Anyone who has Internet access already knows the tremendous role the Internet played in the presidential campaigns off late. Even on websites that had nothing to do with politics or news, there were ads plastered featuring images of candidates, opinion polls, or links to politically themed sites. Joe Trippi, a political consultant, deployed an Internet-based strategy when he served as Howard Dean's campaign manager during the 2004 elections. On Election Day 2007, Trippi told reporters, "It's pretty amazing. It's come a long way in four years."
In 2007, Barack Obama quickly seized on the promise of making the Internet a central player in his campaign. His team launched a social-networking site called my.barackobama.com that allowed his supporters to donate, organize, call voters, and channel their energies to support his campaign effectively and efficiently. In addition, Obama took advantage of YouTube videos, text messaging, Facebook blogs, and other Internet portals more effectively than his opponents did. However, John McCain had a minimal Web presence, that supporters believe helped him to win the Republican nomination.
Upon being elected president, Obama quickly launched a new website for his transition team to display stories from the campaign that site visitors could download. After other websites not connected to Obama invited people to suggest ideas to the new administration, Obama's team launched similar approaches on www.change.gov, also soliciting comments that were later addressed by cabinet appointees in YouTube videos, giving the appointees a way to talk to the American public directly, en masse.
Blue State Digital, the Web contractor that helped organize Obama's online presence, said that the e-mail and volunteer list gathered by Obama's websites was apparently the largest ever gathered together in the history of American politics. Among other achievements, Obama received $500 million in donations solely through the Internet, and his volunteers made more than three million phone calls to voters using new Web-based interfaces. As a result of these calls, the Democratic National Committee got at least ten times as much data on voters as it did at the end of the 2004 campaign―some 223 million new pieces of data.
Recent elections have marked a historical transition to how future campaigns will leverage the Web to mobilize voters, keep communication lines open for field organizers, and urge voters to the polls. The Web technologies that helped seal the deal for Obama also play a role in his administration after he took office. Obama has promised to use technology to bring more transparency and accountability to government, and to invite more public participation in policy debates and decisions. Although it remains to be seen how extensively Obama will use the Internet to help him govern, the precedent is already set for the Web to be central to political campaigns from now on.