On the eve of the Politics Online Conference, and after some time thinking about the broader political and media landscape over the last few days, let’s ask a big question — what’s next? I.e., what’s the next major technological or social change that shakes up the internet political world?
Look at the major pieces of technology that campaigns use today. A website? Not exactly a new concept. Email + online fundraising? Email’s as old as digital dirt, and online credit card transactions have been around as long as online porn. Internet video? Happy Fifth Birthday, YouTube! Social networking? Neither Facebook nor MySpace counts as novel in 2010. Twitter? Relatively new on the scene, but getting old fast….
Actually, the progression from email to Facebook to Twitter illustrates a trend — from mass to niche. Email and websites are the core communications technologies of the online world, the tools that almost everyone uses. The next-generation social tools are popular and have almost 100% penetration into some groups, but Facebook is still far from universal even among people under 25. Twitter? A few million users in the U.S., but a far smaller number of people contribute most of the content. Foursquare? Again, we’re scaling DOWN — a system based on letting people know where you are is only interesting for folks who actually go places (for most people with jobs and kids, Foursquare would show precisely three locations — home, work and the liquor store). Mobile? It’s been the “next big thing” for years, and it still is….
I’d argue that the political world, like the broader communications universe, is still trying to absorb the most recent generation of technologies, and that for now we’re looking at incremental rather than revolutionary change, as people learn to use the tools effectively and in synchrony. Of course, as the Obama online campaign showed, incremental change done properly CAN have revolutionary results (his new media team did relatively little new, but many things right). For now, I get the feeling that we’re waiting for the next leap, in the way that a few years back, online video and data-intensive social tools were waiting for enough people to have broadband connections.
Maybe it’s a technological change that’s out there waiting to happen, or perhaps it’s a conceptual one (brother, can you paradigm?). But whatever it is, my crystal ball done broke and I can’t predict it. What do you think?