By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Open Web, closed sites

If you were online in the early 1990s, then today’s New York Times story on MySpace‘s entry into politics will seem familiar. Back then, Prodigy users couldn’t send e-mail to friends on America Online, who in turn were walled off from folks on CompuServe. We were still a few years away from the Internet being expanded so that all online services — and their customers — could talk to each other.

Well, here we go again. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain are just a few of the presidential candidates who have deep, useful Web sites. But apparently that’s no longer enough. Now candidates have to have separate sites on MySpace and Facebook. Up next: Second Life, an alternate-reality site explained last summer by Camille Dodero, then of the Boston Phoenix, now of the Village Voice.

At least MySpace and Facebook are free — it’s not like having to pay monthly subscription fees to Prodigy, AOL and CompuServe in order to stay in touch with all of your online friends. (Not that anyone could actually afford to do that.) But it strikes me that politicians, by setting up shop on such social-networking sites, are moving backwards. The interactivity of the Web is being broken up into chunks. Content on MySpace and Facebook can’t even be Googled. You’ve got to register and log on to each site if you want to keep up.

Here is Obama’s MySpace site; here is his Facebook site. (You can access the MySpace page without an account, although you won’t be able to do anything but look. To view the Facebook page you’ll have to register.) Any reason these couldn’t be integrated into his main site? Of course not. And I honestly don’t think it’s me who’s being the Luddite here. I remember how frustrating the online world could be before everyone was connected. Why are we moving back to the bad old days?

A few months ago Lisa Williams got me to sign up for yet another social-networking site, LinkedIn, which I guess is supposed to be like a Facebook for grownups. I do want to explore it when I get some time, as it seems to have some pretty neat features. Ultimately, though, it’s yet another walled-off community that I’ll need to log on to on a regular basis.

No doubt Hillary, Barack et al. won’t be far behind.

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  1. adamg

    Oh don’t worry Dan: I never log into LinkedIn anymore and yet thanks to the miracle of e-mail, continue to get a steady stream of LinkedIn messages from people trying to sell me insurance.

  2. Philocrites

    I don’t think it’s a case of the campaigns moving backward as much as as it is the campaigns recognizing that the Web has refragmented into social networking communities for many users, especially younger ones. (A marketing study recently found that Facebook was far and away the most popular site for people under 25.) Promoters reach out to Facebook and MySpace because huge numbers of the Web-browsing world spend the larger share of their time on those sites. The social-networking pages set up by the candidates drive traffic to the campaign sites and distribute announcements and content from the main site to the social-networking communities, where users can conveniently pass them along to their friends. I think of it as a kind of souped-up RSS.

  3. Zach Everson

    I’m convinced MySpace and Facebook will get usurped in the next few years by a more advanced (and hopefully open) social networking platform, just as those two sites trumped Friendster and Hi5. Either that or some 14-year-old kid will become a billionaire creating a mash-up of all of the popular social networking sites.

  4. Paul Levy

    I think both philocrites and zach are right. Currently, Obama and the other have to use all the media available to them to reach different market segments. Over time, these segments will converge. Meanwhile, though, it is a pretty low-cost campaign strategy.

  5. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – you wouldn’t question somebody advertising in the Globe when so many peple read the Herald, would you?

  6. A.J. Cordi

    Speaking of creating a “mash-up”, there was a video on YouTube (that a professor showed my class a couple of years ago) that was basically a timeline of Google taking over the world. It all seemed very possible, but unlikely at the same time. I can’t remember the name of it, but is worth a look.But to the actual subject, Dan, I don’t think that they are backtracaking to when the internet is bad. Actually, I don’t consider the internet in the early 90’s being bad.When the internet was taking off, there was so much to be explored. You could go online and the minutes would just fly by, and there was always something awesome to be discovered.Now, about 10-15 years later, everything is becoming very boring. Much of the fun has been taken out of the internet as business, and politics, have been using it as a ‘must-have’ device.I think it’s stupid that people running to become president have to network themselves (or have their campaign managers do the networking for them) to reach most of the American youth, as they think. But, I have to commend them for attempting to reach everyone. I’m sure that in the end, it will do more good than bad.What were we talking about again?

  7. p.a.

    “Content on MySpace and Facebook can’t even be Googled.”WRONG!… at least, wrong as concerns MySpace. Facebook actually is pretty well sealed off.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    The politicians have to do what the politicians have to do, and if I appeared to be criticizing them for creating sites on Facebook and MySpace, well stupid me. It’s the closed-off nature of social-networking sites I was critiquing.

  9. MeTheSheeple

    AJ: I think you’re talking about “Epic 2014”, which a weird professor of mine showed to our class, as well.Dan: Weird is a compliment from me. Really.

  10. A.J. Cordi

    methesheeple: Thank you! That was it.

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