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The Tentacle


January 19, 2007

Let's go Surfing! The Net that is....

George Wenschhof

Communicating ideas to the public has continued to evolve over the years with the internet taking a more prominent position among the heavyweights of the media; television and newspapers.

Internet forums - or blogs - are the latest means in aiding the communication of an idea or a position on an issue. The phenomenal increase in users of the Internet has created a new revolution of sorts - that is, new ways to succeed in having others support an idea, a cause, and, of course, a political campaign.

I stumbled across www.DailyKos.com, which is a blog, sometime around the year 2000 during which time I was helping to rebuild the Frederick County Democratic Party organization. I found well written positions on the Issues (even though I did not always agree) and - of all things - a way for a reader to instantly respond to what they had just read.

I remember thinking that this was pretty cool (not sure cool is the word today) and immediately began reading the posts (comments) that others had submitted on the subject. You could follow this thread (conversation on the subject) over a period of days and sometimes much longer. All the while, new threads were being posted daily.

I knew instantly that this means of communication would become wildly popular and I wasn't wrong. What a great way to express an opinion and receive immediate response. This is also a way to see how the public responds to a particular point a view - not scientific polling, of course, but a way to solicit and sense public opinion.

I could not begin to speculate as to the number of blogs and forums that exist on the Internet. They are as varied as the opinions of people who read them. Obviously, readers gravitate to blogs they feel are closer to their thoughts on the issues of the day.

As I surfed (read: comments on blogs and/or forums), I discovered a whole new language. One who surfs is defined as one who reads a thread but does not post. There are still many parameters which are developing that define blogging etiquette. Interestingly, the posters will sometimes enforce these guidelines themselves.

A new poster to a thread, who spouts totally contrary and somewhat ornery opinions, is called a troll (someone just there to cause trouble) and is pointed out as such by the other participants in the thread.

A moderator is often utilized by the blog or forum to ensure foul language is not posted; so sometimes a post by a person could be delayed for a short period of time. A moderator of a blog or forum will list their rules for posting and also be responsible for the enforcement of those regulations.

Unlike a letter to the editor of a newspaper, on many blogs and forums a person does not have to use their own name. They are free to post their comments in anonymity. For many, this creates an ease in communicating their thoughts which has probably aided in the process of more opinions being read.

I remember a funny episode of the television sitcom The West Wing in which Josh Lyman, chief of staff to President Bartlet, was using his own name to post on a thread. All the while Donna, his chief aide was telling him not to do that and saying "those posters were crazy!"

He ignored her advice and continued to post anyway, at the same time reading out loud the derogatory comments people were posting about him and his positions. As I watched this episode, I laughed to myself and thought this is a great tool for politicians to use in the exchange and communication of ideas.

Democrat Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, a 2004 presidential candidate, was credited with bringing to the forefront the many communicative tools a web site can employ in a political campaign.

His rise from relatively obscurity to be the front runner in primary was in a large part due to the management of his web site by Matthew Gross.

Mr. Gross is now the "man" assisting the Internet strategy for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' Democrat campaign for president. This campaign website also has links in MySpace - an Internet site geared to younger audiences.

In addition, they also utilize You-Tube very effectively. It is a video site used to transmit positions on the issues. Here a supporter can video tape their statement and the John Edwards web site will have it available for anyone who visits the site to view. This technology will really revolutionizes campaigns for this is relatively inexpensive to produce and have available for viewing.

Today, newspapers and television also have web sites and blogs for people to read and post their opinions. They recognize the growth of this communication medium and are determined to be part of it. Of course, this is partly due to their desire to survive and remain competitive to the consumer.

Locally, the online edition of the Frederick News Post provides the reader an opportunity to post a comment at the end of the news story. They also have a fairly extensive forum section covering many topics. You do not have to register to surf the site, but you do need to register to join a thread and post a comment.

You do not have to use your own name as a moniker and they do have a moderator. I surf this site periodically and notice that several local elected officials post frequently using their real names including Delegate Rick Weldon (R., 3B), Frederick County Commissioner Kai Hagen (D), and Mayor Martin Burns of Thurmont.

Whether you agree or disagree with their positions on an issue it is great to see elected officials participate in web site forums and blogs. The resolution of issues is aided by engaging many in the conversation.

The communication of ideas will continue to evolve and improve with the use of the Internet. Start surfing, find a thread, and start blogging!



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