This week, we continue our interview series with Colin Delany, author of the popular epolitics.com blog, which received the Golden Dot Award as “Best Blog – National Politics” at the 2007 Politics Online Conference. Colin has published the e-book, “Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Advocacy,” and frequently speaks at conferences. Colin is currently employed full-time as online communications manager at the National Environmental Trust, but will be starting his own consulting practice on January 1, 2008.
What’s the story behind epolitics.com. How did it get started?
Colin Delany: Epolitics.com is a prolonged and shameless act of self-promotion — and thanks for helping out today.
Well, okay, there’s a little more to it than that. I love to write but hadn’t been doing much of it, so a couple of years ago I started thinking about things I could write about for an online audience. At the Politics Online Conference in March, 2006, I realized that I’d learned enough about online political advocacy in 10 years working in the field that I might just could contribute a little something to the conversation.
The domain name was key: it was left over from an early online political venture that had failed miserably back in the late ’90s, but it was a perfect hook for the site. A few months later, after I’d had a chance to put the Online Politics 101 handbook together so that the site would have some kind of semi-permanent content, I launched. Since then, it’s been a fun adventure, and it’s certainly opened a lot of doors. If you like to write and are passionate about a subject, write about it in public — if you have something to say, people will find you (though a little self-promotion usually helps out on that front). Note: I’m always looking for guest authors….
What’s your take on newspaper blogs? Are they really blogs?
Colin: Sure, they’re just like blogs, only better written than most.
Seriously, I don’t think it helps to get hung up on definitions — at some level, a blog is anything published with blogging software. Blogs range from personal diaries to online columns to massive political community sites, and it’s almost meaningless to lump them all together. I don’t think of myself as a blogger, for instance — I’m a writer, and the particular medium I use is irrelevant. We don’t call people who write for magazines "magaziners," so why should should we lump everyone who uses a blogging platform together into a category?
You have recently changed the commenting policy on your site. Can you talk a little bit about that? Any advice for other bloggers about how to deal with comments?
Colin: The problem with comments isn’t the human commentors, since in most cases they’re completely fine. The problem is the &%$#ing spammers — a site like mine can get over 1,000 fake comments per day, usually linking to some page that’s loaded with Google ads. Even with good anti-spam software, a few get through every day, so I’d relied on human filtering to catch the little bastards.
What I did recently was make a simple tweak to the WordPress installation I’m using that allows comments to go straight to the site without moderation once the writer has had at least one comment approved (with identity tied to the poster’s email address). This way, regular readers can get their words on the page right away, which I hope will help actual conversations get started. It’s hard to have a good back-and-forth if you have to wait for the moderator to wake up from a nap before your comment appears.
You will soon become a full-time, independent consultant. What will you be doing? Will you continue to blog? You have to sleep at least a little, right?
Colin: I hope I’ll be taking lots of naps (see above). Yep, I’ll keep writing e.politics, and the plan is that being free of the day-to-day hassles of having a job (showing up, bathing, maintaining a semblance of public dignity, etc.), I’ll be able to write more often. With the political primary season in full swing by January, there’ll be a lot to keep up with.
For a living, I plan to help advocacy campaigns work their way through the essential questions of online communications — with all the tools out there right now, a lot of people are too bewildered to even get started. Whom do we reach? How do we reach them? What do we get them to do? And, how do we do it while using our resources as efficiently as possible? If I can help campaigns get to the right solutions quickly, I might just be able to help them win.
What do you think will be the killer app in online political organizing this election cycle?
Colin: Email, email, email and email. I know people think I’m crazy when I keep talking about electronic mail with such reverence, but just about every campaign out there of any size will have an email list, and most will find that it’s a far more effective tool for organizing and fundraising than social networking sites.
Of course, video will also be key, particularly since campaigns can use it at all levels. Same with online fundraising, particularly now that sites like ActBlue and its Republican counterparts exist. But really, the Killer App isn’t any one application — it’s the effective combination of the right bundle of applications. And if you’re looking for help figuring that out, I know this guy you can call…
Final question: If you were to get an epolitics tattoo, what would it look like?
Colin: A giant question mark, both to represent eternal, stubborn skepticism and as an homage to my early homeboys, The Three Investigators.