd have liked to "friend." By contrast, today's nichiest social networks, like Brightkite, Mento, and FriendFeed, make it easy to find dozens of people you already know by offering a contact importer (where you import your Gmail/Yahoo/AOL/etc. address books to see who else is already online). Chris Hughes, MyBO's primary manager (and Facebook co-founder) only has 153 friends, the network average for all of Facebook.
  • User blogs seems like kind of a throwaway feature. There is a single page with the latest posts in reverse chronological order, and that's pretty much it in terms of discoverability -- no posts in the sidebar of every MyBO page or latest comments as in Drupal/Scoop/SoapBlox. There have also only been 11,460 user blog posts off a base of over 800,000 user accounts, suggesting most people don't waste their time with maintaining a blog on the site. By contrast, in the first two weeks of The Next Right we've produced 480 user blogs from 806 registered users, a more than 1 to 2 ratio of user blogs to users.
  • Personal fundraising pages are a really nice touch -- but not a game-changer in terms of money raised. The largest groups on the site had only raised in the hundreds of dollars for Obama. Even if we're charitable and allow $1 million raised through all such pages, that's a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions raised through e-mail, the website, and Google AdWords landing pages. This may be an example of the vaunted "long tail" being a great talking point but little more. People still find it easiest to give based on a direct appeal from the top. 

Despite all this, still works, and it's not because recreated the features of a social network. If they've succeeded, it's because they've harkened back to the early days of the web, to the primary way that the online grassroots connected with each other before blogs: e-mail groups.

Groups are probably MyBO's most powerful feature, with over 16,000 of them created. Most crucially, there are 6,639 local Obama groups. You won't see many mega-groups of the "Million Strong" variety. But you will see local activist groups in virtually every state -- often at the county and town level -- with hundreds of members each. Bucks County for Obama, Colorado Springs for Obama, Philly for Obama, and Tucson for Obama are just a few that reach that threshold.

When one joins the groups, it's not just a casual connection. You are automatically opted in for a discussion list a la a Yahoo or a Google group, the underlying feature set of which has not changed since the late '90s. In fact the title of this post is a throwback to that era, to the eGroups service (that later became Yahoo Groups) that I used to create the Bush 2000 mailing list that is still in existence today. This isn't rocket science. This stuff been around for more than a decade.

For group creators, the ability to mass message all your group's members is the key value proposition behind social networking groups. This why groups with up to 1,200 members on Facebook are useful and can get a response as powerful as e-mail -- but you turn into a pumpkin once you reach 1,200 and messaging is shut off. 

MyBO is even more powerful because the messaging is not one-way -- it's a community where anyone can reply. And the messages contain useful information for the local activist -- reminders about local events, news from activists campaigning for delegate slots, even links to on-message videos -- all in the most familiar format available: e-mail. I've reproduced a sample message from my local Falls Church for Obama group below.

When you think about it, this is the kind of networking feature that it makes sense for campaigns to offer. Unlike a Facebook, your sense of connection to an e-group is not tied to the underlying technology but to the group itself. It doesn't matter as much if it's a Yahoo Group, a Google Group, or an Obama group, just as long as the right people are on it. By building it, you're not competing with a platform with millions of users, but for groups of hundreds.

Hosting it on the campaign site also weeds out the non-Obama groups you'd find at a Google or a Yahoo. This is useful to the user. And it directs people to locally based activism. That's smart.

(please forward!)

As you heard, I'm running for Obama Male Delegate to the DNC!  Help me in my quest to have more supporters on my groups than my female counterpart Chrisi West from Alexandria/Fairfax territory (the current Facebook score is Jim 64-Chrisi 63).

The winner gets a '78 Chevy Nova!

Sign up ASAP....the convention is Saturday!

And since I have a comfy 1 Friend lead over Chrisi, sign up for her group too because she's the most enthusiastic young Hope Monger in the state and because delegates are divided by gender so I don't have to run against her!

In other news, we had a great Generation Obama meeting on Monday night with over 70 attendees!

We will be organizing the structure better in the coming days, as we compile email addresses, ideas, etc. and can send follow up updates.

