The New York Times announced on Sunday that MySpace is starting a section wholly dedicated to politics called Impact Channel. The page will have direct links to all the candidates official pages, as well as an overabundance of political-oriented content, such as links to videos, news, events and voter registration (obvi).
The creation of Impact Channel only underscores the perceived importance of Web 2.0, and Social Networking sites in the upcoming 2008 election. Now, here's the question - what IS the importance? What do candidates hope to gain?
For sure the pages will reach out to a hard-to-find demographic (18 - 25) on their "home turf" and hopefully spark some interest in national and local politics - nothing lost there. However, from talking to a few of my friends on campaign staffs, there seems to be a belief that racking up hundreds of thousands of friends could help turn out at events, and hopefully translate into real votes. Call me a cynic, but I think this is aiming pretty high. Just because a lackadaisical 18 year old clicked "Add as Friend" on MySpace does not mean that he is politically motivated to show up at an event. I think the "friends" that will prove active on these pages are likely individuals who were already politically interested, rather than recent converts. (Although I hope to be proven wrong - believe me, I would love nothing more than to see hundreds of thousands of kids wipe the Cheeto residue off their fingers, leave their computers and VOTE in this election.)
At the end of the day, candidates are doing the MySpace thing because everyone else is doing it, not because it's some magic bullet to the hearts and minds of the 18-25 year olds. No one can afford to let a Howard Dean-esque early adopter get a head start on the Web this cycle. With Social Networking metrics and effectiveness difficult to trace and prove, the only obvious boost candidates can count on is from the thousands of inevitable high profile news stories written on social networking as a campaigning tactic.