Political Web 2.0 in 2006

Maybe you remember the cartoon baseball bat on Howard Dean’s Web site
from 2004?

The bat popped up on the site and in Dean e-mails whenever the
campaign needed to inspire supporters to contribute money.

And sure
enough, small Internet contribution by small Internet contribution,
the picture of the bat, resembling a thermometer, filled like mercury rising, signifying the campaign’s fundraising earnings to that point.

Dean’s bat, e-mails and Web site energized a grassroots campaign that only a red face and a series of maniacal gestures could undo. But his campaign did mark the cutting edge of how politics can mix with the Internet to make an impact.

What was big then pales in the face of what is possible today. As the 2006 mid-term elections draw near, candidates are buying sponsored links on Google AdWords, making friends on Facebook and uploading videos to YouTube.

It’s Political Web 2.0, and it’s supposed to be doing all of us a huge favor by transforming politics into a conversation, very much unlike politics has really ever been before.

But are we actually witnessing the death of the cable news sound bite
and the top-down political messaging it typifies, or are we simply
watching it evolve into something even more pervasive?

Web 2.0 meets politics

There is evidence that Web 2.0’s big three trends —
broadband adoption, search marketing and social networks — have
altered how campaigns use the Internet.

Broadband adoption grew by 40 percent from March 2005 to March 2006,
according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report published
in May.

This growth in broadband has made on-demand video sites possible and helped them become popular.

“Most campaigns know that YouTube is totally necessary,” Tim Tagaris,
Internet communications director for Ned Lamont’s U.S. Senate
campaign, told internetnews.com.

Many campaigns, such as those for Senator Rick
Santorum in Pennsylvania and Congresswoman Katherine Harris in Florida, feel
the same way about another Web 2.0 staple — Google AdWords.

David Fischer, director of online sales and operations for AdWords,
told internetnews.com he’s seen a “dramatic increase” in
political advertising on Google’s search marketing product.

Facebook spokeswoman Brandee Barker said her company, a popular
social network among high school and college students, made a
concerted effort to accelerate campaign activity on the site.

At the start of the election season, Facebook created 1,400 profiles in candidates’ names and offered them up in case any of them wanted to use the site to push their platforms. Barker said around 300 are actively
managed.

She noted Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana as a politician
who understands how to use Facebook. He makes friends, then posts
comments on their profiles and sends birthday messages, Barker said.

Methods to 2.0 madness

Aren’t politicians using these new media technologies in the same top-down, one-to-the-many way they used older media?

Two political consultants from the opposite sides of the partisan
divide say that, for now, the answer is yes.

Former director of online organizing and communications for John
Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign Zack Exley said successful
candidates aren’t using the Internet to converse with the many this
year, but to tell them when and where to meet for the rally.

“The Internet is just not a great medium for reaching undecided
voters. The Internet is not even a good mechanism for doing direct
voter turnout. The Internet is a grassroots organizing medium right
now,” Exley told internetnews.com.

The Internet is a medium for organizing the faithful, not hashing out
the articles of faith.

“You tap the energy of your supporters. You give them a place to show up
where they will be trained and given the tools they need to knock on
doors or pick up the phone and call targeted voters,” Exley said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Josh Holmes disagrees. He told
internetnews.com that the Internet actually can be used
for voter persuasion.

Not because Political Web 2.0 changes the way campaigns interact
with voters into a conversation, however, but because new sites such
as YouTube drastically speed the delivery of video featuring the type
of top-down, campaign-to-the-people messaging once reserved for
broadcast advertisements.

“If there’s something that’s particularly meaningful to the campaign,
now you can just take it and get it on the Internet and direct people to it,” Holmes said. Whereas before you’d have to take a video and make it into a format
that’s available for television and you’d have to try to pitch it to
a television outlet, he added.

But Both Holmes and Exley said that campaign participation on social
networks through peer-to-peer communications has not yet shown itself
to be a viable way to help win an election.

Campaigns are not using Political Web 2.0 to get involved in
conversations with constituents.

But if you were hoping they would, you might have missed the point of
Web 2.0 and its political counterpart.

Next page: The many to the many

The many to the many

It’s been said that over this century and the last we’ve witnessed a
technological evolution in communications.

Bell gave us the telephone. Then the printing press gained voice and face when
Guglielmo Marconi and John Logie Baird invented the radio and the
television, respectively. Suddenly one could talk to the many.

And now we have the Internet where Google connects many searchers to
many Web site creators and many advertisers, where eBay connects the
many buyers with the many sellers, where MySpace connects its many
users with its many users.

Web 2.0 is a swirling interaction of the many with the many. With Political Web 2.0, the many are talking.

A political conversation may be happening, Exley and Holmes said, but
don’t look to the campaigns for it. Campaigns are not the many; they
are at the “top” in the traditional top-down communications paradigm.

When you look at Facebook, don’t look to a campaign’s profile. Look
to the member groups created around the issues, the 92,342 who have
joined together to support legalized same-sex marriage or the 22,218 who
joined to say “abortion is murder.”

Or look to the blogs, both Exley and Holmes said.

For a real conversation facilitated by Political Web 2.0, Exley
pointed to the scandal surrounding Senator George Allen’s use of the
racial epithet macacca to describe one of his opponent’s
campaign workers who was videographing an Allen rally.

Exley said the one-to-the-many media, television, radio, and print,
took the story and announced a consensus reaction: weird thing to say
there, Senator
, and then moved on.

Exley said it took the many-to-the-many bloggers to investigate,
discuss, pick apart, and then explain what Senator Allen had actually
said.

Macacca is a word for monkey and it’s a racial epithet
where Allen’s mother is from in North Africa.

It’s an example of how a useless and confusing sound bite that explained
nothing when aired over yesterday’s one-to-the-many media gained
meaning when conversed over by the many talking to the many
on Political Web 2.0.

Holmes offered a similar example, citing Dan Rather’s downfall at CBS
after bloggers exposed documents Rather used in a 60 Minutes
report as fabricated.

Before broadband turned the Web into its second version and before YouTube and Facebook and MySpace changed the way we socialize, that conversation marked a beginning. It marked the birth of the true Political Web 2.0. Will the campaigns join the conversation?

News Around the Web