Web
Article

Barack Obama’s Web Wasteland

By Josh Catone

Tomorrow, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American chief executive of the country. That is indeed a historic moment in American politics and race relations, and Obama’s campaign certainly had a good deal of significance, especially in terms of how it utilized the Internet. The Internet will play a huge part in tomorrow’s inaugural festivities, but what has happened to the vast social networks that Obama built during that campaign? What will happen to them?

During the campaign, Obama and his team were able to build one of the most impressive online social networking apparatuses ever created. It probably can’t be understated how large a role Obama’s ability to connect directly with supporters played in propelling him to the White House. According to the Nation, for example, 25% of those who voted for Obama on November 5, 2008 were already linked to him via one (or more) of his online networks.

However, since the election, many of those networks have gone silent. Social presences that were previously updated almost daily have now been more or less abandoned. I can’t help but feel that Obama might be squandering an unprecedented opportunity to speak directly with his constituents.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Location: Facebook
Supporters: 3.8 million
Last use by Obama: January 5 (mini-feed), November 10 (notes), 5 months ago (photos) — and this is one of Obama’s most active social profiles

Location: MySpace
Friends: 1+ million
Last use by Obama: Last login, yesterday, but last blog post: December 11

Location: YouTube
Subscribers: 151,000 (many more viewers, however)
Last use by Obama: Last video, 3 days ago (before that, 1 month ago)

Location: Flickr
Supporters: N/A
Last use by Obama: December 30

Location: Digg
Supporters: N/A (180,000 profile views)
Last use by Obama: November 4

Location: Twitter
Followers: 165,000
Last use by Obama: One tweet January 15, before that none since November 5

Location: BlackPlanet.com
Friends: 491,000
Last use by Obama: One blog post January 16 (republished from elsewhere), before that non since November 5 — Most recent post has 0 comments (prior to that, most posts had at least 20)

And the same scene is repeated across the majority of Obama’s social profiles. There was a flurry of near daily activity up until the election, and since there has been essentially silence. To his credit, Obama and his team have continued to use some social tools during their transition into power.

Obama’s Change.gov site, for example, has utilized YouTube almost daily to post video addresses, behind the scenes interviews, speeches, etc. And the site features a open discussion forums for citizens to post ideas for the government under Obama.

Further, the Presidential Inauguration Committee has set up new Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr accounts to send out a steady stream of inaugural updates and information. The continued utilization of social networking features is impressive, however I can’t help but wonder: what about the networks Obama already built during the campaign? Rather than ignoring them, shouldn’t they be put to use? Shouldn’t the rest of the country (the just under half who didn’t vote for Obama) be encouraged to join and participate?

Just after the election, Adam Ostrow at Mashable wondered what what Obama would do with his massive social media influence. Ostrow suggested that Obama could use his networks for calls for service, calls for support (when trying to sell legislative packages to Congress), and eventually as part of a re-election organization effort in 2012. All good ideas, but so far, it doesn’t seem like he’s doing any of that.

Writes Evan Ratliff in this month’s Wired magazine, Obama promised a more high tech presidency: “He said he would expand government transparency by putting more data up on the Web, streaming meetings live, and letting the public comment on most legislation for five days before he signs it. He said he would bring blogs, wikis, and social networking tools with him into the executive branch—all overseen by a new national chief technology officer.”

Neglecting the vast social media networks he built up during the campaign seems like a bad way to start. Reviving his Twitter, MySpace, and Flickr accounts might not do much to inform policy decisions or radically increase the government’s transparency, but as Ratliff notes, it would “create a valuable intimacy with citizens.”

The value of Obama’s social networking prowess is its ability to keep citizens involved with government. The stat mentioned earlier, that 25% of Obama voters were already connected to him via some sort of social network is proof of that concept. Communication in 2009 happens via email, text message, and social networks. Obama, having tapped into those networks so well during his campaign, now has an amazing and unprecedented opportunity to directly connect with millions of citizens via those social networks and inspire them to action. I for one hope that he doesn’t squander that opportunity.

