sociopolitical networking

In the search for what’s next in Web communication I certainly could not overlook the incredible online environment created by the Obama campaign. Building on what the Dean gang had done, the Obama site (I believe one of the founders of Facebook helped build it) is truly immersive. You go from watching an embedded YouTube video to being asked to contribute to the campaign to being thanked for your contribution and recruited as a volunteer. The social networking is compelling too: you can find other supporters in your area, local groups, and events. The whole experience is very empowering, and I suspect the John McCain site is replicating as much as it can.

PRINT Magazine ran this insightful appreciation of the Obama site. And in an earlier QU paper I wrote in 2006 (I just love the way grad students can cite their own stuff!), I described however ineptly a site that might bring people together around popular consensus:

Online collaborative sites that endeavor to harness the collective intelligence of users constitute an emerging form of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). They join earlier generations of newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other vehicles for sharing, collecting, and organizing information among large and disparate groups on the Web.

At the same time, increasing customization and personalization of online information is beginning to deliver on the promise of an experience unique to each user. The many “My” services now available unquestionably make it easy to shop and access news of interest. But as Cass Sunstein warned in “Democracy and Filtering,” this process poses risks of polarization and cyberbalkanization.

Having millions of citizens self-absorbed in “The Daily Me” may be better for democracy than a hierarchical public sphere dominated by the mass media (Benkler; Platon and Deuze). But what happens to MyYahoo! expectations in the political realm, where rather than a multitude of choices at the shallow end of the Long Tail, we face a two-party system that gains power precisely by “the tyranny of the lowest-common-denominator” (Anderson)?

Fortunately, even Sunstein acknowledges that “emerging technologies, including the Internet, are hardly an enemy here. They hold out at least as much promise as risk.” If CMC enables MySpace, perhaps it can also aid in the creation of OurSpace-a virtual arena in which highly niched audiences can come together and build consensus toward concerted action.

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