The Invisible Social Revolution

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With just the weekend between now and the start of the major party conventions, the amazing thing about the New Media is just how little it has impacted so far on the story. No major leaks about the vice presidential nominations, no blogger unmaskings of damaging revelations about the candidates at the top of the ticket, no shaky video of loose talk or surrogates jockeying for position.

Is is possible that the campaigns have learned how to contain the new viral media, or is something else going on? With Twitter, Qik, FriendFeed, and other social media platforms now in place and largely battle-tested for the coming storm of pre-baked circuses, why is the news so tightly controlled by the traditional networks?

Perhaps the nature of the underlying story of this election undercuts the technology equation. With a disruptive candidate like Barack Obama, people are looking to the media for less, rather than more drama. The shiny object fascination with radical technology change has given way to a more pragmatic mood, where iPhones have become commonplace and the rapid spread of information throughout the day and on the move has let the mainstream media play more to its traditional strengths as not just aggregators but synthesists of the news.

Real time bursts of information over Twitter and IM have changed how we react to events; the edge professionals have with insider notification is being smoothed out and delivered as a service to consumers via intermediaries who give away the data for the ongoing relationship. We use Facebook and other social hubs as early warning systems, insurance against being out of the loop when breaking information makes a difference in how you do your job or finding one.

Ironically, the very ubiquity of cameras, recorders, texting, and the rest of the *Phone tools has made it both mandatory and easier to keep things secret. Just today, a story broke ruling Sam Nunn out as a potential Obama running mate because he’s been spotted overseas with an itinerary that makes it unlikely he would be available for Saturday’s presumed announcement in the Midwest. Not only can Nunn be tracked easily for the next few days, but the same goes for all of the short listers, which means that keeping any information closely held to the last minute and releasing it simultaneously to the media via IM and email insures security.

The flattening of the information hierarchy has implications for the technology industry that go well beyond its marketing in the media. Social media platforms are competing for key roles in the new government, as evidenced by Google’s and Microsoft’s deals with each party for convention IT. Once the parties are over and the campaign bears down on November, the infrastructures put in place over the next two weeks will be used to coordinate the state organizations and feed back into the electoral college command centers where the election will be decided.

The result will look familiar on the surface, with the traditional swing states and voter groups oscillating as Election Day approaches. But what will be profoundly different is that this election and the events leading up to it will be the most recorded in history. Like a gigantic EKG, the clicks and packets that emanate out of each campaign will be gathered, mapped, and played back in close to real time, then analyzed and revised to look for fluctuations in the right or wrong direction.

Here is where the difference between search and track will prove pivotal. Search produces analysis after the fact, while track produces interactions that change the events themselves. As social hubs perform for the “cameras” over the next weeks, the efficiencies of those with real time synergies will likely outperform more historical views of the resulting data. Those micro-communities more adept at conversational politics will do better faster, and may in fact tip the election in much the same way Obama’s teams tipped the nomination process via the caucuses.

And in December, the playback of this data will prove decisive in who gets the jobs in the next administration, both in Washington and across the new Congress. While we may not see the obvious signature of the social media revolution in scoops and headlines, it will be hard to miss in the rear view mirror.

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