Politics 2.0 Sizzles During Summer Slump

Although July and August are often quiet months for politics amid the summer doldrums, the world of "Politics 2.0" has been anything but dull this year with members of Congress, backers of both presidential candidates and the organizers behind the presidential debates all ramp up their use of new Web 2.0 tools.

On Wednesday, for example, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced a partnership with MySpace.com to launch MyDebates.org, a portal that will offer live Web streaming of the upcoming presidential and vice presidential series of debates. The agreement marks the first time the CPD has partnered with a Web site to include online functionality in the traditional debate format, the commission said.

Visitors to the site can download an application that will stream live video during the debates to a user's blog, social network or Web site. The application will also allow users to track specific issues -- and a candidate's stance on them -- during the live stream. These functions will become available several days before the first presidential debate, which is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Following each debate, the portal will store videos of the event, which will be bookmarked and then tagged to be searchable by event, candidate, issues and questions asked of the candidates, the CPD said. Users can share, comment and rate links in the site's video clip player.

That announcement followed Friday's Web 2.0 protest by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives that saw members Twittering, streaming live video and posting video to YouTube to protest the lack of a vote on an offshore drilling bill. The GOP turned to Web 2.0 tools when the traditional means of communicating with the public, such as C-Span cameras and microphones, were shut down after the House adjourned for several weeks of vacation.

Several sources told Computerworld during the Republican "Twitter protest" that the mini-uprising marked a growing recognition by the Republicans that Web 2.0 tools such as social networks can be used to their advantage. While Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been an eager user of Web 2.0 tools throughout his campaign, many Republicans have been slower to embrace these tools.

For example, the Republican National Committee on July 29 launched a parody of Facebook called BarackBook that attempts to discredit Obama by highlighting as his "friends" people who may reflect badly on his presidential bid.

Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, noted Wednesday that YouTube views for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have doubled over the past month from 3.7 million to nearly 8 million, buoyed by two recent videos -- The One" and "Celeb" -- that amounted to 2.6 million of these new views.

"This is a reflection of his campaign starting to get viral video," Sifry noted.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has begun using a Web 2.0-style document-sharing site called Scribd, which has been called a "YouTube for documents," to post policy papers.

TechPresident blogger Nancy Scola said that this effort makes detailed issue information easy to find online and is "a smart way to repackage and repurpose materials the campaign, it seems, already had on hand."

In terms of traffic to official campaign Web sites, Sifry said that July was McCain's best month ever.

"Keep in mind that while his share is up, the overall amount of visits to presidential campaign sites is way down from the early primary period," he added. "To some degree, McCain could only go up, given how low his Web traffic has been up to this point. But I think this also reflects both his campaign's more aggressive online messaging efforts in July and a certain stasis on the Obama side."

However, according to the data that TechPresident tracks, Obama continues to dominate the online social networking arena after posting a gain of 125,000 friends on Facebook in the past month. That brings his Facebook support list to more than 1.2 million, while McCain has garnered fewer than 200,000 supporters on the social network.

"McCain still trails Obama in organic mentions among bloggers, according to Technorati, but he's getting closer to parity," Sifry added. "We aren't tracking sentiment, of course."

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