Media Institute Response to ‘The Truth About Google, Search, and the Media Industry’

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[EDITORS’ NOTE:  Kurt Wimmer is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Covington & Burling LLP.  He is chairman of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council, and is the principal author of the Institute’s white paper to the Federal Trade Commission about Google’s practices.  The article below is in response to the rebuttal of Oct. 6 by Adam Kovacevich of Google, which can be found on this site.]  

By Kurt Wimmer, Esq.

When Google wrote the Media Institute about the white paper we submitted to the FTC (“How Google is Dominating the Media Economy”), Patrick Maines invited Google to respond on this blog.  Frankly, we were pleased that we’d prompted a frank conversation about Google and the future of media.  We expected and were ready to welcome energetic disagreement with our position; after all, one of the Media Institute’s underlying missions is promoting a diversity of voices on major public policy issues.

But instead of deepening the debate, Google dusted off talking points that it’s been using for years, most of which our paper readily acknowledges. 

We don’t question, for example, that Google News drives some traffic to some publications’ websites.  Most viewers of Google News do not click through to any of the media sites from which Google scrapes content – about half of all users go no further than Google News and thus do not generate a dime for the content producers.  But we know that some traffic does flow from Google News to publishers’ sites.  We do have serious doubts about the “value” of this traffic, and we worry that, as it has in other areas, Google increasingly uses its News page to cannibalize whatever value there is.  Whether these websites can “opt out” of News is unhelpful because of the predicament News puts publishers in – opt-in, and feed the Google monster; opt-out and starve alone.  Our concerns do not relate to publishing only; as our paper pointed out, Google Places is following the Google News model in using its search dominance to scrape and scuttle local review websites.  Google’s response breezily ignores these points.

We have the same objections to Google’s treatment of Books and YouTube in its response, which again relies on broad statements rather than engaging in any serious debate.  Google simply bypasses our basic premise, which is that it has used its scale to coerce content makers into accepting the Google business model.  Google claims legal victory in the dispute between YouTube and Viacom, but the Second Circuit won’t hold oral argument to settle the matter until later this month.  Given the brazen evidence that YouTube was founded and grew on a business model of copyright infringement, we believe that Viacom is likely to take the upper hand – but we won’t claim victory until the Second Circuit rules, and suggest that Google should do the same.

And Judge Chin’s concerns about the Google Books Settlement have left that agreement hanging by a thread.  Though we disagree with Google’s legal arguments in both cases, we wouldn’t have criticized Google for offering an outspoken defense of those positions.  But Google, rather than addressing the colossal quantities of content it stockpiles at the expense of creators and competitors, offers only the same hollow defense: We bring books and video to a wider audience.  This is no help, in our view, given the costs that Google’s response sidesteps.  Infringement always brings works to a “wider audience” – an audience that the creators of the works did not agree to serve for free, and one that does not fund the creative spark that created the works.  In fact, both Google Books and YouTube exist not to bring works to a wider audience, but to create dominant platforms for works that deny creators the benefit of a competitive marketplace.

The rise of Google’s dominance in media deserves a candid discussion, both here and at the FTC.  We wish Google had contributed something new to the discussion, rather than just reiterating its weary talking points.  We would welcome any additional comments that Google would like to make in defense of its position or in rebuttal to our white paper.

                                   

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Media Institute’s Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Response to The Media Institute White Paper: The Truth About Google, Search, and the Media Industry

GUEST BLOG

[EDITORS’ NOTE: In this space we offer Google an opportunity to take issue with the White Paper that The Media Institute filed with the FTC in August.  Google’s response is printed below exactly as we received it.]

By Adam Kovacevich, Head of Competition, Public Policy and Public Affairs, Google (Washington, D.C., office)

In August 2011, The Media Institute submitted a white paper to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Google practices could “foreclose competition” in the media industry. The white paper largely restates past criticisms of Google on copyright and intellectual property issues. We appreciate the opportunity to post a rebuttal. Some of these criticisms are obsolete or have already been litigated; others we believe are just wrong. Here are the facts:

Google Has a Record of Helping the News Industry

Google News drives valuable traffic to news organizations’ websites for free. Each click from Google News to a publisher’s site is a business opportunity, offering newspapers and other publishers the chance to show ads, register users and earn loyal readers. Google News follows international copyright law by only showing users a headline and a short snippet for each news story.

