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2008: Who's Ahead Online (Ds-Week Two)

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, January 29 2007

It's been a busy week in the 2008 presidential campaign--Hillary Clinton launched her online "conversation" (see David Weinberger's spot-on critique) and went to Iowa; John Edwards also did an online video web-chat that he calls a "live online discussion"; Barack Obama laid low and let the explosive growth of one unofficial Facebook group (now at more than 158,000 members) speak for him; and Bill Richardson formally announced his campaign launch.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic candidate who showed the most growth in online grassroots support, as measured by trends in the number of friends they have on their MySpace page and in incoming blog posts to their campaign site was Richardson, whose MySpace numbers were up a whopping 61,100% and blog posts up 285.8%. Of course, those numbers have to be put into context. A week ago, Richardson had only one friend on MySpace; as of last night (Sunday, January 28), he had 611. His incoming blog link tally, as measured by Technorati, jumped from an anemic 92 to a still feeble 355. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.

The big picture is shown below. Among the top three Democrats, the most significant indications are these: Obama appears to be continuing to grow his lead in collecting friends online in MySpace, increasing his total number by 19% while Clinton rose 13% and Edwards 12%. In the blogosphere, however, Team Hillary has been spending heavily on ads inviting readers to join her "conversation" and that, combined with the novelty of America finally having a woman as a frontrunner for President has clearly given bloggers a lot to talk about, and link to. Her incoming link total was up a healthy 60% in just one week, compared to 31% for Edwards and 19% for Obama.

One oddity to mention: while seven of the eight Democratic candidates saw gains in their MySpace friends ranging from 7% (Tom Vilsack) to 61% (Chris Dodd, though that was by going from 59 to 95 total), Joe Biden actually lost three friends on MySpace, dropping to 1,343 in total. Say it ain't so, Joe!

I didn't delve into Facebook totals for this week, in part because wall posts is hardly an ideal apples-to-apples measure to friends, and also because I hear the social networking site will be rolling out its Election 2008 network next week, and they will include total friends to each candidate's page. (I also didn't have the time to dig into Flickr totals, but a quick glance suggests no big shifts.)

After putting up my posts about how the Democratic field as a whole as whupping the Republicans in terms of bottom-up online social network support, I got a lot of interesting feedback. Two e-campaign experts, who have to remain anonymous because they're in the game, one a D and one an R, each suggested that a far more important measure was how the campaigns were doing with local blogs in the early primary states, and that we'll find a lot more Republicans online there. Perhaps that is true, and certainly it's something to look at more closely (chime in if you've already done it!).

A bunch of Republican activists seemed pretty chagrined by the totals. ElephantBiz says, "if you work for a Republican campaign go hire the right talent and do something about it." I even appear to have inspired a new blog called Netizens for Mitt. Later this week I'll do another round-up on the Republican side of the social web, and we'll see if anything has changed.

Let me continue to emphasize that I think all of this data has to be parsed with care as to its real meaning. This is not a scientific poll. The community of people who write blogs or maintain MySpace pages is hardly a one-to-one representation of likely voters. However, the phenomena of political "friending" and blog linking to candidate sites does, I think, tell us something about real and potential activist intensity around the presidentials. If Jakob Nielsen's brilliant "participation inequality" rule holds for friending, then a large group is more likely to contain a core of ready-to-volunteer campaign activists than a small group. Likewise, we already know that bloggers, as a group, are more likely to be political influentials than the general population. This is where buzz and bottom-up support starts--or at least two places where we can feel its pulse.

Bonus link: William Beutler's Blog P.I. "Where the 2008 Candidates Stand Today." He used IceRocket to build some nice charts showing buzz around the leading candidates. And he has the same overall conclusion: "The only thing we know for sure is that Democrats are getting more play than Republicans."