It’s not just the fact that an African American is the next US President that has made this election special. It is also the unprecedented level of public participation, largely facilitated by the tools of web 2.0 –blogs, twitter feeds (tweets), interactive websites, and social bookmarking sites like delicious and Stumbleupon.
In the last fevered hours before the results came out, the online community was working at frenetic pace. Blog posts were churned out in the thousands, twitter feeds came in a continuous stream, a few more enterprising people made last ditch youtube videos urging people to vote one way or the other (or vote at all), and news websites also pulled out all the stops to facilitate interactivity and social participation. “Goodmorning America: don’t you think it’s time for a change? Vote OBAMA!! Yes you must” said one tweet on Twitter, which had an election feed on elections.twitter.com. “Another said: If Obama wins are Democrats going to cry when for the next four years he is dragged through the mud?”
The rest of the world has also become more involved in the whole process and are now able to voice their opinions to voters. “If I was an american I would vote Obama” said one user. People also updated early poll results on their blogs, and some participated in an initiative to “donate their status messages” on facebook asking others to go out and vote.
The internet and web 2.0 technology have played a critical part in this US election from the very inception of campaigning. This played out most prominently during the bitterly contested Democratic nominations with both candidates fielding sophisticated interactive websites. Republican Candidate John McCain is also known to be an early pioneer of the internet to raise funding. He utilized his website to feature a number of videos that focused on his military credentials, courage and pledge to turn America around.
But it was Democratic candidate Barack Obama who really utilized the full potential of the digital age and internet. When he entered the race he was a relative unknown and trailed Senator Hilary Clinton by a huge margin. But what he had, was a complete website that among other things, enabled visitors to volunteer and donate money to his campaign, especially in caucus states.
And he has carried this momentum even after securing the nomination. Obama has successfully used social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. His website featured supportive user generated content from blogs, and sites such as youtube while also giving people space to express their support and leave comments on issues that were most relevant to them.
What this has done, among other things is showcase the importance and relevance of web 2.0. Although blogs have been moving towards the mainstream, with many media organizations embracing the platform, many simply did not realize what a powerful tool the net is in terms of garnering mobilization, support and funding. And even as many internet users move away from blogs in the belief that they are no longer the spaces for independent anonymous voices they once were, microblogging sites like Twitter, social networking sites and collaborative publishing sites such as Wikipedia still reflect individual ideas and opinions to a wider audience.
And their voices and opinions are counting. Never before have politicians been subject to public scrutiny and approval - the power really is with the people. And for this reason, many young people (who have a much greater awareness facilitated through these very tools) are taking part and making sure others do too. Faith in public participation has been renewed. And for this reason, to quote a publicity (youtube) video on Obama’s website “This was no ordinary time – this was no ordinary election”