The Couch Surfer
Comparing President Obama's web communications with our own dear leader's is a bit like watching an episode of The West Wing followed by The Thick of It. (By 'our own dear leader' I mean poor Gordon, who may or may not be PM by the time you read this.) One has gloss, optimism and gravitas. The other appears cynical and improvised; it's hilarious, yes, but in a way that makes you want to wince, or possibly put out your own eyes with the nearest biro.
Obama has a knack for linking the medium to the message. For his huge-spending presidential campaign, he harnessed social networks to make the army of Democrat volunteers across the US feel like a tiny band of carol singers.
And his speech to the Muslim world last Thursday wasn't merely for his immediate audience at Cairo University, or any English- speaking news junkies who happened to be watching Sky at the time. It was, in fact, texted to mobile phones in four languages, translated into 13, and broadcast online via social networks like Facebook (which has 20 million users in Muslim countries), Twitter and Google's Orkut service (big in Brazil and India, apparently).
An event page was set up at Whitehouse.gov, for users worldwide to watch a live stream and chat in real time, as if they were tweeting the Apprentice final. It was a broader online effort than ever, said press secretary Robert Gibbs, even for a web-savvy White House that issues a weekly YouTube address from the Chief.
The Cairo speech is an hour long, but it makes better viewing (in any language) than five minutes of Gordon on YouTube, grinning like the cat that got the cream but then discovered that what it thought was the cream was actually the mayonnaise. Later, the White House posted selected comments on the speech from around the world. "Thanks," wrote someone in Uruguay. "Everything is OK," wrote someone else from Uganda. "Go Obama," wrote an Australian.
The week's other big Obama clip was Bo, the first family's adorable Portuguese Water Dog, attacking a Washington cameraperson; so the President, boasting both world peace and puppies, had all the bases covered to guarantee positive online feedback.
While I'm sure the US and UK governments have some things they would rather prevent us seeing online, such as bomb-making instructions, Dick Cheney's house or Gordon's teeth, we should be thankful that we're not subject to the new media tactics of certain other administrations. …