Barack Obama: A Web site or a movement?

By: Sandford BorinsBarack Obama's Web site still has the same participatory grass-roots philosophy that it had in the primaries, except that there is much more of it. It has become much richer and deeper.Right now the focus is on money, in particular Obama's controversial decision to forego $85 million in public funding from September to November and to avoid support from lobby groups' political action committees.He intends to finance the rest of his campaign entirely through individual donations. Obama has pioneered the strategy of asking for repeated small donations, and is hoping to expand his donor base by calling on former Clinton supporters.Here are some of the features of Obama's site that I found most impressive. Under the people heading on the top bar, there are pages for 18 groups, including African-Americans, labour, Latinos, generation Obama, and people of faith. The groups' pages include videos, events, and blog posts, and show considerable diversity. If you'll recall, McCain had but three groups: veterans, women, and lawyers.Next to the people heading comes the states, and it is clear that Obama's state-by-state campaigns are much better organized than McCain's. In both the groups and the states, the pages show lots of bottom-up initiative.Obama's home page links to 16 different social networking sites. His Facebook site now has over 1 million supporters and his YouTube site 1120 videos, with his speech on race and politics being viewed 4,500,000 times.A new feature on the Obama Web site is the organizing fellows program, which is training thousands of people – not all college students – with a six-week course in campaigning and political organizing, and deploying them throughout the country. The finances of this program – what is volunteerism and what is being paid for – aren't apparent, but the effort is impressive.Finally, the Obama campaign has of necessity gone defensive, developing a separate website,, to respond to the host of rumours that have been circulated about him and his wife.The contrast with John McCain's Web site is obvious. McCain's is just a Web site, and in an hour of navigating through it, I had just about read all there was to read and watched all there was to watch. The Obama site speaks for a movement, and it has so many links and contributions that, after an hour, I had only scratched the surface.Of course, the election is ultimately about winning votes, and Web sites are one means to that end. The election will also be won and lost by television advertising, the debates in the fall, and unforeseeable events. Many voters, particularly older ones, never visit candidate Web sites. Still, Obama's effectiveness online has enabled his charisma to reach beyond the town hall meetings in which he excels, and helped him win the Democratic nomination.It is extremely unlikely that any Canadian political party or politician will be able to come anywhere near matching Obama's online presence. But that doesn't mean Canadian politicians should ignore it. There may be lots of things to learn from its components, for example how to encourage repeated small donations.I'll conclude with some news on the personal front. I am taking the summer off from posting. I've been at it for 15 months, including intensively following the Ontario election last summer, and now I want to recharge.When I come back in September, I will be posting on my own Web site. will carry a link to each new post on my site. I will be expanding the blog's content.In addition to my ongoing observations of online politics and digital life, I will be posting about a new project I'm working on about narrative and management.Have a great summer, and I look forward to returning soon.

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