This little logo, which has suddenly cropped up on Obama’s Change.gov Transition webpage, could mean a whole lot.

Small, but powerful.

Small, but powerful.

What’s it mean?  It means that Change.gov’s copyright policy is now operating under Creative Commons, the same copyright policy adopted by popular sharing sites like Flickr — which, incidentally, is also where the Obama camp decided to exclusively publish its behind-the-scenes photographs from Election Night.

And not only did Change.gov take up the Internet’s preferred copyright policy, but it also adopted its most permissive policy, according to the fine folks at CC.

So what does all of this mean?  It means that Barack Obama and his administration understand that the Internet is not something that can be corraled and controlled, and attempting to do so will just invite discord and willful mayhem from those they attempt to shut out.  Any person who hopes to see the country’s first “Internet President” establish a healthy relationship with the Information Superhighway should be encouraged by this small, but significant, development.

If you throw in the fact that Obama has moved the weekly Presidential addresses onto YouTube, and that he’s currently wrangling with the Secret Service about finding a way for him to be able to keep his BlackBerry while in Office, you’re beginning to paint a picture of a President who really “gets” how information is treated and functions in this modern age.  Now we just need to wait and see how that high-tech understanding translates into an administration.

It’s only been a few weeks since the actual conclusion of the Neverending Campaign, but it feels so much longer.  Gone are the days of breathless Drudge-checking, poll scouring, and faux outrage from Candidate 1 towards wooden attack from Candidate 2, and now all we’re left with is the meltdown of the American economy, which could not be any more boring.

So, let’s ignore the grim realities in front of us and turn the clock back and re-examine Campaign 2008:

Most Significant Achievements:

You mean besides electing our country’s first African-American President?  Well, there was also the nomination of the Republican Party’s first female Vice-Presidential candidate, but within the scope of our usual stomping grounds, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more significant electronic achievement than Barack Obama establishing an Internet machine to be seriously reckowned with.  And parsing that down even further, I have to think that his incredible online fundraising machine is probably the most impressive and significant subset of his overall Internet effort, because I’m fairly confident he’s single-handedly established a trend that will dictate future campaigns for the forseeable future.  Good-bye, public financing.  Hello, small repeat online donors.

Most Ground-Breaking

While it ended up not amounting to much in terms of the overall electoral college, it is noteworthy that Ron Paul managed to launch pretty much the country’s first Internet exclusive campaign.  Driven almost entirely by people congregating online, Ron Paul managed to hang around much longer than a traditional “fringe” candidate without the backing of a major political party, and it included such groundbreaking events as the $6 million “money bomb,” wherein Ron Paul supporters agreed to raise as much money for their candidate online as possible within 24 hours.  Between Paul’s campaign and Huckabee’s brief flicker as GOP front-runner, which was largely driven by Chuck Norris power, this campaign proved that a no-name candidate can now use the Internet to make a big splash on the national scene.

Most Surprising

Even though we’re hailing the 2008 Campaign as the first truly Internet campaign, it’s worth noting that it was basically the Internet Candidate (Barack Obama, and to a far lesser extent, Ron Paul) versus the Offline Candidate (John McCain, who, despite inventing the BlackBerry, did not really use the Internet to obtain much of an advantage).  And still, even with Obama driving an unheralded social networking machine and wielding a mighty e-scythe of millions upon millions of e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers, and John McCain largely puttering along to town hall meetings, television ads, and robocalls, we should remember that it was still a 52-46 campaign.  While that’s a healthy margin by most American election standards, and the electoral college picture is much rosier for Obama, it’s not as if heabsolutely blew McCain out of the water thanks largely to the Internet.

Now, one could definitely make the case that Obama was able to use the Internet to earn a few extra percentage points in a state here or there thanks to more efficient GOTV efforts and whatnot, and as a result, the Internet played a vital role in his overall victory.  However, many of us Netheads would do well to remember that the Internet is not going to usurp all other forms of media as the way to win a campaign … yet.

