The Thinker

Beware the Power of Kos

When the historians write the official history of the election of 2004 Markos Moulitsas should have at least a chapter. His site, is the nation’s largest political weblog. To call it a weblog though is to damn it with faint praise. (or Kos to most of us — the site and its owner seem interchangeable) is really an excellent networked community of progressives working together in virtual and real space to dump Bush, elect John Kerry and put Democrats into office on all levels. In my mind it is a revolutionary online community.

If (now got the effort rolling it was Moulitsas who perfected the online political community. As much as I enjoy reading political weblogs like Atrios and The Left Coaster nothing really can compare to Kos’s site. Kos is where progressive politics is happening in real time. And we are not there just out of some sense of duty. We are having a blast. The site is addictive.

He is currently averaging close to 400,000 page views a day. This is a staggering number. It has him and his crew of tech heads constantly scurrying to add more servers and bandwidth. It’s amazing his site does not collapse altogether from the load. There are certainly times of the day (mid afternoon and evenings) when it can be tough to get onto Kos.

Kos was born in Chicago but he spent most of his formative years in El Salvador. He eventually returned to the United States when the civil war there got too hot. He served three years in the U.S. Army. Along the way he accumulated two bachelors degrees and a J.D. degree. Now he earns his living teaching progressive candidates how to use the power of online communities. But I don’t know where he finds the time to earn money. It seems like he lives on his weblog.

What makes Kos unique though is he really, really understands how to leverage the power of online communities. In addition he is very politically savvy. But what I find most astounding is his energy. I work in the IT business and lead a team of programmers running and maintaining a large real time Internet based system. (See it here.) But we are not agile. Kos is fast. Kos is agile. Kos and his team of contributors put out the best progressive content on the web. And Kos has amazing technical savvy.

What started as just another Moveable Type weblog like this blog couldn’t scale when his site got too popular. But he didn’t whine or complain. He found some of the best thinkers out there and leveraged the developer of Scoop for his site. Scoop runs the Kos site, and it is constantly being tweaked and enhanced to make it more useful.

While lots of people try to use technology to solve a problem Kos actually makes it work in real time in a highly dynamic environment. The move to Scoop, for example, was not only necessary and timely but also incredibly smart. With Scoop members can create their own diaries on his site and get them viewed by hundred or thousands of people very quickly. This allowed the number of real time contributors to skyrocket. Instead of six or so primary authors there were hundreds of authors all posting to the same web site. The whole community can read and comment on everything. But Scoop is also smart enough (and specially tweaked) to weed out the numerous trolls that can be found on most websites. It has become a progressives-only oasis. Because of the smart Scoop software it requires no moderation. It just works.

A recent modification to Scoop allowed readers of diaries to recommend a diary for higher placement. If enough people recommend a diary it appears on the main page as a recommended diary. So we have a built in mechanism to see the latest good stuff.

It’s one thing for a politically smart and savvy person to read journals, books, papers and sites, analyze them and post a thoughtful article. On Kos there are thousands of eyes constantly scanning news sources and picking out the wheat from the chaff. When they find something it gets posted instantly as a diary entry. If it gets recommended it becomes a “must read” item for the community. Sometimes this stimulates Kos to take specific action by promoting a recommended diary to a lead article.

The people on Kos are mostly like Kos: incredibly politically savvy and intelligent types. But unlike a lot of political sites these people are not just smart. They are pissed off and are taking action. Kos himself has raised an amazing amount of money online for Kerry and various progressive candidates, many of whom would not get a second glance from organizations like the DCCC. He has raised over $300,000 so far for his Kos Dozen (his picks of candidates who deserve time and money) from over 4300 donors. He has raised over $90,000 for the Democratic Party and over $80,000 for John Kerry’s campaign. But it is likely the actual total is much higher. Not everyone bothers to go through the trouble of adding one cent to the contribution so it can be flagged as a Kos contribution.

Kos’s energy seems boundless because is not his only site. In addition to his personal weblog he runs two other political sites including, which provides in depth analysis and strategies for those interested in progressive House and Senate races.

His commentary is always right on and highly informed. Yet he is not afraid to use four letter words. The blog world is not politically correct. Nor does Kos have any pretension of being unbiased. He is interested in moving progressive issues as quickly and expeditiously as possible. His eye is constantly on the goal. He is always tweaking his strategy to make sure his goals are met.

Kos is agile, indefatigueable, smart and has amazing political instinct. I doubt this election will be a rout. I am still hopeful that Kerry will win the presidential election. But it is quite possible that if we also take back either the House or the Senate then Kos will be seen a key change agent. He got thousands of us to give time and money. But most importantly he got us to care by connecting us in real time.

At only 33 Markos Moulitsas has a bright future ahead of him. He may be doing the best and most important work of his life right now. But I hope in the future we get to see him in political office. He could well be the Bill Clinton of his generation. He has the right stuff.

Update 9/27/04: Kos strikes again. Where does this guy find the time? He now has a PAC for progressive bloggers. And he is already running ads! This guy is amazing!


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