  • Tom

    A technology-centric view may lead one to think that online updates stopped. From a political/regulatory system point of view, this behavior – lack of online updates – makes sense. The inactive accounts are all associated with the Obama campaign. The campaign is over. The transition accounts are active now. Probably fair to assume the transition accounts will become inactive around noon tomorrow. The silos imposed by the political and regulatory realities don’t fit with consumer view and use of social networks

  • The Letter Q

    Well…I’m on Twitter and a few other social networks and I can barely look at them with work and family being my primary focus. Do you really think that Barack Obama has the time to be logged in and chatting on MySpace, Twitter, ect? …and having a dedicated staff for that purpose is ridiculous. We need the president to take care of the economy and clean up the mess that has been left behind, not a president who is just blogging all day long.

  • Geoff Parker

    Just saw this posted at Federal Computer Week…

    “Change.gov becomes Whitehouse.gov at noon Tuesday”

    So maybe that is where Obama will deliver an inclusive internet enabled presidency. It will be interesting to see what the whitehouse.gov site will offer.

    Full blog post here:

    http://fcw.com/Articles/2009/01/19/changegov-becomes-whitehousegov.aspx

  • http://www.boomersneed.com happy6

    I guess that the internet world has really changed the ability of a candidate to get the word out about themselves via social networking sites, compared to the old days of the 60’s.

    Obama becoming the president is going to be great. I think he definitely has a huge amount of motivation to help the american people. We are so in need of changes to happen now, so we can get back on track as a country.

    http://boomersneed.com/blog

  • pixeline

    Well, you know, maybe that’s probably because… he’s got a real job now!

    I’m just being silly. Of course he’ll be using them, there is one thing we know for sure about O: he’s a damn fine good communicator. For the rest, we’ll just have to see…

  • Erika Meyer from seastorm.com

    Great if the administration keeps using the web, but every one of these sites? That’s too much maintenance work. Methinks Obama should train *us* to go to one place (change.gov, most likely) to get updates, focus on that (and running the country) and shut down the rest of it. I do agree that it’s disingenuous to start a new twitter acct just for one event, but we’re all learning as we go, aren’t we?

  • http://www.sagewing.com Sagewing

    Now that he’s elected, he doesn’t need to use every possible channel to reach every single possible person. He’s got the nation’s ear and people are listening.

    Why would he use so many channels when he can more efficiently just use a few?

    Obama used the internet very effectively during his campaign. Should he not communicate just as effectively during his presidency by using the most efficient channels?

    Is using multiple channels for communication necessarily better?

  • devinkay

    Maintaining numerous sites requires unimaginable work hours for generally small returns on the investment. President Obama is wise to focus on a few sites with clear agendas. It’s easy enough to grow from that base should circumstances call for that sort of diversification.

  • http://www.d9r.com/ D9r

    first African-American chief executive of the country. That is indeed a historic moment in American politics and race relations

    Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice, when Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State, or when Condoleezza Rice became the second African American Secretary of State and first black woman Secretary of State. Guess it’s only historical and deserving of celebration when the person being celebrated is a democrat ;-).

  • http://www.magain.com/ mattymcg

    @D9r Erm, I think it might be more to do with the fact that the position of President of the USA is the most powerful position in the world. Not to suggest all those other positions aren’t important. But really.

  • http://www.sagewing.com Sagewing

    You really have to be reaching to bring partisan politics into the Obamamania. Is it hard to understand why it’s such a big deal that we have the first black person to be elected into the top office?

  • Silver Firefly

    I doubt he has the time to utilize every one of these channels. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stops using them now or if some others are hired to do that for him.

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice

    What’s historic about being second?

  • http://www.pay4advertising.com dannbkk

    He doesn’t care about social networking anymore, He did what he had to do to win.