As evidenced by the heap of articles Garrett recommended for us to read regarding how the Obama administration can, should, or needs to take advantage of the Internet as a key component of their upcoming administration, there’s a lot of consideration going into how our first “Internet President” is going to go on-line.

While it remains unclear exactly how the Internet will be used (it’s unlikely Obama will completely open the information floodgates in true Web 2.0 fashion, as evidenced by the recent slimming of his agenda on change.gov), it does appear that Obama plans to use the Web as a way to reach out to voters.  For example, he’s already released his first YouTube address, devoted to the economic crisis:

And he’s said he plans to supplement the traditional weekly Presidential address with a YouTube companion.

While this is all well and good, the far more interesting (and far more unknown) piece to this puzzle is not how the Obama administration will contact the American public with the Internet, but how the opposite will work:  In what ways will the administration encourage voters to contact them?

Obviously, the Internet can be a bit of a Wild West-type of place where the combination of an easily disseminated message and relatively complete anonymity means the inmates can sometimes burn the asylum to the ground.  Take the RNC’s recent efforts to weigh ideas from the public on how to rebuild the party brand:

That being said, when it comes to giving the American people a voice in the upcoming administration, the Obama camp is going to have to determine what type of a balance they want to strike between making it easy and attractive to weigh in on various government goings-ons, and making it so easy that Internet shenanigans may ensue, defeating the entire purpose.

And he wants your vote.

In reading about how both the Democratic and Republicans parties are able to take seemingly random pieces of information about magazine subscriptions, shopping habits, and favorite television shows and determine, using all sorts of impressive technology and migraine-inducing amounts of math, how likely an individual is to support Candidate X over Candidate Y, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit unsettled.  It kind of felt like discovering that you invited the Obama and McCain campaigns into your home, and they went and rifled through your underwear drawer.

Yes, I purchase certain magazines and watch certain television shows, and yes, I obviously want a candidate that reflects my interests, being that we do live in a democracy and all, but there’s still some sense of violation that comes with this intensive microtargeting.  One can’t help but feel pigeonholed and stereotyped, despite the fact that the practice appears to be relentlessly accurate.  I imagine the fact that I drive a Toyota Prius has forever seared my name onto the “Reliable Democratic Voter” ledger, but in my brief voting history, I’ve yet to prove that searing wrong.

However, isn’t this intensive datamining simply traditional consumer outreach taken to the nth degree?  You don’t see commercials for Lucky Charms on Meet the Press, and you don’t find advertisements for Charles Schwab in Highlights magazine, and that’s because people have done the research about what type of people partake in these programs.  With advances in technology and knowledge about how these techniques workand can be employed, we shouldn’t be surprised that some number crunchers in the middle of Washington DC can nail down the political leanings of a systems analyst from Wichita with a sniper-like accuracy.

Now, should we like it?  As I said above, there’s definitely an unsettling element to the entire microtargeting process, but I can’t help but think it has to be a net positive.  For voters who aren’t particularly interested in hearing from any candidates from one side of the aisle or the other, now-available insights make it much less likely they’ll hear from them.  And, for voters that really do aspire to hear arguments from both sides, the wealth of information available to the public these days when it comes to politics is positively overwhelming, and anyone with an eMachine and a rudimentary knowledge of Google can find out more than they ever wanted to know about every candidate on (and off) the ballot and their positions on any number of issues.

And even if somebody doesn’t like it, the reality is railing against the practice will be about as successful as lambasting the internal combustion engine when it was invented.  If anything, data collection and analysis will only continue to get more sophisticated, and people may look back to today and pine for the days when politicians only knew what TV shows you liked.

And besides, Google reads all of our e-mails to provide targeted ads, and society hasn’t crumbled just yet.

As I sat on my couch waiting for the Election results to roll in, I was veritably bombarded with information from a variety of easily accessible resources.  On the television in front of me, I bounced between network coverage, CNN (and it’s holograms!), MSNBC, and Fox News.

