OnDC 09: panel on politics and social media

Moderator: Peter Corbett, CEO iStrategy Labs

Kevin Merritt, CEO Socrata, Inc. (A venture backed startup in Seattle that helps government agencies get data online and it social)

Vijay Ravindran, was at Amazon 7 years, @catalyst, now at Washington Post

Tom McInerney, Lt. General U.S. Air Force (ret.), Fox News Analyst

Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico

Panelists were asked what was impressive to them so far about technology in politics and government. One mentioned the Pres. Obama campaign’s use of social media. Someone else said how IdeaScale and Google Moderator are being used in town hall meetings.

Vijay. Wikipedia’s announced move to use moderation in high profile pages, will ultimately make them more useful. At the Post, we’ve had success with whorunsgov.com, that shows government structure down at a lower level than Wikipedia.

Peter. This is about influencer identification and analysis. What other technologies are used for this? How can this harm or help our democracy?

Mike. There is great commercial value in being able to identify the right people and communicate with them. 3121 [an initiative of National Journal] is like Facebook for Congress. It’s named after the Congressional switchboard phone number. The idea is that someone will emerge in that community who will be the place you go if you are Rep and want to hear about immigration or if you are a Demo and want to hear about climate. It could be a low-level person. To be able to communicate through that person, to other higher level people, might be very helpful.

Vijay. It seems like Comcast’s customer service policy on Twitter is influenced by how many followers a customer has on Twitter. That has interesting implications if it spreads. Before, you had a broadcast mechanism to talk to voters; in our new social media world where you might be connected to 1,000 people and myself to 5, talking to a bunch that are connected to 1,000 — the multiplicative value makes you more valuable than you used to be. It changes the value in campaigns with young people, and it won’t be purely connected to turnout percentage.

Peter. So a young person may be willing to share a video or write a blog post or give $1?

Peter. How will things be different in the next election cycle? Anything you are excited for?

Mike. We are concerned about the fact that even though the technologies are billed as connecting people, they are in fact, sometimes isolating people. As more people get news from HuffPost or Fox, we aren’t having the common conversation we used to have. If a national campaign wanted to really move a story, have a big splash, they used to have to deal with AP, or Washington Post, or NY Times, but now there are a million places they can go to break a story. Politicians don’t need the Post or Politico. Their own content is now accessible. As we look ahead to 2010, the campaigns will have less and less worry about what we write about them, and will put more energy into reaching them directly. Campaigns are worried about their TV commercials being TIVOed (and skipped).

Peter. So is our democracy being strengthened by this or not? Is this better?

Mike. We love the fact the there is more you can get, and more premium quality. You used to have to read what your local news gave you. Now you can click away. You can see the raw speech, the raw materials for my story. You don’t need my account. There is a premium on understanding, explanation, things you can’t get from the raw materials yourself. I talk to journalism students. More smart people are reading more than ever.

Tom. Pres. Obama didn’t have a track record before, but now he’ll have a host of things about bills, etc. He’ll now live on what his accomplishments are. But he’ll have to justify what unemployment is, what the debt is. I don’t read the papers I used to read, I just get everything online. People consume a lot of content. It’s going to be interesting in the 2010 election, to see what role online plays vs. what the facts are and what people have to depend on. I’m in the TV business and everything is based on a 4-minute segment. You get 2 and the anchor gets 2. Your points have to come across quickly. It’s not in the depth. They do put a lot of background material up. Visual, sensual images have a powerful role to play. They can be quick and decisive.

Peter. How does the democratization of data play a role in our daily lives?

Kevin. Social media topic is an important one. I’m personally not very focused on the election process. We don’t look at that. But with regard to the use of social media, a couple of thoughts and concerns. One is: social media in general makes politicians more approachable than they have ever been. I went to an event 4-5 months ago Congressman Honda was there. Maybe it was because I had visited his page on Facebook, his feed on Twitter, I approached him, probably because I had the tangible sense that he was another human being. I don’t have a crystal ball on technology, but someone will take advantage of FB as a platform. Many people use Facebook Pages, but underlying this is a way to get into the social graph of influencers, people with large networks, there will be creative folks leveraging the platform for campaigning or fundraising. Vijay made a good observation on young folks being neglected, to them becoming a core central focus in the election process. We shouldn’t do that to the exclusion of those folks not comfortable yet with social media. Google Moderator had hundreds of thousands of logins during the Presidential Townhall. Kudos to the Sunlight Foundation for creating some interesting data sets that look at the political process, fundraising, lobbying, etc. I see interesting work in the future as more of these data sets come online, like Congressional calendars, as transparency comes into the process, you’ll see interesting ways of combining this data. We’ll get new learnings from this.

Peter. On the topic of transparency, exposing relationships, lobbying etc. Something was reported recently about lobbyists not having to register.

