Saturday, June 30, 2007

Social networking in the political trenches

As you may know, we have a different kind of "primary" operating this year. It has quarterly deadlines, and instead of votes, they tally dollars. Tonight is the end of the second quarter, so if you are politically active at all, I imagine you have received telephone calls and email messages asking for contributions. I certainly have.

So I was poking around in several candidates' websites (no partisan politics here), and I was really surprised to see how many of the candidates make use of social networking tools: blogging, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and a variety of mash-ups. The point is to get citizens involved in the campaigns, to help them find like-minded neighbors for discussion and party-building. The upside: there are a lot of things I will do online (although I have gone door-to-door and done my stint in phone banks), especially here in Arizona when the temperature gets above 100 degrees. The downside: well, people will speak up, and those ideas might not be exactly what the candidates and campaigns had in mind. This is especially true when citizens have all the new press tools -- digital recorders and cameras -- and can post their recordings, pictures and videos to social sites, with or without editing or commentary. So I know it's risky for candidates, but the ups must outweigh the downs because all of the campaigns are heavily into social networking tools. Just look at the website of your favorite candidate! (Remember that most of these sites have RSS feeds, so you can set up a folder in Bloglines and subscribe for updates; you can keep political messages out of your email but still have access to them whenever and wherever you'd like.)

In addition to the official campaign messages, there are many, many political commentators in the Blogosphere. You can use Technorati to find the most popular, or you can find one or two blogs that you like and examine their Blogrolls or their links to see what they read and who follows them. If you feel strongly about a particular issue (a clear source of motivation), you can search for others who care about that issue also. I mean, sometimes it's really important to keep up with the opposition, no matter how difficult those posts may be to read.

I think social networking tools provide a whole new spin on some key political terms like "grassroots" efforts and a free press. So here's where blogs (and many other Web 2.0 tools) provide more than opportunities for play. The press is free to s/he who has one, and we all do now.

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