    Thanks to Chris Hughes (Online Marketing Guru)

    Top Online Marketing guru for 2008:
    http://www.invesp.com/2008/top-10-marketers-of-2008.html

  • pinroot

    Obama got what he wanted: Elected. He doesn’t need the social networking chumps anymore…

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @D9r: I think a lot of people celebrated those moments as historic, but Barack Obama’s election is different from your examples in two very distinct ways: First, as Matt already said, the position is much greater (it is arguably the most powerful job in the world), and second, it is an elected position, rather than appointed.

  • http://www.historycommons.org/ Black Max

    Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice, when Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State, or when Condoleezza Rice became the second African American Secretary of State and first black woman Secretary of State. Guess it’s only historical and deserving of celebration when the person being celebrated is a democrat ;-).

    Let’s see. Clarence Thomas is one of the most hated African-Americans on the US political scene–by African-Americans, who see him (correctly, based on his record) to be actively opposed to any sort of civil rights legislation, equal opportunity legislation, affirmative action legislation, etc. Like most Americans, most African-Americans had an initially very positive outlook on Powell, but when he turned against principle and the law in lying to the American people about the evidence of Iraqi WMD and the non-existent connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, African-Americans joined the rest of the populace in rejecting Powell. As for Condoleezza Rice, she’s done nothing whatsoever to win any accolades from African-Americans (she had a very poor record with minority admissions at Stanford), and is justly seen as one of Bush’s closest aides and confidants. As the African-American populace judges Bush, so do they judge Rice.

    So it’s not that Obama is a Democrat, it’s that he’s not a rabid conservative allied with the racist right wing of the Republican Party (Thomas and to a lesser extent Rice), or he’s not a demonstrated liar who betrayed honor, duty and principle (Powell). Instead, African-Americans, like other Americans and other citizens of other nations, judge these people on their actions and their merits, not their skin color.

    Second point: I don’t have firsthand knowledge, but I would think that Obama’s social networking sites were maintained by campaign staffers who have become transition team staffers. I would hope that once the dust settles, he will delegate someone, or a couple of someones, to fire up those sites again, albeit in a transformed fashion. After all, there’s a big difference between campaign sites and sites representing the Presidency. There is also Citizen’s Briefing Book, where anyone can go to make recommendations for policy, or vote on others’ recommendations, though that’s been closed for further input. He’s releasing his weekly addresses on Internet video whereas previous presidents restricted them to radio addresses. The site blog is quite active. And he told a reporter the other day that, contrary to rumors, he intends to keep using his Blackberry. So I think we can expect to see at least some attempts to stay connected using some, if not all, of the social networking tools available.

  • http://www.domedia.org/ junjun

    Maybe he has not updated his Facebook last week because something really, really important is coming up that he just has to attend to.

  • tamborine

    well he has still got his blackberry so I’m sure he hasn’t lost touch

  • misfit

    “Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme…”

    Who celebrated this …Larry King and Dick Cheney?

    And no, I don’t mean the cnn king.

  • http://www.thedesignroom.net spoondevil

    Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice, when Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State, or when Condoleezza Rice became the second African American Secretary of State and first black woman Secretary of State. Guess it’s only historical and deserving of celebration when the person being celebrated is a democrat ;-).

    Why should something like that be celebrated? Surely if we are to look past a persons skin colour, then we shouldn’t point out their skin colour when it’s not necersary. What difference does it matter someone is black, white or yellow and why should it always be mentioned?Positive discrimination?

  • http://www.keystonecapitalchorus.org DaveMaxwell

    Funny how no one seemed to celebrate the historic moment when Clarence Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice, when Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State, or when Condoleezza Rice became the second African American Secretary of State and first black woman Secretary of State. Guess it’s only historical and deserving of celebration when the person being celebrated is a democrat ;-).

    With Clarence Thomas, no. But again, he wasn’t the first one, and he was a controversial pick (and some would say still is based on his inconsistent views and voting record). As for Powell and Rice, those accomplishments were recognized for their historic value. But the big difference is all of those positions are appointed by the president (yes, they’re ratified by Congress but still….). One person chooses them. The position of President is an elected position and is voted on by the people of the country. The order of magnitude for accomplishing this is much greater than anything else done before, especially in a country where race and gender still are issues in the forefront, no matter how hard people may claim they’re not.