Google sends news publishers more than 4 billion clicks each month. Google News provides about 1 billion of these clicks, and an additional 3 billion come from other Google services like web search. This means that Google sends approximately 100,000 business opportunities to publishers every minute.

Google News works with publishers by offering them useful tools. For example, Editors’ Picks is a feature that enables editors in newsrooms to identify the stories they believe should receive attention. Additionally, the new “standout” tag on Google News gives publishers the ability to self-designate unique and noteworthy content from their own or other publications. Articles tagged as “standout” may appear with a “Featured” label on the Google News homepage and News Search results. [Google News Blog, Aug. 4, 2011, Sept. 24, 2011]

News Organizations Can Easily Opt-Out of Google News

News publishers have control over their inclusion in Google News. If at any point a web publisher wants Google to stop indexing their content, they’re able to do so quickly and effectively by sending Google an opt-out request. Google also provides publishers with instructions to block their content from Google News, should they choose to do so. [GoogleNewsBlog, Dec. 2, 2009]

Opting out of Google News does not remove content from Google Web Search results. If a publisher opts out of Google News, but stays in Web Search, their content will still show up as natural web search results. [GoogleNewsBlog, Dec. 2, 2009]

Google Is Investing in the Future of Journalism

Google donated $5 million to nonprofits devoted to developing journalism in the digital age. $2 million went to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that supports programs that drive innovation in journalism. The Knight Foundation used half of its grant to augment the Knight News Challenge, a media innovation contest that recognized 16 winners in 2011. [Official Google Blog, Oct. 26, 2010, June 22, 2011]

Google and the Associated Press are offering six $20,000 scholarships to journalism students to encourage and enable innovation in digital journalism. The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, will administer the program. [OfficialGoogleBlog, Aug. 15, 2011]

Google Books Helps People Discover Books, Benefiting Users, Authors and Publishers

Google Books helps readers find information and gives authors and publishers a new way to be found. For instance, the Google Books Partner Program enables publishers to promote their books online for free — so that users can search through them, and find out where to buy them or get them from a library. More than 40,000 partners have joined the Partner Program, including nearly every major U.S. publisher. [GoogleBooksBlog, May 23, 2011]

Google will work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online. The March 2011 decision by Judge Denny Chin to reject the Google Books settlement was disappointing, but Google is reviewing the Court’s decision and considering various options. We believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the US today. [GoogleBooksAgreement]

Google Helps Rights Holders Manage Their Presence on YouTube

YouTube created Content ID to help rights holders manage their content on YouTube. Managing rights for content owners on YouTube has been important since the site’s early days. In 2007, this strategy led to the creation of a new technology called Content ID. Content ID is a full set of audio and video matching tools that give rights holders fine-grained controls for managing their content if someone uploads it to YouTube. Rights holders have the option of blocking, tracking, or making money from videos containing their content. More than 100 million videos have been claimed with Content ID. [YouTubeBlog, Dec. 2, 2010]

Content ID helps rights holders monetize their content. More than 1,000 partners use Content ID. Rights holders who claim their content with Content ID generally more than double the number of views against which YouTube can run ads, which doubles the rights holders’ potential revenue. Content ID contributes more than a third of YouTube’s monetized views each week. [YouTubeBlog, Dec. 2, 2010]

YouTube won its copyright case against Viacom. In June 2010, a federal court decided against Viacom in its copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube. The court ruled that YouTube is protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if it works cooperatively with copyright holders to help them manage their rights online. [OfficialGoogleBlog, June 23, 2010]

Google Does Not Block Other Search Engines from Crawling YouTube

Bing and Yahoo both display YouTube videos on their search engine results pages. A search for [rebecca black friday] on Bing and Yahoo displays the YouTube video as the fourth result on Bing (following two Wikipedia entries and a Bing Images result) and as the third result on Yahoo (following two Wikipedia entries). [Bing | Yahoo]

                                  

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Evil Is as Evil Does

The search giant Google is attracting criticism from those who see in that company’s business practices a threat to professional journalism, old and new.  The latest such comes in the form of a policy paper written by media attorney Kurt Wimmer, and published online by The Media Institute.

Honored this year by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Wimmer has advised journalists and legislators in more than two dozen countries concerning new media laws, protection of journalists, and freedom of information.

