While cramming for my interview with Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes at the Startup 2009 conference tomorrow, I came across this recent Fast Company profile. It details Chris’s experiences on the Obama campaign, as well as the early Facebook days at Harvard.
I’d heard the Obama online story before, from Tom Gensemer at Blue States Digital (the consulting firm that built the platform), but the details are still startling.
In case you don’t know Chris, he started Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and then left the company in 2007 to join the then-longshot Obama’s campaign. Chris led the development of MyBO, the grass-roots online community platform that helped galvanize Obama’s local supporters and win the election.
Here’s the intro to Ellen McGirt’s profile…
Ellen McGirt, Fast Company: Chris Hughes is having a philosophical moment. “I don’t really know what ‘community’ means. And I never use that word.”
We are in Washington, D.C., just three days before his most recent boss, Barack Obama, will take office. It is so bone-jarringly cold that even nestled over coffee inside a Starbucks, we can see our breath. I resist the urge to pat his nearly whiskerless cheek, or reach over to tighten his jacket against the frigid air. Such a baby face. But at the age of 25, Hughes has helped create two of the most successful startups in modern history, Facebook and the campaign apparatus that got Barack Obama elected. Both were dedicated to the proposition that communities, and the way we share and interact within them, are vitally important. As he recounts his two years as director of online organising for the man who put community organising on the map, the existential reverie is understandable. He doesn’t know what community means? Really? “Well, I just never think of myself as being in the business of building an online community.”
Hughes is a technology star whose business is people. At Facebook and in the Obama campaign, he has been plowing what he observes about human behaviour into online systems that help real people do what they want to do in their real lives. He helped develop the most robust set of Web-based social-networking tools ever used in a political campaign, enabling energized citizens to turn themselves into activists, long before a single human field staffer arrived to show them how.
“Technology has always been used as a net to capture people in a campaign or cause, but not to organise,” says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. “Chris saw what was possible before anyone else.” Hughes built something the candidate said he wanted but didn’t yet know was possible: a virtual mechanism for scaling and supporting community action. Then that community turned around and elected his boss president. “I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it,” Hughes says.
His key tool was My.BarackObama.com, or MyBO for short, a surprisingly intuitive and fun-to-use networking Web site that allowed Obama supporters to create groups, plan events, raise funds, download tools, and connect with one another — not unlike a more focused, activist Facebook. MyBO also let the campaign reach its most passionate supporters cheaply and effectively. By the time the campaign was over, volunteers had created more than 2 million profiles on the site, planned 200,000 offline events, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blogs, and raised $30 million on 70,000 personal fund-raising pages…