Mike. Pres. Obama is thinking of extending his lobbying restrictions to boards…. White house put out a letter today about lobbying rules. Facebook as a platform for candidates in 2010 — how little the surface has been scratched. David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama, his book is coming out on Nov. 3, anniversary of election. He will say their key driver was email. FB and Twitter was helpful for the optics. But it really didn’t change things. Texting and raising money online is why he is president.

Q. Has the quality of news coverage suffered because of sound bytes?

Tom. You have to be on point and talk in sound bytes. On the radio you can do 15, 30 min, an hour.

Mike. Who covers the expensive stories? Few reporters travel with the president now. Few cover the wars. It’s because of the economics. When a paper loses $1 in paper, they gain $0.10 online. So we have more talk, but not necessarily more facts.

Peter. Last week a discussion started happening around news organizations converting to non-profits.

Mike. Pres. Obama said he would be open to it.

Tom. Mike Young can give you views from Iraq and Afghanistan that are very informative. Online, you can get good stuff and bad stuff online, but how can you tell which is which?

Audience question: how will fund-raising change in the next election cycle?

Vijay. They didn’t abandon the big fund raisers, but they incrementally added new ways to raise money online. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in getting money through social. Like what examples of making money from Twitter. There have been donation apps on FB that have raised like $28 and have gone no where. With all the tools in the platform, you’ll see people taking a cut. It’ll be done as an additive. If they think they can run their whole campaign this way, it will be a short shelf life.

Peter. If you have someone’s email address, a couple of companies can analyze their social graph and target their friends.

Tom. The Obama campaign did that and those that did it have turned it into a commercial effort.

Kevin. Medicare, and all the procedures that take place in it, one of the big pieces that is not visible is the cost of these procedures. At Socrata, we were up for renewal on our medical plan. One item was $5 m lifetime maximum benefit, the other was $2 million. I have no idea how much things cost, like open heart surgery. So we are taking medical transactions, and stripping out all the personal identifiable information … you can do some trending and analyzing. With an Attorney General office, we are looking at the cost per unit of a prescription drug at any pharmacy in the state. Some places may charge twice as much per unit. So as we think about health care reform, part of it is giving people some sense of what things cost.

Kevin. We have 35 years experience working with email, we consider them records. But is a Facebook comment considered a record. Am I allowed to moderate it, or is it a violation of a freedom speech issue? White house is taking every social interaction as a record and they print it off and send it off to an archive. Once there is more clarity about what a record is….

Vijay. Most politicians use social media to broadcast their message more inexpensively and not really as a two-way exchange. How many comments from politicians have you read on their message boards or fan pages?

Peter. How many blog posts does it take to kill a tree? [Referring to the Obama administrations printing and archiving of all online comments]

Peter. You used to be able to target for political affiliation on Facebook, but it was taken down about a year ago. I don’t know why.

Vijay. In 2008, one side used social media a lot more than the other side. My sense is that it’s much more of a political leaning element as much as it is the age group, their social circles. I see as many libertarians using social media effectively as liberals.

Peter. Gallup poll showed 63% favorable for Obama, but I used ScoutLabs which showed bloggers were only 52% favorable to Obama–why the difference?

Someone mentioned a Twitter hashtag #tcoc to follow “top conservatives on twitter”

Vijay. The media doesn’t know how to cover these trends.

Q. what is the political killer app of 2010?

Peter. One thing I’d like to see is a very sound, fantasy candidate system. Where whoever wins, all their money goes to their candidate.

Vijay. I’d like to see something like Google Wave to be able to parse the unstructured conversations that are occuring …

Kevin. Micropayments and virtual goods might be tied together to raise funds on Facebook.

Q. Will republicans reach the level of sophistication like demos did in 2008?

Peter. A very specific candidate ran and won. Brand Obama was good. He had about 3MM subscribers to his SMS.

Becoming Informed

I’m having a hard time sleeping lately. I keep waking up at 3 am or 4 am feeling compelled to investigate the root causes of the national and global financial crisis we are experiencing. I don’t have a lot of time, because I’m also running a startup company, but I have to carve out some time if I want to be part of the solution as we try to fix our government and our country, and get it back on track. I’ve got to become better informed.

I have several books now on derivatives trading, and I have come to believe they truly are “financial weapons of mass destruction” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003. I think unbridled use of OTC derivatives is the primary cause of the worldwide economic melt-down. The Wikipedia article on derivatives is a good starting point.

And I think the utter neglect of the tenth amendment, which was supposed to limit the Federal Government’s power, and reserve all powers not enumerated in the Constitution to the states and to the people, is the reason that we have a federal government that is so powerful that a few hundred leaders can basically sell the future of hundreds of millions of citizens for a mess of pottage. With millions of phone calls we can delay them for a few days, but basically if a few powerful people say the sky is falling our elected representatives will believe them and will turn over an unprecedented amount of power–in this case into the hands of unelected officials.

