For the election, the answer was the Internet. What was your question?

Obama used the 'Net to get elected, but should this be a surprise?

A look at how Obama's use of the Internet in his successful campaign seemed to surprise the press, and at what it will mean for the Internet going forward and for the new administration.

This column is not about how Barack Obama used the Internet to win the election. But he sure did. He involved and organized hundreds of thousands of volunteers and raised hundreds of million dollars using the Internet. Obama had five times as many videos on his YouTube channel than John McCain did. More than 6 million people have viewed Obama's speech on race relations and viewing time on YouTube for Obama's official videos is claimed to total 14.5 million hours. Another impressive statistic is that the Obama campaign scheduled 150,000 events, big and small, though the Internet.

This column is actually about two things: the press apparently being surprised by Obama's use of the Internet; and speculation on what the campaign use means for the Internet and the new administration.

The press certainly has figured out that the Obama campaign used the Internet more and better than anyone has before and, more and better than the McCain campaign did. I got almost 40,000 hits when searching for Obama + Internet on Google news. (A search for the same strings in the Web as a whole gets about 80 million hits on Google and 402 million on Yahoo.).

It is somewhat amusing reading many of the stories. The reporters seem to be trying to outdo each other saying that campaigns have changed forever as if past technological innovations have not impacted the way campaigns are run. I guess looking back is hard if history is not your beat.

Whatever the Obama campaign did with the Internet, it is not all that unpredictable. Much of it was based on what Howard Dean started, but was not able to follow though on, the last time around. Much of the rest should have been obvious to anyone who had been observing the social networking sites, such as Facebook, over the last few years. The Obama campaign did a better job than Dean did and used a few more tools, but I would hope that people had learned something over the last four years. The only thing surprising is how much the McCain campaign seemed not to have learned. I doubt that the next round of our quadrennial national food fight will be so one-sided -- at least in terms of Internet use.

It is more interesting to speculate what the Obama campaign's use of the Internet will mean to the Internet in an Obama administration and to the administration itself.

The most likely impacts on the Internet will be for the Obama administration to follow through with its top technology goals of ensuring network neutrality when it comes to U.S. ISPs and to ensure the wide availability of broadband.

The Obama campaign said that it wanted to create a transparent and connected democracy. This will be hard to do. A lot of the government bureaucracy will have to learn entirely new ways of operating because they have been operating so long under what many observers consider the most obsessively secret administration in U.S. history. I wish the Obama team success but will not be surprised if openness does not come easy.

Disclaimer: Easy is not the main goal for much of what goes on at Harvard -- competence is more important. But I've not seen any University opinions on the ease of running an open administration, so the above support and good wishes are mine.

Editor's note: Bradner will be talking about the future of the Internet at the Dec. 2 general meeting of The Greater Boston Users Group.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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