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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.


Election Night In Second Life
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Election Night In Second Life
Avatars gather on Election Night at the Obama campaign headquarters in Second Life.

Obama's Facebook page has 2.6 million supporters. Obama's official Facebook application has 161,000 active users, who used the application to share news items, blog posts, speeches, and videos.

The BarackObama Twitter account has about 123,000 followers, making it the most popular account on Twitter, according to the Twitter tracking site Twitterholic.

By comparison, John McCain's Facebook page had 624,000 supporters.

The statistics mashup tool Trendrr.com reported that Obama was mentioned in nearly 500 million blog posts since the conventions at the end of August. During the same period, only about 150 million posts mentioned McCain. On social networks, Obama led, with 844,927 MySpace friends compared with McCain's 219,404, according to the Web 2.0 blog ReadWriteWeb.

Joe Baker is one Obama volunteer who used the Internet to help work for his candidate. He worked in an Obama campaign office in Chico, Calif., making phone calls to persuade voters, staffing the front desk, taking donations, and greeting people and taking donations. Baker is a disabled, retired Army officer.

He praised the Neighbor to Neighbor application on the Obama Web site as a means of getting out the vote. Obama supporters in swing states could log on to the Obama Web site and get a phone list of people in their neighborhoods to call and encourage them to vote for Obama. Baker and his colleagues in Chico used the site to coordinate with Democrats in Reno, Nev., to persuade Nevada voters to support Obama.

"MyBarackObama was very much a key place," Baker said. "The tenet of the campaign was to always send people directly to what Obama had said." The campaign made that easy by making Obama's position papers, statements, and videos readily available. "They didn't necessarily want us to tell people our opinions, they wanted it to be representative of what Obama thought."

Baker, whose injuries sustained in Vietnam and subsequent military service make it difficult for him to stand or walk for long periods, is active in Second Life, using the name "Willys Faulkes." He built an Obama campaign headquarters in the virtual world, where supporters could download campaign literature and get in discussions with other Obama supporters, undecided voters, and McCain supporters as well -- the Republican campaign also had supporters in Second Life.

Obama's Internet candidacy should be a lesson for business as well, said Trippi, who does both political and business consulting on the use of the Internet. "You have to change your whole way of thinking," he said. "You're going to lose control of your brand to a large degree, unless you create networks to change your brand."

Historically, businesses have sought to be big and controlling Goliaths, and the Internet and social networks are becoming armies of Davids. "You don't want to be Goliath anymore, you want to be the guys handing out the slingshots," Trippi said.

For example: The traditional recording industry is a Goliath, trying to force people to continue to buy whole albums and CDs to get one good song. The army of Davids consists of consumers downloading music.

Apple is the company selling slingshots, in the form of iPods and iTunes.

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