Campaign 2.0: Obama's Social Network

According to the Federal Elections Commission, 109 people had filed to run for president before the end of 2006. Of those, how many have a clue about Web-based campaigning?

Over the next weeks, I'll be looking at the Web sites of major-party candidates who are considering running for president. I'll look at the trends and technology, design and branding. I'll track puns (Mrs. Clinton calls her faithful "Hillraisers," while Chris Dodd commands "The Dodd Squad.") and patriots (Tommy Thompson and Mitt Romney appear in heroic relief against the flapping furls of the flag), the ominous (Tom Vilsack's flying V logo) and the oblivious (Tom Tancredo goes all Ted Stevens on us, confusing a Web page for an e-mail: "Dear Friend, I am writing to you as a fellow believer in the cause of securing America's borders.")

First up, Barack Obama's site...

If you don't believe Barack Obama is a contender, check out his Web site. It's million-dollar look (and, I'm guessing, development budget), is crisp and clear, filled with some of Web 2.0's best doodads, but thankfully without the telltale Web 2.0 design cues (i.e., his name isn't ObamrTM and the word Beta appears nowhere). The logo is all heartland chic: patriotic, rural and optimistic without wrapping itself in the flag; it conjures a "morning in America" feel as Obama's "O" rises over plow furrows that double as flag stripes. The look is restrained and tasteful — in sharp contrast to the man he hopes to succeed, whose tough-guy design has mimicked an interstate highway sign, NASCAR motifs, the colors of local NFL teams (at a Wisconsin rally, Bush's campaign signs took on Packer green and gold, while here in Minnesota they shifted to VikPublishings purple), and a bold flying W.

But what's most impressive is the site's technology. The Obama campaign appears to be using custom-designed, proprietary social-networking software that falls under that favorite Web 2.0 prefix, My.BarackObama.com (interestingly, while Obama has a mySpace account, there seems to be no link to the Rupert Murdoch-owned networking site anywhere on his home page: coincidence?). After users create a free account, they can start a blog, invite friends, publicize events, and — get this — do "personal fundraising" for the candidate. That is, you can customize a page, complete with a fundraising thermometer and room for a photo you can upload (my test-page, entitled "Let's Go Sledding!," features my frantic dog chasing my wife and I down a winter hill), and invite people to pitch in for Barack.

Users can create groups, and according to the site's blog, more than 1,000 groups already exist, from the Pasadena-based Macs for Barack (for Apple users) to the local Minnesotans for Obama. With a nod to hipsters and open-sourcers, there's a Creative Commons bug at the bottom; for the youngsters, a link to Obama's Facebook and Flickr sites. For the deeply interactive, there's YouTube; for the literary, speech transcripts; for the non-voter, a link to a registration site. Truly, whatever way you want to access information, this rich site has it: XML syndication; a store, where one can buy union-made T-shirts for the cutesy price of $20.08 apiece; and a campaign blog that gets both updated and comments, lots of 'em.

Conclusion: Obama's site is excellent, aesthetically and tactically. For a young candidate early in his political career, it's filled with rich content, from his political platform (available in mulitiple formats) to videos where voters can get a feel for less content-based factors like his demeanor and body language. For voters turned off by the Bush Republicans' machismo, it offer a stark distinction, nodding to national pride without veering into flag-waving, lapel-pin patriotism. And, while it uses the tools of pop culture, it doesn't dumb down politics. Best of all, it leverages the social networking phenomenon (and relationship marketing practices) Obama's campaign has already benefitted from: his fans have created numerous Wikis for him, he's got nearly 50,000 MySpace friends, and supporters have created several Draft Obama sites. That last group needn't waste its energy: the site makes it clear, this isn't an exploratory committee site, it's an online campaign hub.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

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