I've been reading David Halberstam's book, The Powers That Be, about media and politics between the Depression and Watergate. It's gotten me thinking. Franklin Roosevelt was the first radio president, and radio let him bypass the press and talk directly to voters in their homes. Kennedy, the first television president, beat a sitting Vice President in part because he looked so good while Nixon looked so very bad. (As Halberstam tells the story, Nixon was tired and sick even before the debate started, while Kennedy was well-rested, with a fresh tan from campaigning in California.)
I think Obama, if elected, will be the first Internet president. McCain and Clinton use their sites in fairly traditional ways: to get their side of the story out, to show video of the candidate, to ask for donations. Obama's site certainly does all that, but it goes far beyond the others in asking supporters to make calls, to volunteer, to get involved... and in recognizing the efforts of those supporters. It's also updated far more frequently, giving supporters a reason to keep coming back and not incidentally giving the impression of a far more active campaign.
Just one quick example. At the moment, the first page of John McCain's campaign blog has five items, dated from February 12 to February 25. Two respond to a recent New York Times story, one is a video clip of President George Bush (senior)'s endorsement of McCain, one has election results, and one links to polling locations in upcoming states. Over on Hillary Clinton's blog, there are also five items, dating from February 27 to February 28. Two are about donations: one asking for them and one recognizing donors. Two are news updates, "what the campaign did today." The fifth has photos from a campaign appearance.
Just comparing those two, Clinton wins the battle for the Internet hands down. More frequent updates, more content, more sense that there are human beings on the other side of the screen. But then there's the Barack Obama blog. Ten items, all dated today. Three video clips: ABC at Obama headquarters, a new ad, and a campaign rally. Two items recognizing supporters (with photos and profiles). Two items quoting public figures saying nice things about the candidate. And three with miscellaneous campaign stuff: pictures from another rally, a response to John McCain, and a link for information on March 4th results parties. (Oh yeah, and they posted two more items while I was writing this post.)
Obama's success to this point is due to his ability to put large crowds of motivated people to work: donating, caucusing, and talking to their friends. His mastery of the Internet is a huge factor in that success.