TotalCIO

Nov 5 2008   3:47PM GMT

Democracy via technology: Obama and the power of Web 2.0

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

I know I’m not alone in believing that it’s been fascinating to watch this year’s presidential election from a technology perspective. I have to keep up on Web-based advances as part of my job, but the Internet, obviously, is becoming very integral to the way my generation interacts with and learns about the world. When we at SearchCIO.com talk to CIOs about the power of Web 2.0 (and even Web 3.0), the Obama campaign should now be considered a bellwether for the movement.

As The New York Times pointed out, “the Obama campaign sought to understand and harness the Internet (and other forms of so-called new media) to organize supporters and to reach voters who no longer rely primarily on information from newspapers and television. The platforms included YouTube, which did not exist in 2004, and the cell phone text messages that the campaign was sending out to supporters on Monday to remind them to vote.”

And, according to Newsweek, “the Obama campaign’s New Media experts created a computer program that would allow a “flusher” – the term for a volunteer who rounds up nonvoters on Election Day – to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. They dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station.”

I know I’m convinced by what I witnessed Tuesday. On Facebook, nearly everybody I know had status updates alluding to the election, many of them proclaiming proudly that they had already voted. Facebook had a running app throughout the day tallying the number of Facebookers who said they voted, and it reached more than 5 million. It was even pointed out to me that some election-day freebies many people jumped on, such as free coffee at Starbucks and free ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, were by and large promoted electronically.

This emphasis on democracy via technology continued throughout the day. I received several texts and emails from friends encouraging me to vote. When Obama’s victory was announced around 11 p.m. EST, another round of text messages streamed in. 

The Obama campaign really seized on the modes of communication that will propel Americans – and particularly young voters – into the future. According to The Guardian out of England, Facebook is more popular than the BBC’s network of sites. I couldn’t find a similar survey in America comparing Facebook with, say, CNN.com, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results.

As the AP points out, there were only a few hundred websites in existence when Bill Clinton assumed the presidency in 1993, and hardly any blogs when George W. Bush became president in 2001. The world has changed, and with it, the electorate has, too. Never again can a viable presidential candidate ignore the power of the Internet in an election.

And, thankfully, we’ve got at least a couple of years before any of them will have to start thinking about it again.

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  • Rachel Lebeaux
    I got my information about the election completely from the web. I didn't want the calls so didn't give the Obama team my phone number - they found it anyway. I turned off my paid TV supplier and have yet to mount an antenna on my rooftop. I did get the converter. However. I find it perfectly satisfactory to rely on the net for everything I want or need to find out about. Perhaps I am a bit eccentric, but I am a 68 year old female Obama supporter - before Iowa, and long ago got suspicious that when something trivial was being trumpeted loudly by all the networks - it was important to look behind the curtain to find out what they didn't want me to know about. Interestingly, there is almost always something important being decided during those times. Obviously, there is a lot of just STUFF on the web - but that is easy enough to dig through if one really wants to know something.
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