In the meantime, the Publicity Committee has already scored one success....Voter Registration Night at Nationals Park!  We're in the preliminary stages, but there's lots of enthusiasm from the Nats' publicity stay tuned.

For those who want to get involved, Generation Obama will have a Volunteer & Meeting Night on Monday and a Fundraising Meeting on Tuesday.

See you soon!


Obama Activities:

*** Sign Up To Host A 6/28 United For Change Party! ***
(email me if you want to share the event in my updates)

*** June 13 Reception with Campaign Manager David Plouffe ***
When: Friday, June 13, 2008, 6:30 PM (6 PM VIP Strategy Session)

Where: Capital City Brewery, 2 Massachusetts Ave, NE (steps from Union Station)

Details: Mr. Plouffe has run a smart and effective campaign, and he will be on hand to discuss and answer questions about the strategy thus far and the plan for the months ahead.  This is one event you don't want to miss!

Price: $150 for General Admission, $500 for the VIP Strategy Session

Sign up online now:

*** 6/14 Virginia Victory '08 Volunteer Day for Obama-Warner-Moran! ***
Saturday, June 14
(come anytime to help with a 2 hour shift)

Arlington Democratic Headquarters
2009 North 14th St.
Arlington, VA 22201
(one block away from Court House Rd,
near the orange line metro and Rt. 50 exit)

Help the 8th Congressional Distict candidates with Door-to-Door Canvassing, Voter Registration, Volunteer Calls and more.

Please RSVP!
Matt Robinson
703-xxx-xxxx (office)

*** June 14-15 DC for Obama Canvasses for Donna Edwards ***

From DC for Obama Czar, Ian Martinez: As we enjoy the brief period of rest between clinching the nomination and the next phase, there's a local race right across the District line in Maryland that needs our attention.  After winning a thrilling primary in February, Donna Edwards now faces the Republican in a special election.  While P.G. County is traditionally Democratic, there is a fear that low turnout in next Tuesday's election could make it much closer than any of us want.  Getting out there to canvass will also keep our skills sharp for the general without having to travel far.  One of many reasons to be active for Donna is that she will be a real leader in the quest for DC voting rights and an end to the shameful Taxation Without Representation in DC.

This weekend is the crucial time for GOTV efforts for the Edwards campaign.  Interested DCFO volunteers are being asked to show up at 4301 Garden City Drive Landover, MD 20785.  We're meeting in the basement of the UFCW building Saturday at 10am and Sunday at 1pm to put up doorhangers. The building is across from the New Carrollton Metro on the Rt. 50 side.  If you'd like to help put a real progressive in Congress, please email me at

*** 6/14-15 Capital Pride Volunteers Needed! ***

This weekend's Metro-DC Capital Pride celebration is one of Washington DC's largest annual community events.  Our local Metro DC Obama Pride organizers need your help (especially our straight allies) to ensure maximum visibility, voter education, community organizing and fundraising at this event.  Capital Pride is our best and most exciting opportunity to mobilize the local LGBT community before the November election and we need our help!

CAPITAL PRIDE PARADE - Saturday, June 14   6:30 PM
Volunteers should report at 5 PM to the parade staging area:  Francis Jr. High  (24th & N, NW)

The Saturday night Pride Parade marches throughout the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods.  This year's exciting parade will consist 5,000 marchers (representing 81 contingents) and will be watched by over 25,000 people along the parade route.

We will be marching in the parade and selling T-shirts along the parade route.    Marchers, rally sign distributors and street sales team volunteers needed!  Wear Obama gear -- wear comfortable shoes!

Sign up to help at this event!
   On MyBO
   On Facebook

CAPITAL PRIDE FESTIVAL - Sunday, June 15   11 AM to 6 PM
Volunteers should report at 10:30 AM to the Festival Entrance (Pennsylvania & 7th NW)

This years Pride Festival will attract over 200,000 participants - most are progressive democratic voters and supportive.  The Obama Pride booth will be our base for distributing literature, signing up supporters, and selling Obama Pride merchandise.   In addition, we need help clipboard canvassing the crowd.  Veteran canvassers, straight allies and friendly LGBT members are especially needed to adequately connect with this volume of people.  PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN ... even if it's just for a couple hours in the afternoon!

