I hate having to write this because two of the people involved are former colleagues that I really enjoyed working with, and really respect. Unfortunately, it has to be said.
Two articles in major publications – the LA Times and WaPo – tout the formation of Matt Dowd and Mark McKinnon’s joint venture with Joe Lockhart and Carter Eskew. The idea behind their soon to launch HotSoup.com is simple – a one stop shop for measured discussion and debate about political issues, with no partisan bickering. Um, yeah… It could happen…
Having spent two years of my life on version 1.0 of this – we called it grassroots.com and it receives a passing mention in one article – I can tell you this thing will likely suck up a whole bunch of money, and ultimately flame out. It will die a death by a million pin pricks.
The idea sounds great on paper. I bought into it in early 2000. While we spent most of that year being compared to the also ill-fated Voter.com, our model was actually different – it was based on education, discussion/debate, and activism. Voter.com wanted to be a repository for all things electoral; with pages for candidates for every single office. They spent an absolute pant-load on marketing and blew through more than 50 million dollars inside of a year.
We spent more than 30 million over two years, and decided in mid-2000 the model was never going to be successful and began making software and selling consulting services to the advocacy groups we had sought out as partners. The saving grace for the company that kept it afloat was actually a deal to serve as a communications platform for corporate clients.
So I feel I’m in a unique position to offer Matt and Mark some unsolicited advice.
Their problem is present in the articles and clearly evident in the skepticism of the writers. The partisanship they created, that they are now trying to “rehab” has created a marginalized middle. The people who flock to blogs are rabid conservatives and rabid liberals. There are very few successful, mainstream, and moderate blogs or political discussion sites because nobody wants to believe the other guy could possibly be right.
The few successful political abstract sites (things like politicsnj.com) are driven by news, not discussion. Their message boards often deteriorate into chaos because web traffic to political sites falls into three categories.
- Rabid liberals who troll conservative sites to tell GOPers why they’re wrong, Bush is delusional, and the country has been stolen. They also congregate on liberal sites for a sense of empowerment – seeing so many like-minded cheerleaders.
- Conservatives who troll liberal sites to tell the Dems why they’re never going to win an election, liberalism is an intellectually bankrupt ideology, and the country is doing better than it ever has despite the nervous dread and a housing market that could make the 1929 crash look like a hiccup if it bursts. They also recharge by spending time pumping each other up on conservative blogs.
- Moderate voices, who attempt to have debates on either the liberal blogs, the conservative blogs, or the few moderate “all-politics” sites that serve everyone. They are incredibly frustrated by the members of the first two camps because their “measured debate” is generally drowned out by some jackass from the two camps above ranting and being a real pinhead.
So here’s my prediction for HotSoup.com. It will attract a good deal of interest. It may even attract some significant funding – after all, Mark, Matt, Joe and Carter are well connected and are essentially brand names in politics. It will, ultimately, become less like the McLaughlin Group (and even less like Crossfire) and end up looking like the political version of Jerry Springer with pundits stoking the fire.