Did blogging hurt Dean?

Did blogging hurt Dean?

: I’m not saying this just to be contrarian. I’m not sure I believe it. But it’s worth asking:

Did blogging hurt Dean?

Did the strong community that made Dean’s organization and fundraising work so amazingly well become too insular and self-congratulatory? Did it amplify the opinions and attitudes already there? Did it become so loud inside that room that it became hard to hear the noise outside, where the voters were?

Did his enthusiastic supporters online egg Dean on to be stronger against the war, louder against his opponents, nastier against Bush?

I’m not sure the answer to any of that is “yes.” At most it’s “maybe.” But at least it’s worth asking.

I have said earlier that the Dean blog was a two-way street in terms of organization but not in terms of substance. And so I can’t blog with forked tongue now and say that the grass roots bent the tree above and changed Dean. No, Dean is Dean. I’m not blaming the blog for what he has done wrong so far — being so negative, focusing on the war as his one visible issue — and Dean can’t blame anyone else either. He’s the boss. It’s his loss.

But we all live online and we know how this is a self-confirming medium. You can find others’ opinions but you have do be willing to click and link to find them; you can’t live inside your own club or you’ll hear only what your fellow club members say to you.

The Dean blog was a strong tool for the campaign’s organization. But it was a club. It was really all about the comments. It wasn’t so much a blog as a forum, a place where people who agree can agree. And, again, that’s fine. But it’s not what blogs are really about.

Blogs are about links, links, and more links. Blogs are about learning, not just confirming. Blogs about the people speaking, the powerful listening.

So Bloggerstorm — an RSS compilation of blogs on Iowa outside the Dean tent (but put together, wisely, by the Dean organization in recent days) — turns out to be a stronger tool for hearing what the people are saying.

Bloggerstorm will let the campaign listen to the people. So will reading blogs outside the official blog.

And after Iowa, they need to find a way to listen.

Dean has not lost yet. But he got a big, loud message tonight. Now we’ll see whether he can listen.

And be prepared tomorrow to hear analyses — especially from big old media and big old politics — that will say the Internet and blogs didn’t win it for Dean, nya-nya-nya. They will be wrong, but not entirely wrong.

This medium is just beginning and if we’re going to see how effective it can be at changing the world, then the medium also has some lessons to learn from Iowa.

This medium is most effective when it interacts, connects, communicates, person-to-person, with curiosity, civility, and generosity. Oh, we disagree and argue and fact-check. But we talk and we listen and that’s what makes it work. It’s the conversation.

Forget the bandwagon. Get on the cluetrain.