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DailyKos.com, Democratic Left's Online Hub, Had a Banner Year in 2012

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, November 14 2012

Daily Kos traffic, 2007-2012

DailyKos.com, the Grand Central Station of the online Democratic left, had a record-breaking year, the site's founder Markos Moulitsas announced last Friday. For the last thirty days before Election Day, the site garnered more than 4 million unique visitors, according to its Quantcast stats. That's up from 1.8 million uniques for the month of January, or 2.3 million that it garnered during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement in October 2011.

While some progressive political blogs are struggling to survive, thanks to a the decline in political online advertising spent on their sites, DKos is thriving. Reports of the progressive blogosphere's overall demise are therefore premature. Not only do mainstream advertisers continue to purchase space on its pages, its users are also a fertile source of campaign money as well. More than 109,000 people donated to political candidates via Daily Kos's 2012 ActBlue page, raising $3.3 million in all.

Election Day, the site had just over 500,000 unique visitors, 50% more than on Election Day 2008, Will Rockafellow, the site's general manager, tells techPresident. "The increase on the election day isn't what's impressive," he notes. "Election days, much like debate days, are usually for our hardcore addicts. What's more impressive is that our biggest days for uniques have been days without a major political news event. For instance, our most uniques ever was on Monday Oct 15."

That day DKos had nearly 715,000 unique visitors. Two stories helped drive that traffic, Rockafellow says, one a diary titled "," and a second one called "Stephen Colbert destroys Romney's tax plan with one simple question." Both are classic DKos diary types: the former a first-person story with a political punch (cf, "Story of Me, Story of Us"); the second a timely summary of a media moment.

Those kinds of diaries are the bread-and-butter of the giant site, a hub for progressive Democrats that is more like a small virtual city than it is just a political watering hole. The site has dedicated, recurring group pages devoted to such things as "Saturday Morning Garden Blogging," the "Saturday Night Loser's Club," a Monday evening "Grieving Room" for users who are suffering a loss, and many other topics far from the meat and gristle of politics. But the fact that it is, in many ways, a real community where people connect at a variety of personal levels, doesn't quite explain its energetic recent growth.

"We're reaching a lot of new people," says Rockafellow, and the evidence suggests that this is largely due to social media--and the site's redesign in 2010, which made it much easier to share DailyKos content elsewhere."In 2008, less than 10% of our visits on election day were from new visitors," he notes. "In 2012, 30% were brand new to the site. That's trend we've been seeing all year long." On their biggest traffic day, October 15th, a lot of the site's posts were being shared widely across the social web, he says.

"Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit have changed things quite a bit since 2008," he says. "For us, from a political perspective, this is fantastic. We want our community to spread Daily Kos stories and their messages beyond our virtual walls."

I asked site founder Moulitsas for his thoughts on where Dkos has been and where it's headed. Our email conversation is below:

Q: What (if anything) was different about Dkos's role in the election in 2012, compared to 2008 or off-years? Is it just bigger metrics (traffic, uniques, money raised) or anything qualitatively different?

Moulitsas: As always, we were engaged from the beginning, launching the first draft Elizabeth Warren effort and raising nearly half a million for her this cycle. Unlike past years, we didn't have any primary battles, and plenty of good Democrats for us to rally around. So there was very little of the establishment-versus-netroots battles of the past. It was surprisingly harmonious. 

Now we like to see ourselves as the place where progressives hang out when big things happen, and obviously our traffic validated our approach. But there's clearly a changing face of that traffic -- while we still have a core group of addicts creating the bulk of our content, the social networks are bringing many newer people to the site. 

And what's more, our savviest diarists have become better self-promoters than most of the site's editors, me included. Thus, the most shared political story on Facebook last year was a diary, and a bigger chunk of our traffic is generated by our community content. So while we were more insular in the past, talking to ourselves, the Facebooks and Reddits and Twitters of the world are allowing our community to better evangelize. That's obviously good for the site, but better yet, it's great for our mission.

Q: Any hiccups with the new platform? Or the converse--did anything develop on top of the new platform that surprised or delighted you, in terms of the community doing something you didn't expect to see?

Moulitsas: Our site performed fine, though we've continuously refined the aesthetics. Problem is, it was a great site for the old web. But its antiquated foundation (Perl) meant that it's difficult to take advantage of some of the best new trends in web usability. So we've already begun a massive two-step project to modernize the site: first we're porting the existing site, with a few updates, to Rails. Then we're going to once again re-engineer the site to better enable the community and its activism. 

I'm always excited about the future, but I'm particularly excited now that we have a full-fledged development team on staff to make this vision a reality. 
 
Q: Are you satisfied with the relationship between the Democratic party committees (DNC, DSCC, DCC) and DKos? Room for improvement?

Moulitsas: Like I mentioned above, this was the most harmonious cycle I can ever remember. Now I personally don't communicate with the party (or campaign) committees. There are a few tiny exceptions, but I can count them on one hand for the entire cycle. Generally speaking, their job is to spin, and my job is to focus on the data and numbers. That's why as of last count, not only was my Electoral College prediction spot on, but my average error in the battleground margins, 1.25 points, was lower than Nate Silver's 1.63.

On the other hand, my writers will interact with campaigns and committees more often, on a more journalistic capacity. They had no complaints. 
 
Q: Two bigger political questions, looking forward. Do you think Democrats can change the off-year voting pattern in 2014 (that is, the pattern of lowered turnout, enabling Republican gains)? How?

Moulitsas: It all depends on the top. If Obama can be a fighter, aggressive, and look like he's learned from the past four years, I suspect people will turn themselves inside out to hold the Senate and deliver a Democratic House. If he spends more time trying to make nice with an openly hostile GOP, then we may get a reprise of 2010.

Fact is, we're not conservatives. We don't build alternate realities. So if people are happy with what's going on in the White House and Democratic leadership in Congress, then that'll be reflected on the ground in the mid-terms. 
 
Q: Do you think there's anything you will do differently, in relation to Obama and the next 3-6 months, compared to how you related to Obama after his first election? 

Moulitsas: Nope. If we agree with what he's doing, we'll cheer wildly. If we disagree, we'll organize against him. There's certainly a great deal of wariness around the lame duck session and any potential attempt at a grand bargain. 

Obviously, it makes our lives easier if he does the right thing from the start, so we're fervently hoping for that.

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