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Webcameron: Is the Medium the Message?

BY Joshua Levy | Tuesday, October 3 2006


While George Allen and Mark Foley get tangled up in YouTube and instant messaging, one British politician is using online social media to his advantage.

David Cameron, the British MP and head of the Conservative Party, is the star of webcameron -- a video blog and conversation hub that aims to show Cameron embracing the political possibilities of the social web. With a former Googler on staff, a pretty tag cloud on the front page, and an open invitation to all to blog and comment on the site, it sure looks like a social networking site.

But does an embrace of openness equal an open campaign?

To be sure, Cameron's video posts are natural and intimate in a YouTube kind of way, and if he's adhering to a script it doesn't show. In his first post he's in the kitchen, doing the dishes and speaking above the cries of his daughter while discussing the launch of the site. There's a disarming quality to this post, and we want to believe that he's being "real."

For a reminder of what politicians usually sound like, take a look at Greg Barker's interview with John McCain, also hosted on webcameron. McCain is stiff, formal, and tight -- a sharp contrast to Cameron's congenial warmth.

Are we being blinded by the style of the site? Is there any substance to back up these claims?

Right now it's too early to tell; there simply isn't enough content on the site yet to make a fair judgment. Yet some British bloggers -- who have lived with Tony Blair for over nine years -- are itching for change and have had interesting thing say about Cameron's experiment. Anthony Mayfield, who blogs at Open (Finds, Minds, Conversations) and does not vote Tory, finds the goal of openness somewhat authentic:

in stressing conversation, connecting with people, promoting open discussion and dialogue about politics and issues in society he is being fresh and refreshing after the condescension of Labour's controlling style of communications. I respect the Conservative more for their efforts at innovating and opening up their communications by experimenting with social media. It means giving up a bit of control, and for politicians, that's a new and brave thing to do.

In part, the message is the medium. By opening up to public opinion rather than trying to shape it, Cameron may be sending an important message to all politicians. Some are taking note. After gently criticizing Cameron on his blog, Labour MP Tom Watson, asked his readers what they thought of Cameron's site:

Seriously, I'd be interested to know what people think about this stuff. Is it a new way of communicating or just clever marketing and spin?

Whatever the case, let's hope pols here in the States will take notice instead of launching, say, more sites like Moms for Hillary.

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