As evidenced by the Edwards campaign, conducting a web-savvy online effort can have its pit-falls and prat-falls.
Candidates have to earn cred with independent, rabble-rousing (and sometimes nasty) bloggers while being careful not to get splashed with their muck. This is a much harder feat on the left side of the blogosphere, where muck makes up a much larger percentage of the high-trafficked blogs' output. Candidates have to create presences on Facebook and MySpace while being careful not to get associated with various kegstand pictorials. It's a tricky business-- one at which Edwards clearly did not succeed in his first venture.
On the other hand, Obama is making it work for him:
As of yesterday, a Facebook group founded by Farouk Olu Aregbe and called " Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)" had garnered 259,647 members. By contrast, the largest group I could find in favor of Ms. Clinton was " Hillary Clinton for President — One Million Strong." It had 3,251 members.
As is Mitt Romney:
As I’ve said before, the importance of facebook and myspace isn’t that you’ll drive hundreds of thousands of financial contributions to your campaign, but that you’re officially jumping feet-first in to established communities and/or “networks.” And when someone makes you a friend or supports your candidacy, that announcement will be broadcast to every friend they have. In other words, think of it as a 21st Century yard sign for the modern world.
But Edwards just can't seem to get the hang of engaging online without engaging with smutastic Internet entities. He set up a Second Life headquarters recently. For those of you who don't know, Second Life is an online community where users can live in a virtual world through a moving avatar:
While Second Life is sometimes referred to as a game, it does not have points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy, or most of the other characteristics of games. Residents can visit this virtual world almost as if it were a real place. They explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and buy items (virtual property) and services from one another. As they spend more time in the world, they learn new skills and mature socially, learning the culture and manners of a virtual environment.
Well, the Edwards campaign has jumped into this virtual world, and found itself positioned unfortunately, as Kirsten Powers reveals in this screenshot...
Strike two, Senator.
Update: And, for Republicans who wish not to fail in this venue, David All offers advice, via YouTube. How else?
Also, David gives Edwards some props, here, for getting involved in lots of things to see what works for him.
As for me, I think the Second Life thing is not a huge deal, and would be even less of a deal had he not screwed up with Marcotte in the first place. I think a lot of these association-by-accident incidents on the Internet will become harder to exploit as people get more used to these community/networking sites as a part of political campaigns.
The Internet is a place where this kind of thing is just going to happen. Some message/image control is inherently lost by campaigns when they venture online anywhere but your own candidate website, but the venturing has to be done. Campaigns must learn to do it smartly to avoid knee-capping themselves while gaining the benefits of the online communities. It's gonna take some time, and I think eventually some of the things we call missteps today may be more readily forgiven as the "nature of the Internet" as the web becomes a more prominent campaign tool, and campaigns and voters alike become more familiar with its pros and cons.