The world is topsy turvy. I am finding that I can trust what Chinese bankers are saying about the financial collapse than most of what is said in Washington or on Wall Street, or reported in the main stream media in this country. The business of the media is entertainment not journalism. So I turn to the Financial Times and Economist magazine from the UK to find informed and honest reporting. I have found a few excellent articles in US publications, that appear to understand the root causes, but they are primarily guest opinion pieces.

I’m also trying to learn more about the Great Depression: what caused it and how the country finally emerged from it. If there is a next depression, I wonder what historians will call it. Great Depression Two? I doubt it. I think someone will coin a phrase that will fit the situation and stick, like when Churchill used the phrase “Iron Curtain” and it stuck.

I’m very interested in the memoirs of Marriner S. Eccles, the successful Utah banker who was asked by FDR to serve as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1934. He served in that powerful role for 14 years. The book is called “Beckoning Frontiers.” I purchased a used library copy on Amazon last week. It’s on Google Books, but only with a snippet view since it may still be under copyright.

His interpretation of what caused the Great Depression is radically different than anything I’ve heard before, and the solutions that he prescribed were radical at the time he first proposed them, but were soon woven into the fabric of the New Deal. After reading his description of the Senate Finance Hearings of February 1933, which took place one month before Pres. Roosevelt was inaugurated, and learning of his five-point plan for economic first-aid for the nation, it appears that Eccles was as much or more an architect of the New Deal than anyone else. I wonder who historians credit as being most influential in Roosevelt’s dramatic shift from being a states’ rights and balanced budget advocate during the election of 1932 (Eccles provides quotes from some of his speeches), to viewing the federal government as the key to leading the nation out of the depression, and providing economic security and employment as one of its key aims. Eccles must be one of the leading candidates.

His arguments sound very socialistic to me. The New Deal shifted huge responsibilities to new federal bureaucracies. Some of these federal programs are highly connected to the current financial crisis. I don’t believe socialism ever works, no matter how motivated by idealism it is in the beginning. Even Lenin’s biography, which I read years ago, makes you think he earnestly did care for the people, he lived very frugally and very ascetically, and that he believed Marxism was a better path for Russia than capitalism, with all the human suffering that comes with its excesses. But no one in this country claims to believe in socialism, so we practice what our friends in the UK call, “deceptive socialism.”

I’m trying not to judge Eccles too harshly, because he admits knowing virtually nothing about economics or the impact of finance and production on society, and he came up with what we thought were solutions to a devastating national crisis, when 5,505 banks closed in just 3 years and unemployment in Salt Lake City was more than thirty percent.

I want to be able to judge fairly whether he did more harm or good, and I haven’t read enough to do this yet. But I’m going to continue working at it.

Meanwhile, I’ve found some great online databases that Americans can freely use to do first-hand research into workings of each branch of our Federal Government. As citizens, we are empowered as never before with the ability to search online through millions of pages of government records. Here are some great resources for your 4 am time:

And while I’m posting this blog, I have to give a shout out to my 3rd grade class at Cascade Elementary, er, I mean to Consource.org, the free online library of the Founders’ constitutional documents, a great non-profit foundation with a wonderful mission.

These are all in my Google Chrome bookmarks bar, so I can click on them at any time. I recommend you make these a click away, and do as much searching in these as possible, so that you can become better informed as a citizen, and potentially better informed than your own elected officials, most of whom don’t have time to read the legislation they pass, let alone US history. Like kids today who use the internet to learn more than their teachers, it wouldn’t be hard to learn more than most of our elected officials. And then maybe we’ll be smart enough to upgrade our Congress next time we get a chance.

video of McCain endorsing Romney

When Mitt Romney ran for Governor of Massachusetts, Senator McCain couldn’t say enough about how great he was for the party, for Massachusetts, and what incredible integrity and honesty he had. It is one of the finest character endorsements I have ever seen. This is the kind of video clip I’d like to see broadcast by a major news outlet like CNN or MSNBC. It’s pretty funny, given the current race. Or maybe Romney should have used this in his Florida TV advertisements! (Thanks for the two friends who sent it to me today.)

Romney Can Win

The Republican debate last night on MSNBC was quite friendly between the five Republican candidates. Chris Matthews and many others felt that Mitt Romney absoluted dominated the debate, which should help him shore up his recently acquired lead in at least three Florida polls. It feels great to see momentum shifting to the candidate that I believe can help the US deal with hard economic times and global competition better than anyone else in US history.

But debates, like most TV these days, are much more about entertainment than about substance. With 90 second responses it’s pretty difficult for any candidate to lay out their economic policy, or their national security plan, or anything substantive at all. The media are always looking for big fights, personal attacks, and insults, and they didn’t get much of that last night. (Although everyone was obsessing over the Mitt Romney quip about not being able to imagine Bill Clinton back in the white house with nothing to do.)