The thrust of his paper is that, at a time when there is great concern for the future of the media, much of this concern is misplaced.  There’s no crisis in journalism per se, he argues, but rather a crisis in the monetization of journalistic content, a condition greatly exacerbated by the fact that one company dominates both search and online advertising.

Is anyone monetizing digital content?  Yes.  News and information continues to be monetized – at a rapidly increasing rate – by search engines, content aggregators, and others whose new, targeted advertising models have overtaken the spending that had supported journalism in the past.

Again, the dramatic new feature here is the split between content creation and content monetization – those who create the content are not those who are monetizing it.  Google, for example, had a record $23 billion in revenue during 2009, without producing a word of original content.  Google’s job is simply to monetize the content that others have created, and it has performed that job exceptionally well.  Today, more than 70 percent of the Web searches conducted in the United States (and up to 90 percent of those in Europe) flow through Google’s servers.  By its recent acquisition of AdMob, Google will control the vast majority of the mobile application advertising market as well.

Complaints about Google’s disruptive effect on professional journalism are not new, of course, and this is not the only active concern about Google’s business practices.  Other people have problems with the company’s abuse of copyrighted material (as in Viacom’s lawsuit against Google’s YouTube subsidiary), or with Google’s invasion of privacy, such as seen in the recent “Spy-Fi” affair.

What is new is the degree of scrutiny of Google’s practices by government antitrust officials.  As reported last month in a lengthy story in The New York Times, “the search giant’s decisions on such matters may soon be judged by higher authorities.”  As the Times reporter, Brad Stone, put it: “Almost a decade after Google promised that the creed ‘Don’t be evil’ would guide its activities, the federal government is examining Google’s acquisitions and actions as never before, looking for indications that the company’s market power may be anticompetitive in the worlds of Web search and online advertising.”

It’s become hard to know, in recent years, what the government may deem to be in restraint of trade, but if it happens, sometime in the near future, that it initiates an antitrust review of Google and you find yourself wondering why, read Wimmer’s piece and wonder no more.

Cross posted here on Huffington Post.

The Knight Commission: Much Ado About Nothing

As in the title of the book about Southern belles, We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier, the report of the so-called Knight Commission, released on Oct. 2, is in some ways amusing and in other ways annoying.  It amuses in the way that it showcases the most pedestrian observations, as though they were the product of unique and weighty cerebration.  It annoys in the way that it pretends to a kind of grandeur and perspective – at precisely that moment in history when either would be useful – that it simply doesn’t possess.

Officially called the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, the Commission is a collaboration of the Aspen Institute and the Knight Foundation (assets pushing $2 billion), which paid for it all.  Early on the report makes clear that this is a commission with uncommon ambition and a high regard for itself.

Referring to the earlier Hutchins, Carnegie, and Kerner commissions, for instance, the Knight Commission co-chairs write: “In pursuing our work, we have been well aware that we are following in the path of other (emphasis added) distinguished Commissions.”  This, while a “background” document states that the Commission’s goal is to “start a national discussion – leading to real action.”

Given such a lofty calling one would expect the Commission’s observations to be trenchant and uniquely insightful.  One would be wrong.  From the foreword to the appendices, the Knight Commission report is a veritable cornucopia of the mundane, sortable into three categories: things that are already happening, and should be (like rapid broadband deployment by the private sector); things that are happening, and shouldn’t be (like the codification of the FCC’s net neutrality principles); and things that are not now happening and never will.

The best example of the latter comes in the Commission’s recommendation number 12 (of 15).  So as not to lose any of the rhetorical flavor of this recommendation, I quote parts of it verbatim: “Imagine,” they say, “a ‘Geek Corps for Local Democracy’ where, as a post-college opportunity, American youth volunteer to help connect a physical community to the networked infrastructure….  Geek Corps participants would teach community members how to use technology….  A Geek Corps would weave together the local and the national through networks of passionate youth.  Ideally, such a program would have the same stature as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, such that participants would be welcomed into jobs with open arms.”

Open, shmopen.  The notion that vast numbers of “post-college” American youth would (or should) line up for such a thing is the kind of idea that is dreamed up only by government bureaucrats – and nonprofit organizations that think like them.  How about getting or creating a job in the networked infrastructure, paying taxes, and buying things with whatever’s left over as might help the economy?

Speaking of rhetoric, that’s the other thing about the Knight Commission report.  Approximately every other paragraph, even the short ones, has the density of a black hole, so that after wandering into the first sentence you find yourself being stretched thin, like a strand of linguine, and by mid-graph frantically searching for a way out of the thing.

