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11/5/2008
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Obama Election Ushering In First Internet Presidency

Pioneering use of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies by the president-elect's campaign has seemingly transformed politics, and could influence government as well.





The 2008 presidential election marked two great changes of the guard. The biggest immediate change, of course, was the election of an African-American Democrat as the next president of the United States.

But perhaps a bigger change over the long term was the crowning of the Internet as the king of all political media. It was the end of the era of television presidency that started with JFK, and the beginning of the Internet presidency.

"Barack Obama built the biggest network of supporters we've seen, using the Internet to do it," Joe Trippi, an Internet political and business consultant who pioneered the use of the Internet in politics managing Howard Dean campaign in 2004, and who managed John Edwards' campaign in this election, told InformationWeek. "I don't think there's any doubt that communication through YouTube and other social networks put him over the top."

Obama used a combination of television, the Internet, and social media to recruit volunteers and supporters, and cement relationships with them. He asked supporters to supply their cell phone numbers, and sent out regular text-message blasts, even announcing his selection for vice president over text message. Using a custom social networking site, created with the help of a Facebook co-founder, Obama supporters were able to log in and find lists of people they could call, or whose doors they could knock on, to try to persuade others to vote for their candidate.

And it's only the beginning, said Trippi. That kind of networking will likely transform the White House. Trippi anticipates Obama will create a similar social networking for his legislative initiatives and recruit supporters to lobby Congress to get his policies enacted into law.

The result will be further increase of presidential power and the erosion of congressional authority. "Congress will be put between a rock and a hard place, if millions of citizens sign up to help the president pass his agenda," Trippi said. "If the president says, 'Here are the members of Congress who stand in the way of us passing health care reform,' I would not want to be one of those people. You'll have 10 or 15 million networked Americans barging in on the members of Congress telling them to get in line with the program and pass the health care reform bill. That will be a power that no American president has had before. Congress' power will be taken over by the American people."

The Obama administration is expected to build on a foundation of grassroots support in his private social network, on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. YouTube users alone spent 14.5 million hours watching official Barack Obama campaign videos -- and that isn't even including user-generated videos, Trippi said, adding that amount of network time for political commercials would have cost $46 million -- and, while YouTube users requested the videos and therefore most likely watched them, there's no way to tell whether anybody's watching TV commercials.

The Obama campaign used Google Maps mashups to help volunteers find local campaign resources and people to contact and try to persuade. And, of course, it used the Internet to solicit donations. Some 3.2 million people donated to the Obama campaign through its Web site.

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