Between the mainstream media, the blogosphere, and the candidates web sites, it’s really difficult to figure out what is really going on, what positions people really have, and who really has a chance to win. The book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Television” by Neil Postman is a must-read if you want to see how the medium of television has changed politics and elections. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi forecasts that the internet will change everything, but I think it will take another election cycle or two before it really happens.

No one wants to waste their vote, but it’s really tough with all the various voices out there to make sure that your vote is cast for the best candidate and is not wasted.

I found a great web site last night that links to major articles about Romney from all over the country.

It reminds me of one of my top 5 favorite business websites, Newslinx.com, a simple chronological list of key news articles in the high tech industry that I have been using for about 7-8 years now. I like it as a starting point far better than Google News (even their business or technology sections) because whoever chooses the articles is really smart about what is important. The only thing I rely on more is my Google Reader with all of my hand picked favorite sources. But I keep going back to Newslinx.com because the editor finds a bunch of major articles that I wouldn’t otherwise see.

So anyway. After last night I’m completely convinced that Romney can win. Thompson is out and Giuliani will probably drop out if he loses Florida next Tuesday. Romney has raised more money than any other Republican candidate, plus he has personal funds from his successful business career that he can also use to compete in every state and go on to win the Republican nomination. He will be a very formidable opponent in the November election, especially if the economy continues to be the major issue. No one is more qualified than he is to create a government environment (lower taxes, less regulation, etc) that is friendly to business growth. As he said, he can rally fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national defense conservatives with his message of strengthening the economy, the family, and the military.

I’ve maxed out my donation for the primary election. And I would encourage everyone who cares about the country’s economic future to read all these articles about Romney and see if you agree that he is the right person for the most difficult and important job in the world, and if he has the growing momentum and support to rally the Republican party and win in November. If you think he does, as I do, please contribute to his campaign.

Needed: Transparent Government and Transparent Media Coverage of Elections

I am tempted sometimes to wring my hands in despair at the sorry state of the Federal Government, at our $8+ trillion national debt, at our incredibly low popularity ratings around the world, even from our allies, at our lack of global competitiveness in some key industries, of our economic slowdown, and most of all, at the incredibly biased and inane media coverage of politics and elections.

But then I think about how the internet is changing everything, and how the ideas of openness and transparency and collaboration for the common good are powerful and viral and may never be able to be caged again. And my discouragement melts away. I look forward to the time when these concepts infuse our electorate with the information and tools they need to make better decisions than we have in the past few decades, when the power of the media has been concentrated in the hands of a few people within a few companies.

In 2006, a law was passed and signed by President Bush that is a first step towards helping every US Citizen learn how the government spends tax dollars.

Here’s what Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation said in 2006 about how to reduce federal spending, as he reported on this ball:

There’s a simpler, cheaper and more permanent solution: Allow 300 million Americans to review how government spends our money.

That’s the idea behind the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, a measure co-sponsored by an unlikely duo: conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and liberal Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), with strong support from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to build an easy-to-use Web database containing detailed information about all the grants and contracts the federal government hands out. This database would allow virtually anyone to see how much money a federal program received and how it spent that money.

As I understand it, the web site expectmore.gov was supposed to be the place where we can learn how much money is being spent on every federal program and every federal contract. Currently the site has an Alexa rating of about 11,000, so it is quite popular, but it seems to simply report generally on the efficiency of each federal program. Many federal programs are currently rated ineffective, meaning that they aren’t demonstrating results and therefore are a waste of taxpayers money, but I can’t seem to find anything on this web site that tells how much money we are spending on each program. I actually thought that was the main point of the new law.

In fact, I searched for “site:expectmore.gov dollars” and “site:expectmore.gov million” in Google and found fewer than 10 hits for both terms combined.

If we ranked the ineffective programs by dollars wasted, instead of alphabetically, and if we allowed for citizen input as to the qualitative effectiveness or ineffectiveness of various programs, rather that just letting the government do all the ratings, then this tool could be a powerful way to combat waste and to shrink the federal budget, as one wasteful program after another faces the scrutiny of an informed populous.

Another hopeful sign is that transparent government is being pushed in several states, and many are beginning to publish their entire budgets online. Of course, it would be easy for any state government to publish the budget in such a way that the average person wouldn’t even begin to figure it out. But I assume that overtime some best practices will be adopted by state and local governments, or that some private enterprise will figure out how to take the raw data from state and federal governments and roll it up into a very user friendly interface, allowing citizens to provide feedback to elected officials on all their fiscal decisions.

Okay, so the trend towards transparent government is already underway. But what about transparent media?

I would love to see media companies and reporters to stop pretending to be objective.

Anyone reporting on stocks is required by federal securities law to disclose their position in a stock so that their “reporting” doesn’t influence the value of the stock.

But no one, to my knowledge, in the political arena, is required to disclose any bias whatsoever. A major news anchor could be a sworn enemy of a particular party or candidate, and could be using all of his/her influence to bias the elections against them, but no one knows.