This said, if the only problems with the Knight Commission report were its immodesty, dense language, and commonplace insights, one could just ignore it completely and go about one’s business.  Unfortunately, however, the report is also marred by something else, specifically the timing and nature of its recommendations in the context of what is happening in the real world.

As it happens, on the very day that the Knight Commission released its report (on the premises of Freedom Forum’s Newseum, another billion-dollar foundation) the government announced that unemployment in the United States had reached 9.8 percent, and that more than 7 million people have lost their jobs since the onset of the current recession.

It is also a time when there is scarcely a state or municipality that is not on its financial uppers; when the national debt and federal deficit are at record highs; and when personal bankruptcies, home foreclosures, and credit card defaults are in the stratosphere and climbing.  To say that these data constitute an ongoing tragedy, and the deepest kind of threat to every person in this country, is not the tiniest exaggeration.

Enter into this environment a Knight Commission report whose recommendations are notable mostly for their exquisite attention to what, in the realm of communications policy, are little more than politically correct platitudes.  In this fashion, the report endorses things like governmental transparency, higher education, public libraries, broadband availability, net neutrality, diversity of media ownership, young people, old people, and ensuring that “every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.”  (If only there’d been an opportunity to say something about global warming.)

In other words, the Knight Commission report is frivolous and ill-timed.  This is the kind of report – with its recommendations of greater funding for public broadcasting, “public digital displays of news and culture,” a “federal tax credit for the support of investigative journalism,” and the aforementioned Geek Corps for Democracy – that should be released, if at all, only at a time when the country is so prosperous that people who should know better might actually go for it.

It didn’t have to be like this.  It would have been possible, even at this time, to create a commission that investigated the information needs of communities, in the context of our economic crisis, that was relevant and helpful.  It just didn’t happen.

To paraphrase Groucho Marx (“I’ve had a wonderful night, but this wasn’t it”), you can find some stimulating ideas about the future of journalism and the information needs of communities, but not in this report.

More on Newspapers and Aggregators

If newspapers ultimately survive, they might owe a debt of gratitude not only to Rupert Murdoch (as Patrick Maines suggested here recently), but also to two brothers who have combined their expertise in economics and the law to analyze the problem and come up with a potential solution.

As I wrote here earlier this month, online aggregators quite possibly could kill off newspapers by pirating the papers’ original news content.   Among the industry watchers who have studied this phenomenon are Daniel Marburger, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Arkansas State University, and his brother David Marburger, Esq., a partner at the Baker Hostetler law firm in Cleveland.   

The brothers have conducted an extensive analysis of both the economic and legal frameworks of the newspaper industry (print and online), and how these frameworks intertwine in the digital age.  In a number of papers and articles, the Marburgers have gone beyond the usual observations in two important ways: (1) They draw a distinction between “pure aggregators” and “parasitic aggregators”; and (2) they suggest a way of closing a loophole in copyright law that would seriously curtail the so-called parasites.

“Pure aggregators,” they say, use only a headline and maybe a sentence from the original news source, and then link back to that source (i.e., a newspaper website).  Pure aggregators are economically good for papers on balance because they drive readers to the newspapers’ websites.

“Parasitic aggregators,” on the other hand, take content from newspaper sites, rewrite it a bit, and then pass it off on their own sites.  These parasitic aggregators are bad because they retain readers rather than drive them to the newspapers’ sites.

In the Marburgers’ longest paper on the economic viability of newspapers, two section titles sum up the problem and its effect: “The federal copyright act allows parasitic aggregators to ‘free-ride’ on others’ substantial journalistic investments”; and “If the law does not change, newspapers continually will diminish their journalistic resources until they can subsist only by underproducing news or until they go out of business.”

The Marburgers’ solution would allow newspapers to seek redress for unfair competition under state statutory or common-law remedies for unjust enrichment – remedies that federal copyright law has in effect precluded since 1976.  They’re not suggesting a new law – just an amendment to Section 301 of the Copyright Act.

In this short space I am oversimplifying the Marburgers’ excellent analysis and recommendations – but I hope I can help draw attention to a thoughtful paper that is worthy of serious consideration and widespread recognition.   

Keeping Kids Safe Online

Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in trying to keep children safe online.  For more than a decade, various groups and individuals representing parents, children, educators, law enforcement, government, and industry have weighed in with suggestions.