  • Anonymous

    What a ridiculous discussion this has turned into. It’s plummeted into everyday partisan bickering without much substance, and not surprisingly the debate doesn’t even have much to do with the premise of the original post.

    The original blog entry is of questionable merit, as well. Is it really an interesting observation that the Obama campaign has stopped using so many networking sites and other channels to reach people? They achieved their goal of networking/reaching their audience and now they are looking to the future. Hopefully they will use the Internet as effectively during the presidency as they did during the campaign, but should it really look exactly the same?

    I would expect the president NOT to use myspace and facebook to communicate with the public once the election is over. Social networking can be good marketing, but they aren’t marketing anymore.

    I am glad that Obama will [hopefully] be leveraging the Internet well, and I don’t think that using all of those mediums that the post referenced would server him well at all. This isn’t marketing, it’s communications and we have yet to see what they will do.

    One comment really stuck out: “I can’t help but feel that Obama might be squandering an unprecedented opportunity to speak directly with his constituents.” What a strange thing to say. Are you actually of the opinion that by abandoning Twitter, Flikr, etc. Obama will no longer be communicating with his constituents? Does that even make sense?

    Using social networking sites for communication rather than social networking seems like a silly way to proceed. This is yet ANOTHER example of why Sitepoint is no place for political discussion.

  • http://www.sagewing.com Sagewing

    What a ridiculous discussion this has turned into. It’s plummeted into everyday partisan bickering without much substance, and not surprisingly the debate doesn’t even have much to do with the premise of the original post.

    The original blog entry is of questionable merit, as well. Is it really an interesting observation that the Obama campaign has stopped using so many networking sites and other channels to reach people? They achieved their goal of networking/reaching their audience and now they are looking to the future. Hopefully they will use the Internet as effectively during the presidency as they did during the campaign, but should it really look exactly the same?

    I would expect the president NOT to use myspace and facebook to communicate with the public once the election is over. Social networking can be good marketing, but they aren’t marketing anymore.

    I am glad that Obama will [hopefully] be leveraging the Internet well, and I don’t think that using all of those mediums that the post referenced would server him well at all. This isn’t marketing, it’s communications and we have yet to see what they will do.

    One comment really stuck out: “I can’t help but feel that Obama might be squandering an unprecedented opportunity to speak directly with his constituents.” What a strange thing to say. Are you actually of the opinion that by abandoning Twitter, Flikr, etc. Obama will no longer be communicating with his constituents? Does that even make sense?

    Using social networking sites for communication rather than social networking seems like a silly way to proceed. This is yet ANOTHER example of why Sitepoint is no place for political discussion.

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    Social networking can be good marketing, but they aren’t marketing anymore.

    Dave, that’s just not true. A big part of the president’s job is marketing and selling the people on his policies (point one) and those accounts — which hold a lot of influence with people — can also be used for calls to action (second point).

    I don’t think I ever said, or implied, that Obama would “no longer be communicating with his constituents.” I am suggesting that he has an opportunity to connect with a maximum amount of people and keep the energy levels high by utilizing these massive networks he’s built up and that ignoring them would be a mistake.

  • http://www.sagewing.com Sagewing

    Josh, thank you for your reply. Respectfully, I think you are making a big leap when you compare a president’s need to pitch/sell/promote his proposed policies to the kind of marketing that goes into a campaign, promoting a product, or just about anything else that online social networks are so good for.

    Certainly he can reach a lot of people through these established networks, but what does it mean to ‘keep the energy high’? Shouldn’t be focused on execution at this point rather than ‘energy maintenance’? There is the substance of his new job, and having people follow him on Twitter seems to be way down the list of priorities.