Now I’m not someone who believes in a grand media conspiracy, where the boards of directors of all the major media companies get together to decide who the next President of the United States will be.

But I believe that everyone in the media has a personal bias, and that very few individuals take their journalistic calling seriously enough to be able to report on news in an unbiased way. I remember seeing a sign on a university professor’s door (he was a communications professor) with a quote from about 1910 by the Dean of Columbia’s School of Journalism to the effect that the profession of being a journalist basically “went to hell” when students stopped studying history and started studying communications. So now, instead of having deep content expertise, many journalists and media company employees understand entertainment and psychology, and know how to create certain reactions among their viewers/listeners/readers with attention grabbers and sound bites. Instead of having deep knowledge so they can inform us, they have skills so they can manipulate us.

Is that completely unfair? Or do you think is actually true?

One example: if anyone in the mainstream media really wanted Mitt Romney to be elected the next President, don’t you think someone would have reported that he actually won in Wyoming, and that he actually leads in the delegate count so far?

Instead, everyone is saying Michigan is his last stand. The media seem to want to declare certain candidates have lost. And voters can easily be affected by this. No one wants to “waste” their vote, by voting for someone that the media declares has no chance to win an election. So Giuliani is clearly losing momentum in Florida.

The young people in the country, who seem to avoid the mainstream media and get their news almost exclusively online, from all kinds of sources, including millions of blogs and from their social networking friends, don’t seem to mind wasting their votes for Ron Paul. Any online poll, any poll that uses cell phone text messaging for voting, and both the MySpace and Facebook “primaries” overwhelmingly went to Ron Paul and to Barack Obama. And yet the mainstream media for the most part ignores this.

But as the social networking generation get older, every four years the mainstream media will lose more influence, and more and more voters will be informed in other ways.

I think there is an opportunity for a media entrepreneur to embrace transparency and emerge as a trusted source for a generation of US citizens that don’t trust government or media to be objective. I think someone could launch a news company where EVERY reporter’s bias is revealed in every report that is made.

Sometimes the bias is so subtle:

  • a silly picture of John Edwards next to a handsome picture of Obama. So who chose those pictures and why?
  • Ron Paul gets the same percentage votes as Giuliani in New Hampshire, but his name doesn’t show up on the pie chart because there isn’t enough room for it.
  • Romney wins Wyoming but no one reports it.
  • Again, I’m not saying there is a single media conspiracy underway, but I do think that transparency is coming. Either the mainstream media will embrace it, or someone else will emerge that really does create a trustworthy media company, and will eat their lunch as the social networking generation increasingly ignores CNN and Fox News and goes elsewhere for their information.

    Until we get transparent media here in the U.S., I find that often times the best source of news is from the UK. I am impressed by the journalism in the Economist magazine, the Financial Times, and sometimes get good information from the BBC. In a recent search, the best explanation I could find on the confusing delegate counts for the Republican and Democratic primaries was from the Guardian, another UK paper.

Mitt Romney in Salt Lake City

I previously announced my support for Mitt Romney as President of the United States. I think he is the most qualified administrator that has ever run for this office. His business and investing experience shows that he knows how to fix things that are broken. Imagine a venture capitalist running the U.S. government, recruiting the right people to major posts, shutting down services that have failed, and using market forces and the Bain way (which includes vigorous debate among various points of view) to find the best solutions for each problem.

In addition to his administrative and financial acumen, Mitt cares deeply about families and all issues that affect families. He has spoken a lot about federalism, too, meaning that he doesn’t believe the Federal Government should decide everything. My personal favorite amendment to the constitution is the 10th Amendment, which reserves all power that is not specificially granted to the federal government to the states and to the people. Unfortunately, this amendment has been trampled by a steady erosion of state and local power, so that the federal government has control or influence over just about everything.

I have a copy of a book published nearly 100 years ago called Federal Usurpation (available on Google Books) which shows how many local and state powers were ceded to the federal government over the period of 2-3 decades. And that was 100 years ago!

Anyway, I’m lucky to be able to hear Mitt Romney speak in Salt Lake City today; and I’m also hoping to find time to help make some calls for him today on his behalf. I believe this country needs Mitt Romney. I encourage you to study his positions on every major issue as well as his approach to problem solving.

Romney rockets to first place tie in New Hampshire

See Washington Times article, same headline

Mitt Romney’s polling numbers in New Hampshire (Zogby phone poll) now put him in a first place tie with John McCain. This is big news.

Success breeds success, and Romney’s fundraising success is causing many people who had only heard of McCain, Giuliani, and Gingrich to take a closer look at Romney. And it turns out that the more people learn about him, the more they tend to like what they see. He is so presidential in every way–but at the same time he is not a career politician with all the baggage that politicians bring with them to office.

I support Romney for President for numerous reasons, but primarily as a business person, I’m afraid our country is heading for insolvency, unless someone outside of Washington steps in to cut our federal spending, our taxes, and make us competitive in this global marketplace.

