Political Bloggers on BarackObama.com

So if you’ve been living under a rock, aren’t American, or just don’t care about politics, you might have missed the news that Barack Obama made his official website into a social networking site. The launch was pretty slick but not without problems. Within 24 hours there was trouble stemming from a user-created new group with a racist homophobic title that automatically appeared as the example of what you could do on the site and the secret service found a death threat to Hilary on someone’s blog on there.

My initial reaction to the social network site, thinking like a promoter or a fan, but not like a politician, was “genius.” What I loved about the idea was the power it puts in the hands of his adoring throngs. But, of course, one difference between politics and entertainment (yes, a few do remain) is that those who oppose politicians have more at stake than those who hate the tv show others love so.

So when I went to the political blogger panel I wrote about here, I asked them for their take on the site. The consensus seemed to be that he’s going for the youth vote, and doing it in a powerful way by validating the means of communication that they claim as their own. But the inability to police the site and lack of built in self-moderating technology means he’s opening himself to a lot of dirty tricks he may not be able to contain.

I am fascinated by the willingness to give up control of the message that doing this entails. It is not unlike taking your official corporate site and turning it into a fan site. Goodbye official Lost site, hello MyLostSite.com? I think most of us would agree that there’s a necessary place for both the official site where the message is controlled and the fan sites where we get to make it all our own. Giving up the one for the other is a risky move, but man oh man do I admire him for it.

And p.s. I don’t have a favorite candidate yet myself.

Tired and expired?

I may feel tired, if not expired, but it seems I’m Wired. Thanks Annalee and a Big Welcome to everyone clicking that link on over here to visit! Have a look around, stay a while, get comfy, leave a comment. And, as always, if you know of interesting things I should be writing about, drop me a line.

Political Wisdom

Last night I went to hear a panel of political bloggers at KU’s Dole Institute of Politics called “Blog to the Chief.” It was very interesting in lots of ways, not least the discovery that at least on the metalevel, conservative and liberal bloggers have pretty much the same take on blogging. For instance, I was very interested to hear Joan “McJoan” McCarter from Dailykos, Scott Johnson from Powerline, Erick Erickson from Red State, and Jerome Armstrong from MyDD all agree that the leftie blogosphere has a sense of community and social movement, while the right side of the blogosphere is mostly a bunch of individuals attacking the mainstream media. And it was fascinating to hear Patrick Hynes’s (of Ankle Biting Pundits and blog advisor to John McCain) explanation for it: People on the right think that they’re smarter than everyone else (“you mean we’re not?” quipped Erickson), and that means each person starts his own blog, and then after a while the inspiration dries up so no movement gets formed. And, not surprisingly, they all agreed that the lefties are more effective.

There were lots of ways in which many of the points these folks were making apply to fandom — my favorite was probably a point McJoan made at the very beginning that politicians need to understand that you don’t talk at a blog, you have to get in there and interact and show up in the comments. It’s a smart audience and they know when they’re being used instead of engaged. On the right, Erickson responded that the Republicans are only just now figuring out that they need to learn to work the blogs while Democrats got it several years ago. He said blogs are more likely to harm than hurt you, but you have to engage them.

The parallels are pretty obvious, I think, if you’ve got an online fanbase: they’re going to be more effective (and easier for you to work and work with) if they’re organized into communities instead of a whole lot of loosely connected individuals), and you’ve got to be in there interacting with them if you want them to really get behind you, even though you might not like what they have to say about you all the time. People want and expect real connection with the figures around whom they rally and if they believe you really care about, understand, and value dialogue with them, they’ll work for you.

They also had some interesting thoughts on Barack Obama’s social networking site which I’ll return to tomorrow. I promise not to turn into a political blogger, but remain intruiged by the similarities between rallying voters and rallying fans.

How to build for the long haul

The other day I seem to have raised a hackle or two with my post criticising Last.fm’s upgrade. So I wanted to turn for a quick hot minute here to something they’ve done phenomenally right that just kind of slipped under everyone’s radar. A couple of months ago, with very little ado and as far as I can tell, no announcements, they launched new versions of Last.fm in multiple languages. They had already launched last.fm in Japanese. Now you can view the site in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Chinese, and Korean as well. Here’s a screen shot from the lower right corner of any Last.fm page:
loast.fm screen shot
In the end, if there is one thing that keeps Last.fm head and shoulders above the competition, I think it is going to be this savvy about the internationalism of the phenomenon they’re working. It’s one thing to get the Americans and Brits using your site, but if you can make yourself the premier site in China and Brazil, well that might be all the eyeballs a site is ever gonna need.

It’s easy for people in English speaking countries to forget that most of the world and most internet users, don’t speak English and, even if they do, might well prefer sites in their own languages. If you’ve been looking at the pie charts of the languages of internet users over the years as I have, it’s amazing how quickly the English slice is shrinking while the others, especially Chinese, expand. The web’s future is not English-only and Last.fm deserve praise and emulation for recognizing it.

Mourning Fans

In their constant frenzy to report on the really important issues, the media have been giving a lot of coverage these last couple of days to fans going to the internet to mourn she of the blond hair, huge smile, large breasts and empty head who died unexpectedly instantly transforming herself into a phenomenon more important than the continued violence in Iraq or build up to I don’t even want to know what with Iran. It seems like a good moment to reflect for a second on the value that online mourning can have.

My own experience with this came last May when Grant McClennan of the legendary Australian band the Go-Betweens died of a heart attack at age 48. The Go-Betweens had been one of my favorite bands for many years, and Grant left behind a huge catalogue of beautiful and strange songs. The suddenness of his death was heartbreaking. I never met him but it left me reeling for days and still breaks my heart to contemplate. The (official) Go-Betweens Message Board immediately shut down all other threads and opened a tribute thread. When they shut that thread down 3 weeks later, there were over 1500 messages, including several from other well known or influential musicians. I read through those and sobbed, but I also felt better to know that he had affected so many others at least as powerfully, and often more powerfully, and to feel the sense of communion with all the others in pain at his passing even though we were geographically so far apart.

Grant was only half of the Go-Betweens, and much as the fans mourned and felt so very sad for his family, we also felt beyond horrible for Robert Forster, the other songwriter and Grant’s almost life-long musical partner. There was also consolation in knowing that the online messages we contributed might offer solace to Robert, and indeed they did. After a few days he wrote:

Today I went to the website and read some of the magnificent tributes that have flown in for Grant. People for some days have been telling me of the beautiful things written there. And today I felt well enough and strong enough to go in and read. I thank you all. In time I shall read every one of them. I see familiar names scattered from our past. The vast majority I don’t know. All of you Grant and I have met through our music. Your words and thoughts I find very, very moving. I sense the love and understanding for Grant and his music, and I take the support you send to me to my heart.

It chokes me up to read that, and that kind of says it all about the power of the internet to connect artists and fans.