    In my view, we should look at this is one of the most amazing online marketing efforts in history – it reached it’s natural conclusion and was wildly successful. Should we criticize it because things are changing now that Obama’s objectives have changed radically?

  • http://www.keystonecapitalchorus.org DaveMaxwell

    I’ve got to agree with Dave on this. There’s a big difference between marketing a candidate, and promoting the agenda of an administration. To compare the two doesn’t quite mesh. The other factor are the federal regulations regarding record-keeping of all communications from a member of the federal government. Keeping the records for the social media network that was so handy in the campaign would prove burdensome (sp?) with a goverment in action. Plus, the pace and activity of a campaign is much more fluid and “exciting” than the work a government has to do. Whistlestops are replaced by meetings with government officials. Speeches in the factories and schools of the land are replaced with meetings with officials from other nations as the US tries to rebuild it’s reputation in the world political landscape.

    Instead, there are interesting factors over at change.gov which indicate new methods for keeping the lines of communication open between the populus and the government. The videos constantly provided from Obama (have we ever heard as much from an incoming president as we have from this one?), the citizen’s briefing book, the “seat at the table”. Ambitious projects and unlike any that I can recall. Will their effects and results be clear? Dunno. But I think that the campaign solidified the thought that the new media can be used unlike ever before.

  • http://www.sagewing.com Sagewing

    I think that DaveMaxwell’s comments are good, and I’m especially happy that somebody agreed with me!

    In his second paragraph, he gives a very positive viewpoint of how things seem to be going. Obama did a great job using the internet during the campaign, and there is evidence that he’ll do the same during his presidency.

  • jericxz

    I heard in our news that Obama is fond of using blackberry for SMS and other stuff, but when he became pres. he was not allowed to use it bec of certain Protocols for President. Now, if there is a protocol for presidents definitely a big change in Pres. Obama’s communication in any form, be it cellphone, email or social net. tools.

  • Anonymous

    Is it just me or did whitehouse.gov get a MAJOR facelift and reorganization today? It seems to me like that is exactly the kind of thing we should be seeing now.

  • ZenPsycho

    First off, it was never obama himself using these social networking outlets, it’s been his team. He’s got a lot of stuff on his plate, so it makes sense to delegate out this activity.

    Second, public funds cannot be used on campaign activities. This is the law, and it makes sense. His campaign sites haven’t completely gone silent, and that is remarkable in itself. But you should note that in their place, new government funded sites have risen up to replace the campaign sites. Change.gov, and now whitehouse.gov are the outlets for connecting with government. I would also like to note the genius that is http://USAService.org .

    Tom pretty much hit the nail straight on the head in his posting. It doesn’t make sense from a marketing/consumerist point of view, but from a regulatory point of view it makes perfect sense. There’s certain things you just can’t take with you into the presidential office.

  • ZenPsycho

    Also here’s Obama’s new twitter account
    http://twitter.com/whitehouse_gov

  • ZenPsycho

    oh. http://twitter.com/thewhitehouse is also official, and also active. What are the myspace/facebook/et al offical new accounts?

  • Joey Brooks

    Josh: You might find this article in the LA Times informative…

  • MaalyMaal

    Honestly, I’d like to see the traffic statistics for the barackobama.com website before and after he started winning some of those key primaries.

  • http://www.historycommons.org/ Black Max

    The Democratic National Committee has apparently decided to jump in the Wayback Machine and abandon its 50-state strategy in favor of the old “50% plus one” approach that worked so well in getting Republicans in office :(

    I can’t help but think that the combination of losing technophile Howard Dean as DNC chair and abandoning some of the social networking platforms dovetails with this DNC decision. There seems to be a move afoot, not so much with Obama and his core team but in the DNC, to withdraw from their embrace of technology and retreat into the old, stale efforts of yore.

    Typical Democrats, achieve something terrific and then figure out ways to make sure it never happens again….

Recommended
Sponsors
Because We Like You
Free Ebooks!

Grab SitePoint's top 10 web dev and design ebooks, completely free!

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.