Sign up to help at this event!
   On MyBO
   On Facebook

*** 6/16 Generation Obama & "Build The Hope" Volunteer Outreach Night ***

6:00-9:00pm Monday, June 16th
Courtland Towers (Party Room)
1200 N Veitch St.
Arlington, VA 22201
(off 13th St., one block away from Court House Rd near the orange line metro and Rt. 50 Exit)

After our Generation Obama kickoff meeting there are several committees and projects in the works, so come by to get involved as meet to discuss and work on several young voter outreach initiatives!

We also will begin outreach to volunteers of all ages via our "Build The Hope" database, which includes calls, data entry and random organizing tasks.

This is a party room without land lines or PCs, so please bring your cell phone (with charger if needed) and even a laptop if you can!



Jim McBride

*** 6/17 Generation Obama Fundraising Meeting ***
6:30pm Tuesday, June 17th
Bailey's Pub & Grille (Ballston Mall)
4238 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201

Join us as we develop fundraising ideas that will encourage young people to contribute to the campaign!

Students For Barack Obama and Young Lawyers For Obama are welcome!
Sample Events:
- "Sing for Obama!" karaoke fundraisers
- "Bid On Your Crush FOR Obama!" date auction
- "All in for Obama!" poker tournament
- "Stand Up For Barack!" comedy night
- "Bands for Barack!" music shows
- Debate and Convention Watching Parties
- "Basketball for Barack!" or "Kickball for Obama!" or other sports tournaments

You can also host a low-dollar happy hour, house party, picnic or BBQ on your own!

Please RSVP!

Kezia Williams
Jim McBride 703-xxx-xxxx

Driving: From Route 66's Exit 71 or Route 50's Glebe Rd exit, take Glebe toward the Mall and find parking inside. From Ballston's Orange Line Metro: Walk from Fairfax Drive past the IHOP to Randolph and make a right. The mall is two blocks away.

***6/21 Party for Obama! ***
(come hear some fire from the choir...)

We all know that Barack has shattered fundraising records but as David Plouffe's email from Friday June 6th explained John McCain and the RNC raised nearly $45 million last month. The message is clear we must all dig deep to contribute to ensure that Barack has the needed resources to compete this fall, and protect himself from the slanderous allegations which are a sure result of all that RNC money. So why not get your money's worth and enjoy a fun night out with family and friends and this great community fundraiser? All contributions go directly to the campaign from the campaign website so don't delay and get you "tickets" today.

Don't forget there is going to be a Gospel Choir and they are FIRED UP and READY TO GO TURN VA BLUE!  Come CELEBRATE the end of the Primary and the beginning of the General Election.

Get fired up with local gospel singers, community leaders, and Obama's vision for a new century.  Senator Obama does not rely on corporate lobbyists and special interest groups to fund his campaign. He relies on us. Our support will help spread his message of HOPE. Together, we can achieve real change in this country.

Join the movement: Saturday, June 21 7:00 PM
Swanson Middle School
5800 Washington Blvd,
Arlington, 22205

For Tickets Donate:

Adults $30/18-25 $20 Advance Purchase
Adults $35/18-25 $25 At the Door

Consider Joining Our Host Committee


Change Agent......................$250
Unite America.......................$500
Save the World....................$1000

For Tickets Go To:

Please contact Evan Day with questions:

*** 6/26 DC for Obama Meetup ***

Join with the grassroots leaders! DC for Obama will have a free "Meetup" on June 26, upstairs in the Obama Room at the Hawk & Dove, 329 Pennsylvania SE.  We do not anticipate that this will be as crowded as our last event.  We will have a guest speaker or two and update you on the grassroots Obama Campaign in our region.  Primarily, we will network, socialize and join together to support the campaign, especially in Virginia.  By the way, DC for Obama ESPECIALLY welcomes our fellow Democrats who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton and did such a fantastic job on her history making campaign.  We need you to make real change happen.

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(Cross-posted to The Next Right.)