I read an article in the latest Newsweek about Barack Obama as the first online president. His campaign was very web-oriented and he has, seemingly, an impressive list of friends on Facebook. His promises to get more people involved in government has struck a chord with the web-savvy generation that voted so clearly for his promise of change. There is talk of streaming discussions on the net, offering wikis on various political initiatives to get more people involved in the decision-making process and so on. The article debates whether Obama can deliver on these promises or whether the realities of White House convention will prevail.
What is really interesting here is the signals this could send to the rest of the world about the use of the social web. If Obama really does open up some of the processes of government to the public domain then the rest of the world will be forced to take notice. There are wonderful initiatives going on everywhere in the use of social software but it is nearly always a bottom-up process without commitment from management. Now if a major world leader starts using new media then all other leaders in politics and in industry will be forced to examine their own operations.
It reminds me of a similar case in Sweden in the mid-nineties when Prime Minister Carl Bildt started using e-mail to distribute his ideas to a mass audience (an early example of blogging basically) and also to famously e-mail Bill Clinton at a time when world leaders didn’t do e-mail. This not only enhanced Bildt’s image as a modern politician it also inspired other leaders to get on-line and e-mail moved into the mainstream of business communication.
President-elect Obama has an unprecedented level of expectations to live up to and if he can meet half of them he will go down in history. His administration could really be a major catalyst for change in the way government is carried out and how it taps into the power of social networking at grassroots level.