Unlike any other presidential candidate I’ve ever known, Romney has the business experience as an extremely successful venture capitalist turning large insolvent companies into lean, mean, profitable machines. That takes an incredible ability to recruit the right people to get the job done, and the vision and determination to make it happen. I think Romney’s cabinet would be the most effective in history. Even during the campaign he is showing an amazing ability of attracting talented people who get the job done.

Our Congress is filled with attorneys. I’ve heard Utah Senator Bob Bennett (with his history in business) say that he has to explain the most simple business principles and practices to other Senators. Many of them have no idea what small businesses have to do to succeed. (Like bringing in more revenue than you spend!)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could send more business people (and more engineers) to Washington, who would actually have the sense to generate results, rather than to create legislation and programs that sound good but have no chance to really work. Our elected officials often boast that they “did something” because they worked tirelessly to pass some legislation. But it takes years before it becomes apparent that the programs don’t work, and by then, everyone has forgotten who passed it in the first place.

I think a Romney presidency would be different. I think his goal would not be merely to pass legislation, but to actually generate measureable results — because that is how a venture capitalist thinks.

I also like his conservative views on social issues. He is polling first in New Hampshire among those who are “conservative” and “very conservative” and I think this will be more and more commmon as he becomes better known in other states.

Romney is also now #1 in Google News searches among Republican Candidates, according to Google Trends. This means more people are hearing about him and wanting to learn more about him. His name recognition will surely begin to soar, as he is clearly now one of the three Republican front-runners, and people will continue to go online to learn more about him.

Three Top Presidential Candidates Don’t Actually Live in the United States (Source: HowManyOfMe.com)

Interesting that after my last post on how names affect your ability to standout online, I noticed a post by Phil Windley, the man who inspired me to blog, about HowManyOfMe.com, a web site that uses census data to estimate the number of people living in the United States that have the same name as you.

For Phil Windley, the answer is 3.
For me, Paul Allen, the answer is 2,838.
For my hypothetical John Smith, the answer is 49,535.

Interesting stuff. But when I plugged in the names of the Presidential Candidates for 2008, I discovered some disturbing news and I’m breaking it right here and now. (Quick, somebody call Matt Drudge!)

There are 443 people named John McCain, 6,746 named John Edwards, 1 person named Hillary Clinton (but 12 named Bill), and shockingly, the algorithm reveals that there are 0 people in the U.S. named “Mitt Romney” or “Barack Obama” or “Rudy or Rudolph Giuliani.” There isn’t even a Willard Romney, I guess because both names are rather unusual.

So three of the top candidates don’t actually live in the United States according to the Census Bureau data (I think we’ll need a Congressional Investigation of this–doesn’t the Constitution require our presidents to live here?), and the political Hillary Clinton is the only Hillary Clinton that lives in these United States.

So I suppose she’ll have a slight edge over other candidates who don’t actually live in the U.S. or who may have to compete with other non-candidates who share their name, and might therefore cause a bunch of confusion in this upcoming election.

Some of those other 6,745 John Edwards might own web sites and blogs and really cause a lot of confusion for the actual candidate. (But the confusion might actually be to his advantage. Suppose that everyone who knows those other John Edwards — and the average person probably knows 300 other people — votes for him, thinking it is their friend who is running for President. Then 2,023,500 people might accidentally vote for John Edwards because of incidental name recognition. So this could give him a big advantage.)

Like I said, this is going to be a really interesting election.

WSJ Startup Journal: How to stand out online

Some people are born with great names and others have great names thrust upon them. In the 1960s when I was given the name “Paul Allen” it was an ordinary name. But thanks to the dynamic duo of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the name is now famous.

But what do you do if you want to be found online, but you can’t possibly stand out like the rich and famous person with the same name? Or what do you do if you have a name like “John Smith” that is so common that it can’t possibly stand out?

The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs published an article today by Elva Ramirez that may give entrepreneurs a few ideas about how to stand out in the search engines and how to elevate your search engine rankings. One key is blogging. Another is giving yourself a unique online persona, like Phil Burns did.

I was interviewed for the article as was Phil Burns, aka Phil801, founder of TagJungle.com.

I mentioned in the interview that it’s hard to compete in search engine rankings with the Microsoft Paul Allen. He used to have the first fifty or so search results in Google. But since I’ve been blogging fairly consistently for more than three years, and have posted about 800-900 times, I’ve attracted hundreds of incoming links that have given my paulallen.net web site a decent ranking on the search phrase “paul allen.”

I’m still known as Paul Allen the Lesser, and will likely stay that way forever both in reputation and in Google rank, unless I outlive the Greater and do something so marvelous (like bring about world peace through blogging) that my web page someday outranks his Wikipedia article. Not likely, I know. I’ll settle for third or fifth and be happy as a clam.