Then on the laptop on my, well, lap, I had several tabs open in my Firefox browser.  I had my Google Reader open and focused on a number of election-oriented RSS feeds (Politico, Marc Ambinder, Mark Halperin), a regularly refreshed version of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com (as an aside, Nate did a pretty nice job nailing down the results in his prediction; it sure would have been embarrassing to see McCain find that 1% path to victory he projected), CNN’s county-by-county election maps, and most importantly, my Twitter feed.

On television, CNN proved to be the reluctant to call states too early lest they suffer Florida redux, whereas (MS)NBC and Fox News were more willing to pull the trigger (especially Fox News as the night progressed).  Meanwhile, the RSS feeds failed to materialize the second a new post was made (my main gripe with Google Reader), and FiveThirtyEight was hardly attempting to do a blow-by-blow of the race.  So I turned to Twitter.

By subscribing to the breaking news feeds from several major media outlets, I very consistently was able to find out states had been called on Twitter, and I didn’t need to constantly manhandle my television remote for the most up-to-date projections.  I didn’t need in-depth analysis from CNN’s arsenal of pundits, I just needed a quick sentence telling me who won Ohio.  The Presidential Election results were custom-made for Twitter.

And that’s not even to mention that it’s #votereport feature was definitely cool as well.

As my productivity at work has plummeted and my rabid attentiveness to the political blogosphere has peaked on Election Day, I’m noticing what may be the most dramatic change from any election prior.  With the widespread use of YouTube, as well as with the increased availability of inexpensive, easy-to-use recording devices (most often attached to phones), voting experiences across the country are being shared nationwide immediately.  That simply couldn’t be done before on this level.

For example, both Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic (who I mentioned in my previous post), as well as the bloggers at Politico, are inviting readers to e-mail their voting experiences, which are then posted online for all to see.  Many of these posts also include photographs of the now-commonplace long line at the polling station.

A voting line in Vermont.  Brought to you by the Internet.

A voting line in Vermont. Brought to you by the Internet.

And while it’s all well and good to hear how voting is going down across the country, it appears that the easily accessible and widespread Internet may have broader, more substantive ramifications as well.  A video, apparently shot on a camera phone, is being rapidly passed around the Internet tubes today of apparent voter intimidation in Philadelphia.

The video appears to be recorded by a random citizen who is working as a pollwatcher.  Now, thanks to YouTube, that video has already been picked up by a couple of blogs, and while the number of YouTube views of the video (does that include embeds?) is still just in the low hundreds, this voter-generated coverage is largely unprecedented, and could be an indication of the next stage of the constant struggle between voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

With all the chatter about the role of the Internet in this year’s Presidential Election (yes, 2004 was dubbed the first Internet Election, but I think most would agree 2008 is really the year where the Internet played a hugely significant role, rather than simply serving as the vanguard), there’s been some discussion about whether or not the innumerable writings to be found on the Information Superhighway means people will now be able to experience more diverse points-of-view than ever before, or if it will simply provide people with even more viewpoints that mesh with their own, and allow them to completely push out contrary perspectives.

With so much involving the Internet, it’s really what each individual makes of it.  If a person wants to use the Internet to delve deeply into Medieval architecture, or if they simply want to watch videos of people getting hit in the groin with various objects, both of those options (and an infinite list of others) are available to them on the Internet.  The same holds true for politics.

A person could hop on DailyKos or the Sean Hannity forums first thing every day and completely digest the day’s news through that ideological filter, emerging with a take on the facts diametrically opposed to their liberal/conservative counterpart.

And while that may seem a bleak perspective for our country’s political future, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the continued availability of constantly growing sources of information is a bad thing.  Rather, I would maintain that individuals who seek out and only listen to perspectives that ape their own would likely just avoid contrary information altogether in a non-Internet world.

As a counterpoint, it’s vital to remember that the information is always out there on the Internet, and it’s just there, waiting, for people to take advantage of it.  I thought this post on Andrew Sullivan’s blog today was particularly pertinent to that theme:

This is my first election year without a TV or local radio. I have been
completely dependent on the internet and print media for my electoral
news.

