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Americans Elect Continues To Fail At The Internet

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At some point today, the folks behind Americans Elect -- the super whiz-bang effort to get an anthropomorphic Thomas Friedman column elected president -- will announce what they are going to do now that the big run-up effort to get people to sufficiently support one or more of a thousand possible candidates has ended in failure. Because they probably have to do something. As Dave Weigel notes, Americans Elect has secured ballot access in over half of all states (even post-failure, the organization touted its success getting on the ballot in Maryland), and those ballot lines are not going anywhere.

The easy speculation is that AE will either roll back some variety of the "support click" standard it initially set or dispense with the whole illusion of millions of people "choosing" the candidate online entirely. But the plan was for the organization's leadership to have a dialogue with the "community" of supporters to determine the path ahead. Of course, the obvious problem with this is that Americans Elect has not yet demonstrated that it actually understands the internet well enough to use it as a tool for creating and activating a community. That's why it's no surprise to read this report from Jonathan Tilove, who says that the "process by which Americans Elect conferred with its "community" in advance of the decision due later today was ... typically odd, obscure and limiting":

Americans Elect did not e-mail its registered delegates to solicit their input, or in any evident way advertise on its website that it was interested in their ideas as part of what Byrd had characterized as a fateful discussion that would determine the future of the ambitious $35 million effort to put an independent presidential candidate on all 50 state ballots

In order to join the on-line discussion, a member of the AE community had to stumble upon a link about 200 words into a piece titled "Stepping Up Means Stepping into the Line of Fire", posted on the AE site Wednesday by Mark McKinnon, a member of its Board of Advisors, which led to a page at which visitors were solicited to "tell us how you think we should move forward."

And once you get to that page, it's a disaster. Atop the page, there's a banner that reads, "Due to volume, only the 15 most recent replies are being displayed." That doesn't do much to allow this "community" to hear one another out.

Some users are pressing on and making positive suggestions, from limiting the field of candidates -- which should have been done months ago -- to pushing back all the deadlines again. But others are disgruntled.

One user, Charlton Holmes, writes: "From my experience and what I am reading above, u have to come up with a website that is user friendly, simple and works. To be honest, yours is aweful [sic]. I own several small businesses and every one of our websites puts yours to shame. If people get frustrated by your website they lose respect for your organization."

Josh Green adds: "Very disappointed, but not surprised, that you did not get enough participants. I think you failed because you can't start a movement based on nothing but centrist politics and the desire for bipartisanship."

And David K. notes: "Less than FOUR HUNDRED of your alleged 400,000 delegates have provided feedback here."

So Americans Elect continues to struggle with basic online community-building. Of course, that's the charitable explanation for why users have to work so hard to find out where they can find this space to vent. The other explanation is that Americans Elect isn't really all that interested in what its membership has to say about anything. Transparency has never exactly been its thing, after all.

But hey, from what I gather, Americans Elect seems pretty convinced that it's everyone else who's failed them.

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