But when you name your company, or purchase your domain name, or name your product or service, do something to make it unique and easy to find, or do something to attract so much attention that you get the search engine rankings that you need to be found.

It often takes a ton of quality content (either company published or user generated) to generate enough incoming links to get high rankings on various keywords. But I’ve seen in done over and over and over again by SEO savvy entrepeneurs and internet marketers.

It pays great dividends to generate content that is worth linking to, because search engine rankings can make the difference between success and failure of an online business. I tried to calculate the value of high search engine rankings in an article published in December 2004 by Connect Magazine last year.

In the mid 90s, it mattered a great deal that your company name started with an “A” or better yet a number like “10x” since so many directories were alphabetically sorted. As better sorting algorithms were developed, that became less important. (But even now, in Google Book Search, the book vendors are listed in alphabetically order, meaning that Abe Books and Alibris show up ahead of Amazon.com whenever you want to purchase a book.)

How do you think names will affect the 2008 Presidential Campaign?

I think Hilary or is it Hillary Clinton has a pretty big problem. People don’t know how to spell her name. About 1/4th or 1/3rd seem to spell it wrong according to a Google Trends Report on both spellings. Her first name has two l’s.

I think Rudy Giuliani has an even bigger problem. It’s hard to find someone online when you can’t spell their name correctly. It’s taken me several searches for me to become comfortable with the spelling of his last name. The first few times I got it wrong.

Barack Hussein Obama will have the problem of getting people to spell his first name correctly (I think I typed two “r”s initially), but worse still, the Hussein might bring up all kinds of search engine results that may turn people off. Good thing for him that his last name has a “b” in it rather than an “s.”

People may wonder if you spell Mitt Romney with one or two t’s, so I think John Edwards and John McCane have the edge here in “ease of use.” Just kidding, I know it’s McCain, but I wonder if everyone else knows that as well. So may Edwards actually has the advantage.

At least I thought he did, until I did a search on Google for “John Edwards” and after the first three hits came up I saw something I’ve never seen before, a line separating the first three results from the next set of results, followed by a message:

“See results for John Edward”

Then below that were a bunch of websites dealing with a musician named John Edward.

I have never before seen Google take a plural word query (Edwards) and offer search results for a singular version of the name (Edward) partway down the page.

Can someone tell me what’s going on here? Does someone at Google not like John Edwards?

(Just kidding, I totally believe what happens at Google is algorithmically based. But John Edwards just happens to be caught in a bad spot with regards to this particular algorithm. Instead of “hanging chads” determining the outcome of the 2008 Election, maybe it will be a tweaked google algorithm.)

I wonder how many of the campaigns will try to purchase domains or build sites that include the misspelled versions of their opponents names. Would that be a base tactic in politics?

I typed in familsearch.com the other day (accidentally missed the “y”) and I found that I got redirected to the Ancestry.com web site presumably because an affiliate bought that typo version of a popular domain name and took advantage of the typo. In internet marketing this happens all the time. Some companies own thousands of domains with misspellings and typos that can redirect traffic from their competitors’ sites.

So what do you do to stand out online? And why do you think it matters?

And what advice would you give the 2008 Presidential Campaigns as they try to stand out online? Who has an inherent advantage because of his/her name, and who has a disadvantage? Which tactics should they embrace, and which should they avoid, because they might backfire? Which candidate will write the blog with the best content (hopefully not ghost-written, but genuine) and attract the most incoming links in order to get more incoming traffic and higher search engine rankings.

For a lot of reasons, including the impact of names on a candidate’s ability to be found online, it will be an interesting race to watch.

Why I Support Mitt Romney for President

This morning Mitt Romney announced his 2008 presidential bid in Michigan. His theme is innovation and transformation. Here is the full text of Romney’s speech from the NY Times.

I’m excited by Mitt’s candidancy and want to publicly declare my support for him. My blog is not a political blog by any means, but it is a personal one, and occasionally I like to express my personal opinions on a variety of topics, not just entrepreneurship.

I like many other candidates as well. Who isn’t fond of Rudy Giuliani for his amazing leadership in the wake of the 9/11 attack? My family will always be grateful to him for his strength and grace. He is a great leader. I’m also very fond of Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas. I appreciate his social conservatism and his optimism for the future. I love his concept of horizontal and not vertical politics.

From the Economist:

Mr Huckabee talks of “horizontal” and “vertical” politics. Horizontal politics means the bad old ways: Democrat versus Republican, or liberals against conservatives. Vertical politics means that people forget their differences, and their leaders elevate them as a whole. Mr Huckabee’s two most admirable vertical presidents are John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. The other man from Hope inclined more to the horizontal.

I am supporting Romney because I believe he will be the most capable administrator of the largest government in the world, and that he will tackle head on problems that traditional politicians have swept under the carpet for decades, postponing any solutions because they are afraid of the political fallout for rocking the boat.