Instead of bulleted paragraph points in a brochure or
snippets of speech chosen for me by an editor or the oddness of my
brain, I have read (and reread) or watched (and rewatched) entire
speeches and election platforms online.

The result of all this exposure dawned on me
when I glanced at my ballot. Instead of the straight Republican ticket
of previous years, my ballot this year is a jumbled, bi-partisan
alphabet soup of R’s, D’s, and I’s. I feel so much hope and delight
about this!

The Internet can’t make people absorb opinions that are not their own, but it certainly provides ample opportunities.

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (November 04, 2008) – The View From Your Election: Nebraska

Yes, the 2008 Presidential Campaign does, in fact, end at some point.  That point is right now.  Here’s what’s happened in this last, final week of the campaign.

  • Barack Obama started the week off with a bang by buying up a half hour of time on all the major networks (except ABC, who was slow to pull the trigger and missed their chance) with his very own infomercial.  However, always paying heed to the Internet, Obama also posted the video online the second the broadcast began, which was greatly appreciated by the MPJO 855 crowd.
  • It’s unclear what type of an actual effect the Obamathon had on voters, but a good chunk of them actually watched it, which is a start. Nielsen stated that roughly 21.7% of households nationwide, a somewhat smaller audience than what tuned in for each of the three Presidential debates.
  • A few bits of humor on the Republican side of the ticket this week — First, John McCain returned to Saturday Night Live last night to participate in a couple of pretty funny sketches, including one with the supernova that is Tina Fey as Sarah Palin pushing QVC paraphenalia. However, for my money, the Old Grandpa was his best on his appearance on Weekend Update:
  • On the less deliberate conservative comedic front, Sarah Palin became the butt of a few Canadian comedians who managed to score (and record) a phone conversation they had with her posing as French President Nicholas Sarkozy.  Fortunately for Palin, she didn’t say anything too embarrassing, other than falling for the charade.  (As an aside, as I write this entry on Monday, the prank makes up a handful of the most viewed videos on YouTube, so a lot of people are watching/listening to it.)
  • Starbuck’s got into the patriotic fervor by announcing this week that anybody who votes (or is willing to lie about voting) can go to Starbuck’s a get a free cup of coffee on Tuesday.
  • MTV managed to cut through all the platitudes and finally get an answer from Obama on one of the hot-button issues of the day: is busting a sag an inalieable right?  Obama said passing laws banning the practice is pretty silly, but walking around with exposed underwear is equally silly.
  • Traditionally, the Washington Redskins play the Monday night before the election, and in tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s safe to assume that McCain is rooting for the ‘Skins, and not just because he spends a lot of time in DC.  The winner of this game has a pretty good track record of predicting the winner of the election (as long as you don’t count 2004).
  • On the polling front, we saw several outlets provide their final polls for this long and hard-fought election.  The general takeaway from these mountains of data is that while his lead has tightened somewhat, Obama still has one in key battleground states.
  • As the Internet (and those writing exclusively on it) has grown dramatically in recent years, some journalists began to openly speculate whether or not Matt Drudge, who used to be the vanguard of all sorts of breaking news and had near-exclusive control of mainstream media coverage, really mattered that much anymore.
  • Some have pointed to Drudge’s most recent headline, coupled with the Ashley Todd debacle, as evidence of his diminishing influence on the media.
  • This is the most important news the day before the election.

    This is the most important news the day before the election.

In browsing through the fine video library of James Kotecki, one can’t help but stumble upon the video of his interview with Ron Paul in his dorm room.

I think it’s safe to say that’s an American political first, unless I’m unaware of some Taft summit at William & Mary.  Also, a bit of an upgrade from a pencil puppet.

Of course, further perusal also yields an in-person interview with former contender (and, according to some, 2012 GOP front-runner) Mike Huckabee.

Now, seeing these two candidates being among the first to dip their toes into direct communication with the Internet (even though Obama has a lauded Internet machine, it’s largely a one-way communication rather than a dialogue), I couldn’t help but note that these guys are also the two candidates who probably overperformed the most in the 2008 campaign.  Obama would probably be the third, but his relationship with the Internet has already been noted.

