social network stays online after election

Network was used by 35,000 groups to create 200,000 events during Obama presidential campaign

While much has been written about the impact of President-elect Barack Obama's successful use of social networking and other Web 2.0 tools, the campaign had been mum about the future of, the campaign's social network, immediately after last week's election.

However, on Friday, an Obama staffer announced in a blog post that it will continue to operate and allow continued collaboration among supporters.

"Over the past 21 months, millions of individuals have used My.BarackObama to organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama," noted Chris Hughes in a blog post. "The scale and size of this community and its work is unprecedented. Individuals in all 50 states have created more than 35,000 local organizing groups, hosted over 200,000 events and made millions upon millions of calls to neighbors about this campaign. There can be no question that these local, grassroots organizations played a critical role in Tuesday's victory."

The Obama campaign's Web strategy has always focused on using online tools to allow real-world connections "between people who are hungry to change our politics," he added. For example, the candidate's Web site was home to an online tool that let supporters download a list of neighbors that the Obama campaign pegged as possible backers. That tool also included a mechanism for reporting to the campaign the results of conversations with those potential supporters. The site also included tools that allowed supporters to create their own blogs, form groups and post photos.

Some vocal users also even used the social network to organize a grassroots online protest of Sen. Obama's support for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would continue the U.S. National Security Agency's controversial electronic surveillance program.

"The online tools in My.BarackObama will live on," Hughes added. "Barack Obama supporters will continue to use the tools to collaborate and interact. In the coming days and weeks, there will be a great deal more information about where this community will head. For the moment, let's celebrate this victory and know that the community we've built together is just the beginning."

Users of the site welcomed the announcement that it will remain operational. User Duane Kuehn noted that he hopes the site will help "begin work 'from the bottom up' to keep Barack aware of our interests."

Another user, "4earth," added that "we need to all take over Barack's old job of being community organizers so we can all get through the hard times. This site can be a real tool to do that."

TechPresident blogger Micah Sifry noted that Hughes was smart to reassure Obama's base that the site won't be suddenly shut down.

"But Hughes' post seems to be mostly a place holder, a kind of status report that doesn't really resolve the fundamental question of [the site's] future," he added. "I expect MyBarackObama to get folded into the [Democratic National Committee], most likely by merging it into PartyBuilder, the DNC's social network. Obama legally can't take [the site] with him into the White House, since the Hatch Act precludes using government resources for political operations."

He added that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) uses the huge e-mail list his presidential campaign generated in 2004 to work with those people to support his legislative priorities.

If the Barack Obama for President organization morphed into a Friends of Barack Obama-type organization with possession of the lists from My.BarackObama, the group could push issues in coordination with the White House, he added. Whatever happens to the site, its real value lies in the networking among its users, Sifry noted.

"This is social capital as much as it is political capital and arguably is as much the property of the people with accounts on the site as it is the property of the campaign," Sifry wrote. "One hopes that going forward, the Obama political team realizes that the conversation with a network of supporters is different than the conversation with a list and that the two-way, multilateral linking enabled by the platform is its real strength."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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