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Podcasting Pols?

RepublicansPoliticsI hate reading stuff like this. The reporters that write it usually have a passing familiarity with politics, or a passing familiarity with technology, and attempt to be prognosticators of future political technology trends, but just come across sounding sort of stupid. Case in point:

Within a few years, it may be possible to target cable TV spots — this ad intended for older voters, that one for renters — the way customized mailers are now routed to selected homes.

The trouble with this little comment is it a) ignores the fact that this is already pretty much possible if you have microtargeted your audience, b) flies against media trends which show Americans in huge numbers bypassing ads all together through DVRs and c) it assumes that cable is still going to be the medium of choice in a few years. That assumes that user-created video will not continue to grow and technologies like IPTV won’t provide all programming on demand.

You can already achieve most of that anyway. By microtargeting your audience, and determining which channels beer drinkers of a particular brand loyalty are watching, you can get pretty close to that degree of specificity simply based on the several hundred channels.

The bigger problem is the shift in media consumption patterns. Look at the iPod and the television programs they sell as a model of new media. I buy only what I want; watch it on demand; and see no commercials at all. Granted, for a cycle or maybe two, the media environment may move so imperceptibly that cable targeting is a cool trick, but I think, and most agree, that long term trends in media consumption are significantly different.

And though cellphone technology is still in its political infancy, some campaigns are already using text messaging to get out the vote, recruit volunteers or lure prospects to their websites, which feature all manner of interactive links.

The trouble with cell phone technologies is the rigid platform that most cell companies employ. For instance, every cell phone company, to meet e-911 laws, has a GPS locator in their phone. Programming applications to access that functionality so you could, for instance, give someone a map to their polling place based on where they’re standing is difficult if not impossible because the cell phone networks don’t allow you access to the hardware.

Sure, you could eventually VCast a message to a phone, but only if you do it through the approved channel of the provider. The reason the cell phone use in other countries is much higher is because their phone systems are more open.

How do you know when something has gone viral? “When it takes on a life of its own,” said Bassik, traveling from family to friends to co-workers and on and on, infinitum.

That, however, is exceedingly rare in politics. More often, the Internet seems to act as a centrifugal force, pushing people apart as they burrow deeper into niches: conservative or liberal blogs, websites devoted to celebrating political personalities, or trashing them. Where the people go, candidates follow, and in today’s 50-50 politics, there is strong temptation to aim at those extremes ‚Äî fragmentation leading to further polarization.

Here is another problem with assuming that all political growth will be viral if people are skipping the mass messages – the party’s have to allow it. There is a tendency within political circles to tightly control the message. To have things go viral, they generally need to be fun, engaging, entertaining, and sometimes goofy. Those are all adjectives that would rarely, if ever, be used to describe politics.

As evidence of people’s interests in online politics, the article cites the 50,000 people that are tuned in to get video tape of the Republican conference’s press events. Wow! That’s huge. That works out to about 0.00025 of the voting age population. I would be that number is tied pretty closely to the number of Republican political hacks employed in the US.

The fact is, stodgy old men pontificating about politics and how to continue a partisan blockage without accomplishing anything isn’t going to go viral. What is likely to go viral is Jon Stewart making fun of stodgy old men pontificating about the Internet’s miraculous series of tubes. Unfortunately for the old men, that’s more likely to lose them votes than it is to win them.

(By the way, I don’t find it surprising that the article does not quote a single Republican, and makes only passing mention of two GOP efforts while quoting multiple Democrats. They also don’t bother to point out the fact that the RNC was the first of the political parties to podcast, the first to elevate the Internet operations to a senior staff position, and is generally regarded as doing more, and better things online than their Democrat counterparts. But why would I expect the media to get that right?)

Written by Michael Turk