Ever since Barack Obama swept to power last November, political parties worldwide have been trying to figure out how to copy his feat.
Blogs, facebook, flickr and twitter are no longer the playthings of texting teenagers and geeks, but a way to mobilise voters, getting the vote out and raising much needs funding to pay for election expenses.
With that in mind, all of the major political parties made sure to invite not just traditional media – newspapers, radio and television – to cover their annual conferences this year, but the new media – bloggers.
Labour has some reason to feel proud of its early start in using new media. It has been using twitter – a sort of hybrid between text messaging and email – for almost three years now to reach its supporters using ‘tweets’, short messages updating voters on issues and directing them to websites for more information on campaigns.
Fianna Fail joined the bandwagon earlier this year, hiring Obama advisor Joe Raspars to redesign their website.
The launch was organised by 26 year old Letterkenny town councillor Damien Blake, who has himself been blogging for four years.
Not all forays into web politics have gone smoothly however.
The Fianna Fail launch was marred when some bloggers felt they’d been misled, expecting to hear about the role of online media in the Obama campaign and instead finding a briefing on Fianna Fail’s plans.
And while the Green Party invited bloggers to their conference last month, there were problems with broadband access in the venue they chose.
Last weekend’s Fine Gael ard fheis was no exception to the teething problems.
The party had arranged for ‘live streamed’ video from the conference hall, so that party members and others at home could watch all of the speeches on their computers, and not just the highlights transmitted by RTE.
But the Fine Gael website was beset by problems, so that several times the video disappeared, leading to howls (or rather, tweets) of frustration from those watching the conference at home.
Political parties survive by attracting new voters in every generation, a difficult task at the best of times. With fewer young people using traditional media, and getting more of their information from the internet, it will be fascinating to watch how public debates evolve with new technology.