Party Central 

Berkeley blogger Markos Moulitsas wants nothing less than to reinvent party politics.

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Instead, he turned in a last-minute application to the Boston University School of Law. "I wanted a way to kill three years of my life in a respectable fashion," he says, even though he had very little interest in practicing law. "I knew within thirty minutes that it wasn't for me," he recalls. "At graduation, more than one person came up to me and said things like, 'My God, I thought you dropped out after first year.' Because I disappeared. I was working as a legislative aide for a state legislator, and I was helping organize Latino grocers and I was working as a quality-assurance tester for a couple of software firms. So I was doing everything but go to class."

For one thing, Moulitsas had met Elisa Batista, now his wife and a reporter for Wired News. "I took a tango class at law school to meet girls, and she took tango class to learn how to dance tango," he recalls dryly. "My whole point was to meet girls, plural, and she was the first, so I kind of blew it." He had also started his first blog, the Hispanic-Latino News Service -- although back in 1996, nobody called them blogs and the technology really wasn't there to make them very manageable. He'd spend three hours before class combing the news for headlines and hand-coding the site. His blog attracted a job offer from short-lived Latino portal site, so Moulitsas moved to San Francisco during the dot-com boom. When PicoSito went belly-up, the Web development company across the hall offered him a job, where he learned more about the new technologies that were making blogging easier.

By early 2002, Moulitsas had become a regular reader of early political blog, and soon cemented a friendship with the blog's owner Jerome Armstrong, whom he refers to as his "blogfather." Inspired by MyDD and his distress over the 2002 midterm election results, Moulitsas launched Daily Kos. It was originally a small site, simply a place to vent. But it was getting noticed. In late 2002, Joe Trippi tentatively tapped Armstrong and Moulitsas to help plan the nascent Dean campaign's Internet strategy. "It was basically like, 'What you guys have done with blogs, how can we do that for the Dean campaign and what will it mean?'" Armstrong recalls. The two bloggers formed a consulting firm they dubbed Armstrong-Zúniga and drew up a strategy memo that suggested using Web sites for fund-raising and -- a Web site that helps activist groups organize local get-togethers -- as a way to organize Dean support groups in real life. Although the campaign would eventually adopt both of these ideas -- raising $40 million largely from Internet donations -- the two bloggers got lost in the shuffle in the hectic days of the early campaign. Moulitsas, who was frequently mentioning General Wesley Clark on Daily Kos as a possible presidential contender, decided to throw his support elsewhere. "We set up a Web site over a weekend and launched a 'draft Clark' effort," Armstrong recalls. "Of course, the next week Trippi calls us, all freaked out." At that point, Clark was still not officially in the race, so Moulitsas and Armstrong turned over to some other supporters and signed on with Dean for real.

Armstrong moved to Burlington to work for the Dean campaign; Moulitsas' role was smaller. Meanwhile, he was sinking his efforts into Daily Kos and a second, more personal blog at that chronicled his life as an expectant father. While Daily Kos can be a tough-guy Web site (the Times Magazine deemed his tone "cruel and superior"), Fishyshark is a sweet and tender journal of his wife's first pregnancy and her subsequent miscarriage. Moulitsas revived the blog in 2003 when Elisa became pregnant again with their son Ari, humorously retelling tales of colic, morning sickness, and other adventures in projectile vomiting.

But keeping up Fishyshark, which Moulitsas says requires more self-examination and wordcraft, is much harder than feeding Daily Kos, where he can whip up an entry in a few minutes. So while his posts to Fishyshark became more erratic, Daily Kos was growing like kudzu. The crowds arrived in distinct waves: first, after the 2002 midterms; then, after the United States invaded Iraq in early 2003; and finally, the biggest crowd of all showed up over the summer of 2004 as the election season kicked into high gear. With each wave, some tension developed between old and new posters, as newcomers bungled the etiquette and some of the older folks, feeling outnumbered, dropped out. But the crowds also pushed the site to evolve and improve.

Guest blogger Paul Delehanty, who is known online as Kid Oakland, calls the Daily Kos conversation style a product of the Berkeley's Free Speech movement and the Silicon Valley culture's passion for freedom of information. "It may not be a literal connection but it's a deep, spiritual connection -- a very West Coast, high-tech free speech sense of political discourse," he says. "It's almost like the feminist discussion about discourse, where instead of conversation being strictly oppositional it's more organic -- you can have people who agree but disagree, or take it off to a side discussion." The result, he says, is a conversational whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In fact, the conversation has grown so big that Moulitsas no longer sees his creation as a publication, but as a virtual city with residents who each contribute to civic life in their own way. "I'm the mayor of the city, but nobody thinks that Chicago is great because of Mayor Daley," he says. "You have the good and the bad, you have the town drunk and the comic, you have the grammar cops and the content cops."

But as with any large city, not everyone agrees about how to run it.

The difficulty of laying down a set of expectations for bloggers is compounded by the trickiness of defining what a blogger is, anyway. The old definition was that they were mainly online diarists, ordinary people who wrote about their crummy day at the office. Now that sites like Daily Kos have readerships bigger than those of many city newspapers, there's plenty of debate about whether they are amateurs or professionals, independent observers or online celebrities.

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