Voter-Generated Content: A Better Buzzword

Voter-Generated Content: A Better Buzzword

BY Andrew Rasiej | Thursday, January 4 2007

It's time to coin a new term: voter-generated content. The buzzword of the day, "user-generated content," has got everyone from Madison Ave to Silicon Valley talking, and investors pouring money into start-ups galore as people realize that power has shifted from top-down marketers to everyone mom-and-pop with a PC, some simple software tools and a broadband connection.

But the ramifications for politics are going to be as big as they are for business. It used to be that politicians and political organizations were masters of their own message--they decided when they spoke to their members, the press and the public; they controlled their brand; and most of the time the only way to interfere with that controlled process was with access to the national media.

No longer.

Now we're seeing voter-generated content taking a leading place, alongside the old top-down stuff, in politics. If you go to Myspace.com's groups home page, for example, you'll find 24,000+ groups on "government and politics." More than 62,000 people belong to the Myspace Democrats group--five times as many as a year ago. Over on Digg.com, one of the 25 most popular sites on the web, where users submit and rate articles at a rate of more than one per second, the top political story yesterday wasn't President Ford's funeral, it was an FBI report on abuse of detainees and a Koran at Guantanamo.

As Robert Scoble, a leading technology blogger who recently got invited by the John Edwards campaign to accompany him on his announcement tour, recently wrote: "Who's in charge of this election? You are. Any one of us can post a video that'll change the outcome of this election. That video will get found thanks to the much more efficient word-of-mouth network that is social media."

Individual people, coming together organically on the web, are making political facts on the ground. The signal event in this change may have been in October 2004, when bloggers threatened a boycott of stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group for its planned airing of an anti-Kerry documentary. Although the George Allen-sinking "macaca" video was planted online by the Webb campaign, it wouldn't have caught on if viewers hadn't voted with their attention, and made it one of the most popular videos on YouTube.

Calling this kind of content merely "user-generated" misses part of the point. Voters are more than users; they're people with their own self-directed hopes and dreams, grievances and concerns. Even the word "content" isn't quite right, since a lot of voter-generated content online is really about its impact on the process. But the key point is the same: the people are talking back, and taking back control of the process along the way.

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