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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Waiting for Candidate 2.0

I don't have any serious Presidential preferences yet, but so far I'm pretty underwhelmed. There's certainly no shortage of unexciting, experienced competence, nor do we lack for enthusiastic, unproven blank slates onto which everyone can project his or her own expectations (for the time being, at least).

What I'm looking for is what I've begun thinking of as Candidate 2.0. I didn't invent the term, I read it on some blog that was linked to another blog that pointed to an article, or some similar place. I'm looking for a candidate who is actually clueful regarding online outreach.

Make no mistake, online campaigning is going to be big in 2008, but I've seen no evidence so far that any of the candidates really get it. The big question is, What is It?

First, Candidate 2.0 is going to have an online presence. Not just a campaign website, everybody has one of those now, but a real personal presence. That means a website of his or her own, distinct from any office or campaign sites. Ideally, it shouldn't even be solely political.

Candidate 2.0 will also be a blogger. Not just have a blog, they're all going to have a "blog" soon anyway. The difference between having a blog and being a blogger is like the difference between having a child and being a parent -- the later implies a far greater depth of involvement and commitment. Candidate 2.0 will have to be willing and able to carry on a dialog with the blog's readers, not just use it as place to post press releases. What's more, the blog will have to be genuine. The posts can't be just the usual campaign platitudes, they have to be real.

Candidate 2.0 will also participate in podcasts and vidcasts the same way 20th century candidates made radio and TV appearances. Actually, C2.0 will have to participate in those things more than candidates used to in TV and radio. Or, more precisely, they will have to participate more deeply. That's because podcast audiences expect an intimacy and personal connection far greater than what has previously been expected of talk show guests. It won't be enough to go on the show and talk about how great the campaign is going and how wonderful the supporters are blah blah blah.

It'll be forgivable for Candidate 2.0 to not actually have their own podcast or vidcast, due to the time involved, but the campaign absolutely must have one. I think that's already expected, though.

Candidate 2.0 will also have to make a plausible effort to engage pre-existing online communities. There will be an official campaign headquarters in Second Life (or the current equivalent), with C2.0 making personal virtual appearances. There will also be appearances in World of Warcraft, Everquest, and whatever other online worlds will allow such things. Plus maybe a "game with the candidate" type event on Xbox Live. You know somebody a lot better after you've teamed with them in Halo 2 or Counterstrike.

Finally, and this is the real clincher, Candidate 2.0 will be completely open and honest in his or her online interactions, simply because online communities will tolerate nothing else. Spin won't fly well in a blog when the commenters call you out. You'd better be ready to tell the truth, back it up, and explain your position.

This is the part that I think will keep any of the current crop of politicians from being viable as Candidate 2.0, because you have to be able to do all the things yourself. You can't have aids writing your blog posts, nor can you have a handler sitting over your shoulder telling you how to respond in a Second Life chat. You have to be able to do those things yourself. That's another reason honesty and openness will be essential: it's a lot easier to stay in character if you're really being yourself.

Your positions will have to be your positions, otherwise the only defenses you'll have for them will be the standard canned responses, which will have already been shot down elsewhere. It'll look bad if you're flummoxed in WoW by a simple copy and paste from your opponent's website.

When a Candidate 2.0 emerges who can harnesses the potential of online outreach, it's going to be game-changing. It's going to be the 21st century equivalent of the Nixon-Kennedy debates. One candidate in the race is going to step comfortably and confidently into cyberspace, and the other is going to be left standing at the door, looking uncomfortable and old-fashioned.

Candidate 2.0 will have the opportunity to speak directly to millions of people all across the country in what is nearly a one-on-one medium. Their supporters will feel a deep and personal connection, some of them may even form actual relationships and friendships, not only with each other, but with Candidate 2.0. That's powerful. Staggeringly powerful.

This is all going to have to be driven and directed by Candidate 2.0, though, instead of C2.0 just jumping on board a wave of online support and riding it as long as possible. That's what Howard Dean did, and it can ultimately only get you so far. Dean could plausibly be Candidate 1.5, since his campaign began to realize the potential, but Candidate 2.0 will get it deeply and personally, and will seize that initiative directly. Candidate 2.0 won't be able, or willing, to act only through virtual front men.

Last, but not least, by necessity, Candidate 2.0 will be someone with a legitimate chance of winning to start with. That means that he or she will be a Democrat or Republican, with decent pre-existing support to build on. We could see Candidate 2.0 emerge as early as 2012, but I think it'll be a few more cycles before we see anybody mount a viable campaign that starts with a primarily online presence as a foundation.

That person will be Candidate 3.0. :-)


Anonymous Matt said...

This is great, although I would add that Candidate 2.0 would definitely have to be a Farker and would be precluded from having a Myspace page.

I found your blog through my referral logs and hope you continue to post. I added you to the Razorblog roll. Coming to the big bash?

3/09/2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

The wife and I are planning to attend, life and work schedules permitting.

We'd probably be at the Celtic Grill that night anyway. What better place could one spend St. Patrick's Day in NWA? :-)

3/09/2007 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

That's great. I look forward to meeting you both. I'll be the tall, thin guy arguing with someone.

3/09/2007 7:47 PM  

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