Now, however, a worthwhile report has emerged from a coalition that is notable in equal parts for its diversity, its lack of political agenda, and its candor.  The coalition was brought together by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association as an element of its “PointSmart.ClickSafe.” initiative to promote online safety and media literacy.

The coalition includes industry leaders like Verizon, Comcast, Cox, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and Symantec.  It also includes groups like Common Sense Media, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), PTA, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and the Children’s Partnership.

Following a summit in Washington in June 2008 and a year-long effort, the coalition has now issued a report titled “PointSmart.ClickSafe: Task Force Recommendations for Best Practices for Online Safety and Literacy.”  It’s online at www.pointsmartreport.org.  

The “best practices,” 20 in all, are grouped in three categories: “before children go online, “during a child’s online activities,” and “when problems arise.” You can read the particulars here.

What I find noteworthy about the report more broadly, however, is its candor in admitting the sizable number of obstacles in trying to keep kids safe.  Kids know more than their parents about technology.  Kids lack impulse control.  It’s hard to verify identities and ages.  Technology keeps changing … the list goes on and on.

Given this daunting list of variables, many activist groups would turn to the government for a “solution.”  But, thankfully, not this coalition – and that’s also noteworthy.  “Best Practices … provide the most direct potential benefits, because they empower the private and nonprofit sectors to create solutions and allow government to focus on broad policy guidelines rather than detailed, prescriptive, onerous or problematic laws and regulation,” the report states.

As the FCC and several other federal agencies pursue their own studies of media and online safety, they would do well to take note of NCTA’s PointSmart.ClickSafe.  This effort demonstrates that the industry, with input from a wide range of responsible advocacy groups, is indeed able to keep its own house in order without a government housekeeper. 

The Big, Uneventful Day

A blog about media and communications policy would be remiss if it did not mark the fact that this is a watershed date in television history – even if nothing much seems out of the ordinary.

This, after all, is June 12, the date years in the making on which television broadcasters are converting their analog signals to digital.  For TV viewers with cable or satellite (i.e., most of us) there is no difference.  For those who still rely on antenna reception of over-the-air broadcast signals, there will be no more TV until they get a converter box (for which the federal government has been offering discount coupons for months).

The good news is that most people have already taken steps to become digital-ready.  Paul Karpowicz, chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters TV Board, said at a press conference yesterday that only 1.75 million over-the-air households have not prepared for the changeover.  

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) said it received almost 320,000 requests for converter-box coupons yesterday alone, up from the recent daily average of 114,272.  And for those who somehow haven’t gotten the word about the switch to digital, the FCC has 4,000 operators standing by 24/7.

FCC and industry leaders acknowledge that some stations might experience a few engineering bumps.  But for broadcasters and viewers alike, the changeover is said to be going relatively (and even surprisingly) well.  

The FCC, NTIA, NAB, NCTA, and countless station engineers deserve a “well done” for making this watershed day so uneventful.  

Digital Technology: Double-Edged Sword

Two items in the Washington Post in the past three days point up how the relentless march of technology will affect news in the months to come – both how it is generated by the White House, and how it is reported by at least one local TV station.

President-Elect Barack Obama sees new technology as a means “to reinvigorate our democracy,” according to senior adviser David Axelrod.  And, as Chris Cillizza reported on Dec. 14, Obama is starting with the Saturday morning radio broadcast begun by Ronald Reagan in 1982.  

“The speech is still beamed out to radio stations nationwide on Saturday mornings, but now it is also recorded for digital video and audio downloads from YouTube, iTunes and the like, so people can access it whenever and wherever they want,” Cillizza reports.

It’s part of a “broader revolution” in how the Obama White House will communicate, according to Doug Sosnik, a senior aide in the Clinton Administration. "The mainframe for this White House will be the Internet, not TV," he told Cillizza.

Only two days earlier (Dec. 12.), Paul Farhi reported that WUSA-TV, Channel 9 in Washington, D.C., had reached a new labor agreement that would scrap the traditional two-person news crew of reporter and photographer.  Under the new pact, an individual “multimedia journalist” will report, shoot, and edit stories alone using digital tools.  Reporters will double as their own camera crew.  Camera operators will take on reporting tasks as well.

In the case of WUSA, however, the impetus is economic. The one-person operatives are part of a broad budget-cutting scheme under which these “multimedia journalists” will actually be paid less than current reporters.

