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Web 2.0 and Political Movements

Continuing yesterday’s thoughts on web 2.0, Anne and I exchanged some traffic on that post and this article from the Washington Examiner last week.

They got me wondering whether the online ‚Äúconservative elite‚Äù was aware of what the left had in mind and, if so, whether they were concerned. During the past few years, I have had the opportunity to ask this of Internet specialists working on the Bush-Cheney campaign, top officials in the Republican National Committee, communications specialists at the White House and dozens of top conservative bloggers…

When I suggested that ceding control of the major “nodes” in the online world to the left was a huge mistake, they were dismissive. It became clear they could not imagine one day finding themselves boxed out of what is fast becoming the biggest force in electoral politics.

First, I’m not sure who he was talking to, but it wasn’t me. Having been the eCampaign Director for both BC04 and the RNC, I’d think he would have picked up the phone, but alas, he didn’t. It’s probably better for his story that he didn’t, because I would have been tempted to point out how dumb his premise really is.

Nobody gets boxed out of web 2.0. That’s sort of the whole point. But let’s look at this through three factors – the movement, the medium, and the message.

Movements have nothing to do with the medium. You can argue that the whole lefty “people powered politics” is a function of the Internet, but it’s a fallacious argument. The same passion, ideology and motivation existed before the Internet. The reason the GOP turned to radio in 1994 is the same reason Democrats turned to the Internet after 2000 – it is the most interactive form of communication available and it is a media popular with the youth.

What does youth matter? I’ll explain, but let’s hit the interaction angle first.

After the defeat in 1992, Republicans needed an outlet – a way to share our collective misery. There was this guy named Rush on the radio and he was saying a lot of the things we all felt, so we listened, and we called, and we talked, and we shared with our fellow conservatives.

After the election in 2000, Democrats needed the same release. The Internet, however, had become the more interactive medium and blogs, unlike radio programs, were on 24 hours a day, not the three or four hours relegated to Rush or Ollie.

Now the youth in America have a common tendency. They are almost always drawn to the side of anti-establishment causes. They gravitate toward anything opposed to the status quo. They also tend toward interaction and adoption of new media. Around 1992, there were a lot of young Republicans tuning into talk radio. They may not have been the bulk of the audience, but in politics, it is the young that make things happen. Old guys may have ideas, connections, and check books, but young guys (no gender discrimination intended) have the energy and motivation to walk thousands of doors and make thousands of calls.

In 1994, the GOP won the House and Senate. In 2000, it was the Presidency. We had become, to the detriment of our cause, the establishment. Our success was also our first weakness. We clung to our older media – radio – because it is what we knew. It is the technology that brought us to the dance.

Once we became the establishment, the natural tendency of the youth shifted to the Democrats. The generation that has been propelling them since 2000 is one that learned the Internet early and thinks of the radio in terms of music, not interaction. For interaction, they look for immediacy and that comes from the Net.

It’s the movement not the medium

That is not to say, however, that the Democrats have a lock on the Internet, but they do have, currently, the power of the anti-establishment cause and an audience that tends toward the medium.

As with any establishment, there are a small cadre of dedicated Republican revolutionaries who are not content to sit and watch their movement fall into disarray. So they seek to adapt the old movement to new mediums. The Republican bloggers, the eCampaign professionals, the GOP Internet activists all recognize the power of the new movement, and are trying to keep the parade from passing by, but it always does.

The one constant, on either side, is the message being conveyed by the respective movements. On the GOP side, you have, by necessity, a movement that once was right, but now must continue to be right, so they cling to the status quo to prove their correctness, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Democrats must, out of necessity, challenge the establishment. They will continue to do so until they win. They do not need to offer ideas, merely to challenge the correctness of the GOP.

The messages never change, only the party in power.

Where Cox Goes Wrong

Cox’s argument falls apart for three reasons – he focuses on the medium, not the movement or the message; he ignores the tendency of the youth, and he assumes a permanency to web 2.0.

Assuming the Democrats are successful this year, and win the House and Senate, they will, in very short order, become the establishment. All those that argued their cause will continue doing so, but very quickly the number of new converts they attract will decline. The failure of their policies will be apparent to all but the partisans who fill their ranks. That’s not to say Democrats have failed policies. It merely reflects that the establishment always advocates for failed policies (again, to prove they were right to begin with).

Look at the Great Society policies. Nobody can argue that they eliminated poverty, lifted the poor and elderly, or ended class distinctions. You can, however, argue that they created a nanny state, an out of control welfare system, and a society burdened with government debt. Yet the Democrats still look at them with fondness for no other reason than to argue they were right.

It took the GOP movement to reclaim Congress, pass welfare reform, balance the budget and put our house in order. It took the same GOP Congress, and the Administration as an accomplice, to undo it all. It is, simply put, an opportune time for a new movement to challenge the establishment failures.

The youth are aligning with that movement, using the most interactive medium they have available to propel it. That has nothing to do with web 2.0.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is an architecture and a medium, not a movement. The left talks about web 2.0 as if it were the coming of the messiah. It ignores two key points – there had to be a 1.0 to get to 2.0 and there will have to be a 3.0.

The Democrats currently spend more time on the Internet, and spend more time engaged in social networking. That, in no way, precludes the GOP from doing so. The nature of our society prevents that and web 2.o precludes it. Web 2.o is about a gathering of the like-minded using an open system that facilitates collaboration. It is not about exclusions and forced adherence to the status quo.

Our society favors the best idea, but our concept of the best idea changes very, very rapidly and is generally anchored in what meets our needs the best. Apple was revolutionary, but Microsoft was easier to use. Linux keeps poking at the bubble, but it still is not as friendly as Microsoft. When another OS finds a better combination of features and ease of use, Microsoft can, and will, be knocked off.

Cox offers this really poor example to claim otherwise.

Some might note that Malkin can still host her videos elsewhere. Of course she can, but that would fail to understand the powerful forces of “network externalities” at play online. There is no Avis to eBay’s Hertz for good reason: Once an online network is fully catalyzed, there is no reason to join an alternative network. If you want to get the most money for your Beanie Baby collection, you are going to want access to the most potential bidders — and that means eBay.

If that were true, it would have to be true of human tendency to stick with one choice regardless of how well it fulfilled your needs. The example of Fox News disproves that. When it launched, people said it would never work, the market could not support two cable news networks and people would never leave CNN (under the same goofy logic Cox uses). But guess what, people liked it better, and Fox News became the dominant news network.

Friendster was “the” social networking website until MySpace came along. When a social networking site with better graphic design, less advertising, and more features comes along, MySpace will become the of social networking.

That’s the problem inherent in arguing permanency with anything on the web. The web is, by its nature, a very dynamic microcosm. As in any microcosm, the survival of the fittest is always assured.

So why, if they can be, is the GOP not successful on the Net? Why do we seem to lag behind the Democrats? The answer to that does have something to do with web 2.0, but it’s something we can easily change. I’ll take a look at that in my next post on web 2.0 and control issues.

Written by Michael Turk