British Election a Win for Which Media?

The British election will probably be remembered for the huge influence exercised by one medium – television. Fast on the heels of Obama’s victory (it was the Web!) is it a surprise to see an old medium, TV, having such an impact?

First let’s remind ourselves that social technologies like blogging and social networks are growing but they are also transforming. Just as Facebook looks settled, along comes Foursquare and fast behind it MyTown. These two networking technologies have distinct features that are drawing people to them:

  1. they are game related rather than simply being networks
  2. they are location related

In both cases you are declaring something about where you are, an in fact, if you want to push the metaphorical significance, you are taking ownership of something local. We cannot underestimate the effect of the world’s relocalisation in a post-globalisation world. Relocalisation is happening in the psyche and it will happen in the economy.

At the same time that these localising forces are at work the world of blogging is also undergoing a renaissance. Blogging two years ago looked as though it would be eclipsed by Twitter, the microblogging site. Twittter limits your expression to 140 characters, the old phone texting limit. It has grown to over 100 million users. And around 2007 just prior to Twitter’s growth it looked as though blogging had peaked. English language blogging in fact looked to be in decline if you measure active blogs (those updated in the past 90 days).

In March 2007 the proportion of active blogs to inactive was 21%, down from 36% in May 2006 with active English language blogs dipping from 507,000 to 495,000. But blogging is making a comeback. Blog platform WordPress reports that readers of WordPress blogs have risen from 40 million in April 2007 to over 250 million a month by February 2010. Though there was a plateau from November 2008 to October 2009 it has since hit a steep climb. There are now 350,000 WordPress posts a day coupled to 400,000 comments. There are 2 billion page views a month.

Technorati on the other hand has seen a consistent increase in the number of blogs out there (by mid 2008 there were 133 million). Emarketing predicts that readership – in the United States – is growing and will grow from 86 million people who read a blog at least once a month in 2008, to 96 million in 2009 to 104 million in 2010.

But back to politics. In the Obama election campaign the Web was used for fund raising not for issue development. The Obama election was always going to be about transformation from the minute Clinton and Obama faced off for the Democratic nomination. It was about a woman or a black man becoming President, either way huge news.

The British election is more manufactured. A Lib-Dem victory or a hung parliament is not so transformational but you can make it sound that way. To me anyway it looks like a pale imitation of elections past and a victory for television because of an overall disconnect between the issues people want to discuss (and do discuss in social networks both global and local and via blogs) and the personality platform of modern politics.

What the British election has shown is that focusing a political campaign around Web activity is not easy to do – and is perhaps impossible to do if you want your politics based around the personality. It illustrates by default that people online are busy ploughing their own furrows, looking to the world of real and virtual neighbourhoods not to old fashioned notions of leadership.

What we see around us is that communications channels like Twitter are still capturing the imagination but the more contemplative and reflective channel, blogs, seems to be picking up a new head of steam, without having a substantial impact on this event.

At the same time at least in the UK traditional communications are revitalised by a traditional election that is trying vainly to conjure up a traditional matadorial election spirit. In the meantime we are witnessing the emergence of a more localised, place-based communications and a growing virtual neighbourhood that addresses issues that are core to our daily lives. A fascinating picture all round.

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