Politics 2.0 is a Victory for Health 2.0


I was sitting here getting ready to blog on how Politics 2.0 will affect Web 2.0, when I got an email from the coordinator of a health care-related virtual community established by the Obama presidential campaign. It directed me to a humorous video featuring a group of singing (OK, lip-syncing) Obama staffers bringing a bipartisan message of hope to political junkies facing the looming end of this seemingly endless campaign. Les Misbarack is great fun — although I wouldn’t plan on ditching my Capitol Steps tickets just yet.

This morning, two pillars of the mainstream media (MSM) both examined the role the Internet has played in the presidential campaign. The Wall Street Journal gives us conventional political analysis along the lines of how-the-results-of-this-war-will-affect-the-next-one. The New York Times, by contrast, zeroes in on Campaigns in a Web 2.0 World and begins to discuss the thornier issues of who will generate content, who will control content and how content will be disseminated by online and offline media.

Interestingly, while the Times piece has a photo of Obama Girl, and alludes to her popular “I Got a Crush…on Obama” video in the caption, the article itself makes no mention of user-generated content. You have to go to the online site, Politico.com, to find the “10 most viral videos of the campaign” in order to discover that the Obama Girl video pulled in more than 10 million views.

As an Obama supporter, I have no first-hand experience with the
McCain campaign, but media reports strongly suggest that the Obama
effort – with its mybarackobama.com, Facebook-friendly home page — was
the more Web-savvy of the two. Comparisons aside, my personal
experience as one of the early members of the Obama Health Policy Group
provides some hints on how the lessons of Politics 2.0 parallel those
of Health 2.0.

The policy group, one of many, was formed with help from the
campaign, although its members never had any formal affiliation with
it. (I’m from Chicago and like both my kneecaps, so please boldface and
italicize that I am SPEAKING ONLY FOR MYSELF.) Our task was to give the
campaign some health policy ideas and, more importantly (if less
ego-building), be a source of volunteers for anything the campaign
needed people to do. This gathering of supporters through affinity
groups isn’t new (e.g.,Farmers for McCain-Palin), but how it played out felt much different to me than when I participated in a similar Kerry group four years ago.

Health 2.0 communities are typically built on opposition to a common
threat – disease. And in mid-2007 when Obama was down 20 points in the
polls to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, those of us on the Obama
health policy listserv felt like sufferers from a rare disease –
thinking Obama could win. We looked to each other for sympathy, support
and ideas on what we could do to make things better. Campaigns are not
truly life-or-death events, of course, but they end with the same
winner-loser finality. That reality helped inspire continued
participation even as Obama’s star rose and our ranks swelled. On Nov.
4, we knew, all of us would “live or die.”

As with the doctor-patient relationship, we understood the
difference between the political authority figures (the campaign
insiders) and the non-authority figures (us). Still, Barack Obama’s
roots in community organizing meant that our online community was
always treated with respect by the campaign, and the actual experts
regularly responded to our concerns. Realistically, though, the
greatest beneficiaries of the “Wisdom of Crowds
was our own crowd, as we shared strategies for successful op-eds or
blogs or exhorted each other to go out there and ring doorbells and
make phone calls with the same kind of rah-rah exchanges familiar to
anyone who’s encouraged an online friend to keep on losing weight or to
stick to an exercise program.

I’m sure that in coming weeks we’ll read more about how both
campaigns used the Web to maximize fund-raising, coordinate strategy
and engage and activate supporters. Those media reports, in turn, will
help accelerate the continuing process of our broader society adjusting
to the cultural change represented by Web 2.0. If you want a Health 2.0
site that is popular among someone other than healthy 25-year-olds,
this kind of mainstreaming of user-generated content, analytics and
interactivity represents a big step forward.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of advertisers will start to that if
you can use an interactive Web environment to help elect a presidential
candidate, surely more conventional products, can be sold that way, as