The Times recently ran a story about the 2008 US Presidential race being 'the Internet election'.
It's not quite.
All the main presidential campaigns "think that the internet is just a slice of the pie they don't realise it's actually the plan", as Andrew Rasiej, the founder of TechPresident, which has been following the online race for some time, puts it.
The campaigns tend to view the Web as a "direct mail for the 21st century, an exercise in top-down control where they create the message, tell us how to vote and where to send the money", he says.
The idea of 'the list versus the network'.
The online success of the libertarian GOP candidate Ron Paul is actually nothing to do with his campaign - his supporters have generated his out-of-proportion 'presence' on the web themselves. not really surprising given that so many libertarians have driven the web's growth.
That online sucess has got 'offline' votes for 'Dr Paul' and for Obama. The media's just not paying much attention. This caused Paul supporters to resort to parading down the Las Vegas Strip last Saturday surreally shouting
'We’re not just the Internet. We’re flesh and blood.'Nevada is fertile territory for Libertarians, according to the Guardian. And Paul did well in the Republican caucus. They pounded for the Dr.
None of the other GOP candidates have shown much interest in the Web. Commentators have suggested that this may have something to do with the make-up of typical party members.
What the Democrat campaigns have done is simply hire from the same youthful pool - often those who ran Howard Dean's ill-fated 2004 campaign, which first showed the power of the web as a political organising and fundraising tool, especially with new voters.
TechPresident has been detailing how the 2008 campaigns have tended to corral and be slightly afraid of letting supporters loose.
Talking about a just issued question and answer video from Hillary:
Instead of asking supporters to upload videos of questions, or to text or IM them — which would have been a natural thing for young voters to do — she asked them fill out a web form. Thanks to the closed nature of web forms, once participants hit “Submit” their questions went up the stovepipe and couldn’t be shared among other supporters. Not a very networked, webby way to behave, and typical of Clinton’s top-down style.
I actually find this video a tad patronising. I'm sure the kid whose music video I posted earlier would be better 'pissing inside the tent', but I can't imagine Hillary's tight campaign 'reaching out'.
Both main campaigns have been using social networks but, again, in this tightly controlled way. Edwards has picked up attention for making early, wider use of the web, using sites such as Eventful ('find and post local events anywhere in the world') to get the online to actual 'fleshmeets'. But now everyone is doing the same.
What the campaigns do appear to have spawned - I think that's the right word - is various organising sites that double as attack-sites. Hillaryis44 is one such site, fingered as a focal point for dirt aimed at Obama.
He would be right to have something to fear, as the web finds cracks and burrows it's way in at the wavering and acts as an amplifier for lies. Bad news gets out, quickly. Remember 'Macaca'?
The web is driving the election in that way - as a news source it's unrivaled. I've watched stories head from blog buzz to TV mainstream. Like the Obama= Madrassa/Muslim Manchurian Candidate meme.
Currently it's an attempt to link Obama with black radical Louis Farrakkan via Obama's church. Another lot is trying to tie him to Kenyan election violence. Smears can work but they can also backfire.
- Memeorandum, is a good place to watch this unfold.
NB: One interesting bit of data about the web and the race, just put out by Yahoo, is that Clinton’s “Buzz Score” — “the percentage of Yahoo! users searching for that subject on a given day, multiplied by a constant to make the number easier to read” — similar to Google Trends —went up and up in the runup to the New Hampshire primary. At the same time, Barack Obama’s score spiked downward. NH was where the polls got the result dramatically wrong, but they missed the change as they were a couple of days old.
In the run-up to Iowa webstats service Hitwise, similarly, picked up spiking online Obama buzz.
Despite us having a similarly high web penetration, the UK is way behind this game. Politicians have very little clue as to how to use the web and look likely to continue to be blindsided.
Try googling 'Boris for Mayor' or 'Ken for Mayor' or 'Brian for Mayor' — you'll only see Boris in there with his mates. Ken is nowhere, neither is Paddick.
Boris' web presence will earn him lots of London Mayoral votes I predict!
The Tories in the UK have by far the longest web involvement and a lot of smart people ready to start 'piling in' - as Boris' would undoubtedly put it.
Ken, by contrast, has a problem with the Mayoral Site being his sole web presence - it's not really his, it belongs to the office and that'll restrict him. Plus his mates aren't defending him online. So he has zip web presence as far as I can see.
Does this look like a campaign website?
One whole section is devoted to 'Statements'.
And Ken's got problems.
The New Statesman's TV company is about to publicise alleged "astonishing and shocking" drinking habits and being "a law unto himself", via Channel Four, then YouTube and virally.
London's paper the Evening Standard has four attack stories on its website last Friday.
He'd better get his web-act together.
Huge proportions of the London electorate now get their news via the Web and things like video of Ken knocking back the booze and endless sleaze stories circulating online cannot be just laughed off any more.
Polls currently show it too close to call.