Unlike most Washington politicians who are lawyers, Romney is a successful businessman, a turn-around artist, who helped build a very successful investment firm by acquiring and turning around companies and creating new value within these enterprises.

I truly believe that Romney’s approach to governing this nation will be solid and sound because it will be based on tried and proven business, leadership and financial principles, learned from very large-scale real world business experience — experience that no other candidate has.

In a nation that needs a financial turnaround (our national debt is $8.7 trillion and climbing fast — check out this national debt clock). We need a turn around artist, a gifted and articulate leader with a great vision for change and a penchant for surrounding himself with results-oriented people who won’t get embroiled in petty partisan politics, but who will actual make the difficult decisions necessary to solve the problems we are facing.

As an investor, Mitt Romney had to find CEOs who could deliver results and he did. He knows how to identify and attract great people to his team. When he stepped in to save the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he built a team that turned these games into a huge success, when they had been on the brink of serious disaster.

As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney turned a huge deficit into a balanced budget, while at the same time addressing major health care and educational issues at the state level (where they should be managed.)

I do not want to see the federal government try to solve health care and education issues. It’s extra-constitutional in my opinion, since the Tenth Amendment clearly says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.”

I don’t believe that a Romney Presidency will be anything like the Bush Presidency. Bush didn’t seem to recognize the difference between what the constitution of a state like Texas allows a governor to do, and what the federal constitution of the United States allows the Federal Government to do. I think there has been a greater expansion of the federal government in education under Bush than under all previous presidents, Democrat or Republican, combined.

Bush also isn’t known for identifying and recruiting the best people to solve the biggest problems we face. He is well known for his deep loyalty to his friends. That just doesn’t work well when you are talking about running a $2.9 trillion budget and playing on the world stage with the highest possible stakes. Your team has to deliver results, or you have to get a new team.

I believe Mitt Romney will form the most effective and efficient team of any president in modern history. I believe the national debt will be attacked head on. Romney will recognize that our nation will become insolvent if we don’t change our current course. He will find a way to reduce the tremendous burden the national debt places on every American.

I believe that his leadership will inspired new solutions in education, energy, and health care, but that they won’t be top down federal government mandates. I think he will be open minded to out of the box thinking and innovation. As an investor, he’s definitely manifest the ability to see where things are going and back the right ideas and people. He’ll do the same as President of the United States.

Warren Buffett (I attended the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in 2005) compared the United States to a family farm. The family members wanted to live beyond their means, beyond what the normal harvest would support, so every year they would sell off a little piece of property to subsidize their wants. While Buffet is a democrat, and I don’t him to endorse Mitt Romney, I do believe that these two speak the same economic language. They both have rare gifts, and both of them are using their gifts to bless humanity. Buffett’s pledge of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation demonstrates his desire to do good. Mitt’s willingness to subject himself, his family, and his religion to unprecedented and vitriolic attacts, in order to win the presidency and help turn this country around demonstrates his desire to be a public servant.

Romney’s ability to raise money for his campaign (click here if you’d like to donate), to get key endorsements, and to build a campaign team in every key state, is indicative of his administrative abilities. His poll numbers are strengthening in Iowa, New Hampshire, and elsewhere, including his “three home states” (Utah, Michigan, and Massachusetts).

Most voters still know little or nothing about Romney, but as his name recognition increases, as the online search volume about Romney continues to grow, more and more people will come to appreciate all that he offers in this campaign to turnaround the country. It’s happening already. He looks and talks and acts like a president.

I am tremendously excited for the 2008 campaign, the most open campaign in fifty years, with the most diverse field of candidates in history. Everyone will have unprecendent access to online information about every candidate, to most of their speeches (in text, audio and video format) and with more information about their track record than ever before.

I am not looking forward to all the attacks that will inevitably come at each candidate, especially the front-runners. I wish we could have a “kinder, gentler” blogosphere. But I know that is a vain wish. We live in a very polarized country (the red states and blue states and all that) and politics fires up a lot of people to do and say a lot of things they normally wouldn’t do or say.

But rather than attack, I encourage bloggers to try to be positive, to support the best ideas from all the candidates, and to elect a president that will lead this country in the right direction.

I encourage everyone to take a very close look at Mitt Romney, whose great capacity to solve problems and create value for stakeholders will help build an America that we can be proud of. An American that will remain a great nation with strong families and communities, stay competitive in the face of unprecendented challenges from Asian economies, and once again provide leadership to the world to rally together in times of crisis, when our enemies attack.

I believed in Reagan and I believe in Romney, and I’ve struggled to believe in between.

(Note: thanks to all my readers who corrected my earlier post about the national debt being $8.7 billion, instead of trillion. A silly mistake. If it were only $8.7 billion, Warren Buffett could have retired the debt by himself. But it’s 1,000 times worse than that. The national debt clock shows that each family/household in the United States would be responsible for $138,497 of that debt–a bit less than the median home price in this country.