Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politics: Obama’s Rocket In Your Pocket

If you mainly follow the primaries on TV, you probably were mystified and amazed by Barak Obama’s overnight meteoric rise to frontrunner status in February. After all, he was only duking it out with Edwards for number two in the January primaries — a position that in past elections might mean you’d be a contender in four more years but would only amount to “also ran” for the nomination. The next thing we new, he all but swept Super Tuesday and had almost delivered the “coup de grace” to Clinton’s campaign before the month was out.

The most hallowed political pundits were caught scratching their talking heads. They stammered and shuffled their papers in confusion as they tried to wrap their party-position debates around the fact that 4,000 rabid supporters were showing up for stadium-held Obama rallies while a few hundred were showing up for Hillary in a civic center — or the fact that Obama was out-fundraising Hillary ten to one — or that large chunks of the Clinton’s much vaunted political base were falling into Obama’s camp.

Even if you were Web savvy, you still might have been wondering if it all couldn't just be chalked up to Obama’s charisma and speaking ability. But if you are one of the many who have recently welcomed social networking and mobile convergence into your day-to-day life, you recognized immediately what Obama’s secret weapon was. Those huge Obama rallies were really Obama flash mobs.

Yes folks, it’s not about the black candidate or the female candidate. Nor is it looking like it’s about the most experienced candidate either. It’s about whether or not you tweet. A tweet is what users of Twitter do. Twitter is a social network for cell phone texting where members can subscribe to receive brief mass text messages from each other. And yes, Obama has a Twitter profile with lots of subscribers. Every time he tweets that he’ll be speaking somewhere, thousands of his subscribers get the message. When they tweet that they are going to attend, thousands more get it.

Twitter is only part of the huge, interconnected Web 2.0 infrastructure though. Obama’s campaign is participating in all of the large communities, many of which have their own texting applications. Plus, he also operates his own text message subscription list on his campaign Web site. My.barackobama.com also offers virtual cell phone banks where volunteers can help get the message out. For the Pennsylvania primary, you can volunteer to put in some time calling as a representative of Women for Barack Obama and Veterans for Barack Obama. A similar virtual bank was responsible for 5,000 calls in Spanish prior to the Virginia primary, where Obama got over 50 percent of the Hispanic vote — a shocker for Hillary and those pundits, again.

And, as we continue to watch the election on TV — commentary after punditry, segment after breaking news story — it’s obvious that broadcast journalism still only barely understands the implications. They still don’t get it. But Obama does.

Drue Kataoka of the Valley Zen blog caught an excellent video where Barack Obama himself was discussing some of the strategy behind it. Watch and listen …

Did he say something about social networking having implications in government? Hmmmm ... stay tuned for more astonishment.

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