Friday, December 01, 2006

Technology and Elections

Blogs have become the primary platform for activists of all political stripes to find information and to organize. But while blogs are the most widely known resource they aren't the only tool available. The Internet is an ever expanding universe, and new technology seems to appear daily.

The following are my thoughts on a few Internet/tech resources and speculation on how they might be utilized in future elections.

What I like about podcasts is the portability. You can take information off of the Internet and listen to it away from your computer. The syndication also makes distribution of content easy. The problem with podcasts is that they are still to geeky. Most people haven't even heard the term, and many who have still don't know what a podcast is. Additionally the format makes it difficult for them be spread quickly. We're unlikely to hear the phrase 'viral podcast'.

The format of podcasts also makes for a more one sided discussion. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. I think podcasts are best suited for distribution of things like campaign speeches and commentary.

Was 2006 the YouTube election? Maybe. YouTube turned campaign ads into viral video, and helped launch political vlogging as a phenomenon. What makes YouTube so powerful is how many ways there are to distribute content. It also makes embedding videos on other sites, and sending them via email incredibly easy. With so many ways to distribute and view videos I expect You Tube's influence to continue growing. I think Youtube is the one online tool that could eclipse blogs.

Second Life
Mark Warner got a lot of press for holding an event in Second Life, and I know that some forward thinking activists are starting to experiment with politics in the Metaverse. But like podcasting I'm not sure how much mainstream appeal SL will have. If you're unfamiliar with online gaming SL can be difficult to navigate. Candidates can hold virtual events, but is it worth the effort? One point in SL's favor is that several companies and educational institutions are now investing in Second Life which could broaden awareness of the world and it's appeal to more users.

Social Networking Sites
Social network sites have to be mentioned, but I'm probably not the best person to speculate about their future. Other than that they should be included in the list I know very little about how MySpace, Facebook and similar sites operate.

Cell Phones
Cell phones are now internet ready multi-media devices. Newer phones can receive videos, mp3 files, photos, and of course text, all without a computer. There are a multitude of ways in which campaigns can distribute content, even when supporters are away from their computers. The portability factor combined with technology make for a powerful combination.

Just text messaging alone is ripe with potential. Campaigns could send up to the minute updates and information. Organizations could quickly mobilize people for events or protests. A bulk text message list could become as desirable as a bulk email list.

This isn't a complete list, just what comes to mind whenever I ponder the future. What have I missed? What do you see having the most impact next year, in 2008 and beyond? And what are your favorite ways to communicate about politics online?


Anonymous said...

Look at Evan Bayh in 2008 to get a sense of whether Facebook will be a good tool for campaigns. He's all over it, and was featured on CNN before the midterms for it.

Genghis Conn said...

Second Life may be sort of a dead end. People don't go there to immerse themselves in real-world issues. It would be like setting up a "Romney for President" tent in World of Warcraft.

Social networking sites are big right now on college campuses. There is no better way to get to the youth vote--but you have to know what you're doing.

As the web becomes more and more interactive (Web 2.0) we're going to see more and better ways to talk with politicians, and for them and their supporters to get their message to us.

What's really interesting is how these tools will filter down to the local level. Will we see mayoral candidates putting stuff up in YouTube?

Genghis Conn said...

Oh, and I think we can take a look back at the Lamont campaign for some ideas of how to actually use technology well. So many campaigns just throw up a website or a blog, but put little to no effort into it.

cgg said...

I'd love to see municipal ads on Youtube.

As for SL I'm not sure. So much of what's going on there right now is focused towards integration with real world institutions. Universities are offering classes there, museums want to do virtual exhibits, and companies are buying up land. I'm on the fence about it's future.

Genghis Conn said...

I guess we'll have to see. I'm a little dubious about it. I do know that someone set up a SL library, though...

Matt said...

Here's a joint Second Life / art gallery exhibition, made up of images of avatars ... very interesting stuff.

What's really wild is that there are people who are able to make a living off of it by designing nice shoes for other virtual people to use... there'll definitely be a lot for anthropologists to study in there!

wtfdnucsubsailor said...

I doubt that much local politics, at least in the small and medium sized towns, will be on the internet. Voters still like to 'see' the local candidates knock on the door. PTO or high school civics class sponsored debates and, possibly, the local cable channel community access, are the most effective way to get the local message across to prospective voters. Two years ago, in my town, most hits on the local town committees web sites were from the town committee or opposite town committee members and local candiates. I don't see that changing.

Anonymous said...

In a sense, the title of the piece might be Technology and Campaigns.

To that topic, I would add "the internet and the ability to doctor information without detection." For example, under Bushco, documents have either disappeared off websites or have been rewritten. How will this interact with the tendency of high tech voters to do candidate research on the internet? And will information surreptitiously be changed to favor certain candidates? Who is appointed to make sure that the hard copy matches what is online - should there be some sort of document depository with certified electronic copies that are periodically refreshed to make sure they match the original?

Second, I don't think it is possible to talk about technology and elections without discussing electronic voting. Here's a recent article on that topic:

And, while we're at it, has anyone followed up with Susan B to find out how the audit went - did the hand counted/audited machine totals match the machine counts?

It's one thing to certify an election - it's quite another to report on and be accountable to the voters aregarding the accuracy and any issues with this new technology.