It’s encouraging that Obama embraces digital technology and plans to use it extensively.  At the same time, it’s ironic that digital technology has siphoned viewers from broadcast television and weakened some local news operations to the point where they can only be saved by changes in news-gathering built around … digital technology.

Digital Copyright Questions Deserve Answers

The U.S. Supreme Court has an opportunity to chart a clearer course for copyright protection in the digital age if it agrees to hear a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  The matter involves a video-on-demand service offered by Cablevision Systems, and allegations by Cable News Network that the service constitutes the unlawful copying and public performance of copyrighted works.

The case raises at least two serious and unresolved issues.  First, who is responsible for making a copy of protected content?   The cable customer who makes a selection from the cable company’s video-on-demand service?  Or the cable company itself, for putting in place and making available the automated software that allows the customer to make that selection?  

Second, what constitutes a public performance?  Is a video-on-demand program viewed in the privacy of one’s family room a public performance?

Such issues are important because they go beyond the narrow scope of video-on-demand and touch on broader questions of how digital technology will be used to produce, store, transmit, and copy content across a variety of platforms – and how that content is to be protected in this digital environment.  Once again technology has far outpaced law and regulation, and is striding ahead in territories still largely uncharted.

How the courts map that territory will depend on how much value they place on protecting the creative rights of copyright holders.  Meanwhile, the digital age in general and the Internet in particular have generated a new class of content users (including many college professors) who believe that anything goes when it comes to obtaining and sharing copyrighted material.  (Remember Napster?)

In the Cablevision matter, however, professors of a different stripe have filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take the case.  Led by copyright guru Prof. Raymond Nimmer, this group of six law professors and one economics professor (all with impeccable intellectual property credentials) argue that creative rights are worth protecting and that the law should come down on the side of copyright owners.  (Two of the group, Dean Rodney A. Smolla of the Washington & Lee University School of Law and Prof. Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas at Dallas, sit on the advisory council of the National CyberEducation Project, a program of The Media Institute.)

I agree with these professors, that the Supreme Court needs to take this case for the sake of digital information systems going forward.  I further agree that copyrights are essential – and that copyright protection needs to be clarified in this digital age.   

Digital Politics Comes of Age

Pundits, pols, and political scientists will spend months and years dissecting this presidential election.  But one fact is unmistakably clear: We have seen the future of politics.  And it’s digital.

Digital technologies played a bigger and more decisive role in the outcome of this election than ever before.  For a confluence of reasons, they worked spectacularly well for Barack Obama.

Consider some of the particulars: The respective campaigns relied on sophisticated marketing data from commercial firms that tracked Internet viewing habits, political leanings, and issues of interest to likely voters.  In addition to making it easy to donate money online, the candidates’ websites placed cookies in visitors’ computers, making it easy for the campaigns to keep track of potential voters and to target them at the online sites they were likely to frequent.

The campaigns collected the cell phone numbers of thousands of participants at political rallies and the national conventions.  They set up dedicated social network sites for their candidates, and individuals set up scores of independent socnets and blogs of their own.  The campaigns barraged their supporters with e-mails.

Barack Obama took things a step further by famously announcing his running mate via text message.  And his campaign even embedded Obama ads in video games. 

Okay, I think the running mate gambit was a gimmick.  But it seems to me that Obama clearly had the edge in using digital technologies more effectively than his competition in both the primary and general elections. 

Why?  Obama ran a young person’s campaign.  He appealed to the young demographic with his charisma and calls for change in a way the Republicans couldn’t touch.  And he was wildly successful at reaching young people via the digital technologies that are their lifelines.  They were able to interact not only with his campaign, but with their friends and online communities – and to extend that online involvement to grassroots participation on the street.

Obama has given us the best model of what digital politics will look like henceforth: using the Internet and personal electronic devices to find potential supporters; to keep track of and stay in touch with them; to make it easy for them to donate their money; and to “activate” them to work on the candidate’s behalf.  

There are a lot of factors that determine the success of a political campaign, starting with the amount of money raised.  There are the strategic decisions large and small, the quantity and quality of advertising (especially on TV), the effectiveness of local organizing, personal charisma, the tone of media coverage … oh, and even the candidates’ stances on the issues.

Maybe it’s a stretch to say that Obama won because he did the better job of mobilizing young voters via digital technologies.  But I suspect it’s not a big stretch.