Now for a question:  Did Huckabee and Paul exceed expectations in part because of their efforts to reach out in untraditional ways to voters, such as through the Internet, and were they prescient, or were they simply long-shot candidates searching for any way to gain tracition, and they just got (a little) lucky?

In other words, was the Internet used as a deliberate tool by these campaigns, or was it a desperate, long-shot measure that just happened to pay off and inject a little life into what should have been floundering campaigns?

In discussing the matter, it’s essential to note that for all the suprises of the Paul and Huckabee campaigns, they did, in fact, lose.  And they lost to a candidate that largely treats the Internet as a burdensome obligation than an actual tool to be used to one’s advantage.  Just some food for thought.

candidate currency.

The next step in efficient campaign financing: candidate currency.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Make it infinitely easier for individuals to contribute to a political campaign, send them essentially labor-free reminders, and let the money come to you, Aspiring Political Candidate.

In reading the articles recommended for class, I really got the sense that Obama managed to ride the Internet fundraising wave largely to the Democratic nomination, if not the Presidency himself.  Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain have given indications, through their body language and elsewhere, that as time ticks away in the Election Season and the polls slowly shift away from their decades of experience, that they’re mainly thinking:  How the hell am I losing to this guy?  He’s a kid, a nobody.

But he’s a young guy with big fat pockets that keep getting bigger, and I think this, perhaps more than any other single element, allowed Obama to make an unprecedented run at the White House, not only on a relatively thin resume, but as a brand-new national figure and a racial minority with a non-traditional background to boot.  Money can do strange things sometimes.

Simply put, I see absolutely no way Obama’s fundraising tactics aren’t entirely coopted by national candidates in just about every election.  He’s found a way to raise money that overwhelms anything ever even dreamt of in previous campaigns, and he’s found a way to do it that is largely work-free, and also enables him to avoid claims of being backed by shadowy billionaires with deep pockets and a laundry lists of requests for the new Oval Office Occupant.  What’s not to like?

Well, fictitious donors could be something not to like:

Someone identifying himself as “Jockim Alberton,” from 1581 Leroy Avenue in Wilmington, Del., began giving to Mr. Obama last November, contributing $10 and $25 at a time for a total of $445 through the end of February.

The only problem? There is no Leroy Avenue in Wilmington. And Jockim Alberton, who listed his employer and occupation as “Fdsa Fdsa,” does not show up in a search of public records.

An analysis of campaign finance records by The New York Times this week found nearly 3,000 donations to Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, from more than a dozen people with apparently fictitious donor information. The contributions represent a tiny fraction of the record $450 million Mr. Obama has raised. But the questionable donations — some donors were listed simply with gibberish for their names — raise concerns about whether the Obama campaign is adequately vetting its unprecedented flood of donors.

However, it appears that the phony donors are mainly a drop in the bucket of overall donors, and just one of the risks that comes with the new system, a risk that will gradually be phased out as the technology improved.  And besides, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better off for a candidate to be committed by $445 to the illustrious ‘Fdsa Fdsa’ than a few hundred grand to Telecom lobbyists and whatnot.

The other intriguing aspect of this new vanguard of political fundraising is the further democratization of the entire process.  If an upstart like Barack Obama, who was a virtual unknown until 2006 and an explicit unknown before 2004, can tap the power of the Internet to compete and beat unbelievably pedigreed candidates like Hillary Clinton and John McCain, suddenly the door has opened a lot wider to a lot more politicians than before.

Previously, a candidate had to be well-known, at least among the fundraising circuit, to even begin to approach legitimacy.  Now, it appears a candidate can, at the very least, be catalyzed by Internet support into something approaching viability.  Ron Paul, anyone?  The fact that more people will play a larger role in deciding who they want to support from a wider field of candidates can only mean that online fundraising is a very good thing for the Democratic process, Fdsa Fdsa notwithstanding.

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