Netroots 3.0: Bernie Sanders' army of volunteer coders

Netroots movements — grassroots programmers who pitch in on political campaigns — have been significant factors in US electoral campaigns since the Howard Dean era, and indeed, some of the key players from that era are still deeply involved in campaign tech, but the netroots that's pulling for the Sanders campaign is a significant advance on the netroots of years gone by.

Sanders' netroots are an anarchic, ad hoc sort of thing, only loosely connected to the campaign itself, making innovative apps that are both highly practical (an app to find your primary/caucus polling place) and fiendishly viral (a photobooth app that lets you turn yourself into a Sandersite by superimposing Bernie's hair and glasses on your face).

Within the campaign, netroots veterans like Zack Exley — one of those old Dean hands, whom I rate as one of the smarted technologists in politics — are negotiating how to give Sanders' base the freedom to innovate while still being able to call on them as a kind of volunteer auxiliary.

Politico contrasts the Sanders netroots with Clinton's top-down, secretive approach to tech, which has been a lot less visible — and possibly less likely to land the candidate in hot water. The "Bernie BNB" app is singled out as a potential source of campaign woes: it's a couchsurfing app for itinerarnt Sanders activists, which contains no safeguards to protect hosts from guests and vice-versa.

The contrast with Sanders' Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, couldn't be more stark. Her operation is led in part by former Google executive Stephanie Hannon and an army of digital hands who honed their online skills on Barack Obama's presidential campaigns or elsewhere in the Democratic advocacy power structure. But Clinton's tech innovators are hobbled, several Democratic and GOP tech experts said in interviews, by a hierarchical management structure that is seen as stifling new projects, or at least requiring them to win multiple layers of sign-offs before they go live.

"The Hillary team is about a top-down approach that believes you hire and pay the best résumés," said one Democratic source. "That works as a business model, but when the ultimate standard of success is measured by people voting, that model is a clear second place to an organic people-powered approach."

Team Clinton, fretful about revealing innovations to its competition, has been coy about publicly showing off big new campaign tech toys. "Our campaign is focused on building the tools and technology that helps us raise more grass-roots donations, organize more volunteers, reach more persuadable voters and optimize everything we do, whether or not it drives headlines," Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson wrote in an email.

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Bernie's Army of Coders
[Darren Samuelsohn/Politico]

(via Naked Capitalism)