Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama becomes the first internet President

With the conclusion of the US Presidential race, commentators are turning their attention to an analysis of how a relative newcomer could first defeat a more experienced contender for the Democratic nomination (Hillary Clinton), and then achieve a victory over an even more experienced Republican candidate (John McCain), albeit on the back of extremely low approval ratings for George Bush and some missteps by the Republican camp.

One of the key factors being identified, as was identified earlier in the campaign, was the polished use of the internet by Obama's team to build voter engagement and raise funds. Drawing on the experience of people such as one of the founders of Facebook, Obama was able to utilise online social networks to create the largest electoral machine in history.

For instance, as reported in Wired Magazine, Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency,
Both Obama and Republican rival John McCain relied on the net to bolster their campaigns. But Obama's online success dwarfed his opponent's, and proved key to his winning the presidency. Volunteers used Obama's website to organize a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race -- and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups clumped by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests. By the end of the campaign, chalked up some 1.5 million accounts. And Obama raised a record-breaking $600 million in contributions from more than three million people, many of whom donated through the web.

The Australian also commented on this in Obama surfs the web to the White House, where it states,
"No one's going to say Obama won the election because of the internet but he wouldn't have been able to win without it," said Julie Germany, director of George Washington University's Institute for Politics Democracy & the Internet.

"From the very beginning the Obama campaign used the internet as a tool to organise all of its efforts online and offline," Ms Germany said. "It was like the central nervous system of the campaign."

This type of campaign is not limited to political ones - it could as easily be used to build a sustained movement on topical issues such as global warming.

I wonder when we will see these tools used in Australia to influence a political outcome - or when government will begin to use them to its benefit (maybe next year).

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