William Beutler

Everyone is an Instapundit: How the Left Underestimates Twitter

Interesting points from Bill. We should neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of new tools online. We have to match online tools with offline goals in order for political entrepreneurship to continue to grow on the Right. -Matt Moon

I've noticed a trend over the past few weeks, roughly concurrent with the Twitter-reinforced Tea Party movement, which is a tendency on the Left to dismiss Twitter both for its apparent limitations as well as its embrace by the political Right. Not only do I think they are making a mistake, but the explanation in part illuminates why Twitter is becoming ever more important to online communication.

To begin, here's erstwhile conservative John Cole making the former point:

Here is what I don’t understand about twitter. When blogs came out and started to rise in popularity, lots of folks in the MSM and elsewhere said “Great. Just what we need. The undigested, unedited thoughts of the rabble.” If blogs are the undigested thoughts, tweets are the orts.

Here's Bloggingheads regular commenter B.J. Keefe, responding to new host Matt Lewis' point -- via my post here -- that the Right is succeeding on Twitter:

Is this anything worth bragging about? What does it even mean, that there are more Republicans spewing out sound bites and ill-considered thoughtlets? ... [G]iven the choice to "dominate" on Twitter compared to, say, the blogosphere, let alone actually getting people off their couches to go knock on doors, I know which one I'd pick.

Even as Markos Moulitsas has recently taken to Twitter, at least one Daily Kos community member decided to hoax the TCOT list about the contents of the stimulus bill -- "$2 million for Shamwows" -- and with some success, too. (On the other hand, this guy makes a good point.) And here is Gavin M. from Sadly, No!:

Twitter is that new thing that’s like burping the alphabet. Republicans are big on it because they have nothing to say.

He is being glib (what? impossible) but this is a trend, all right. What's driving this attitude? We can't ignore sour grapes -- for the first time in a while, the Right is being recognized as doing something online better than the Left. It only makes sense the Left would want to minimize that, both to reassure themselves, discourage the Right and encourage skepticism among outside observers.

It's absolutely true that, by itself, Twitter is a stunted communication tool. The brevity allows for faster communication, which also means less context and a greater likelihood of jumping to conclusions. Then again, the value of each individual tweet is infinitessimal and easily countered (the so-called "self-correcting blogosphere" in fact wasn't, but the Twitterverse may be different).

Of course, there is a lot more to Twitter than 140 characters, thanks to its API and developer community. For those who may have not been following it closely, Twitpic lets you share pictures. Power Twitter embeds those photos (and links to YouTube) on the page. Utterli lets you post audio. Services like Bit.ly make it easy to track clicks on links you post. Both Farhad Manjoo and David Weinberger have recently explained how Twitter users have compensated for its limitations.

Twitter's homepage famously asks "What are you doing?" but, famously as well I think, the vast majority of Twitter users ignore this question and say whatever they think needs to be said. Twitter is what you make of it.

What's Behind the Right's Current Twitter Advantage + Using #TCOT vs. No Hashtags Whatsoever

Practicing Politics in the Twitter Era: If we are to speak of the age of online politics -- and I am not certain that we should -- let's say we've lived through the Blog Era (2001-04), the YouTube Era (2005-08) and now we are in the Twitter Era (2008-?). This screen shot of a blog post at Media Matters (of all places) juxtaposing tweets from Newt Gingrich and Matt Cooper -- proof alone that everyone in Washington is using Twitter -- provides a useful snapshot of the how Twitter works alongside the blogosphere (rumors of its death still exaggerated) in moving political messages online:


So the Right had a vibrant 'sphere in the post-9/11 Warblogging Period, which drifted after the 2004 election, as frustrated soon-to-be-ex-Pajamas Media bloggers can tell you. The Left owned the YouTube era, which happened to coincide, not coincidentally, with President Bush's second term. Their political blog infrastructure was developed largely on the participation of bloggers and blog readers, not anyone using Twitter yet, most of the time because Twitter did not exist or see any significant usage until SXSW 2007. (You know who I can't find on Twitter? MoveOn.)

For at least a year now, the Right again has been leading the way on an Internet-based communication platform. So far it's to organize for Conservatism somewhat broadly as a unifying cause. Top Conservatives on Twitter is not quite a MoveOn for the Right -- a whispered-of but ultimately mythical animal not unlike the "Party-in-a-laptop" idea popular with some Neoliberals -- but it could have more value as a list than Gingrich's own Drill Here, Drill now efforts and even the (also short-time) #dontgo message it spawned last August. These new conservative projects are often built around Twitter itself. Sometimes this results in really annoying tweets, but at this point the right is doing more interesting things in this space. Twitter is smaller than Facebook, but makes up for it in volume of press hits (hopefully someone with Nexis can back this up for me) and news reports that its traffic is about to go all hockey-stick. Maybe it will go Galt as well.

Conservatives also have other, much older infrastructure whose blogging component counts a few successes but still relies on decidedly Web 1.0 websites, and so hasn't taken as big a hit in the Great Blog Crash of 2008-09. And like companies of the dot com crash (including Google itself), the concepts and websites that clawed their way out of the rubble did not and will not bring back substantial returns in the short run. Twitter, by its sheer simplicity, is kind of a Long Tail product in that we can (and often seem to actually do) use it in spare moments between the day, which means its audience could approach that of e-mail (especially since, you know, you need an e-mail account to join Twitter). Either could build that kind of reach, depending on who experiments more through the rest of the arbitrary era proper.

Using #TCOT vs. No Hashtags Whatsoever:

According to Internet marketing blog Hubspot, the right's #TCOT momentum means it vastly outnumbers the hashtags left-leaning Twitter users and bloggers... er, aren't listed as using, not here at least. Hmm. So which hashtags do the left use?

    Pause for dramatic effect.

Turns out the left-verse doesn't do hashtags at all, that I could see from checking these accounts over the weekend:

My question for the Left is whether the port side of the Twitterverse will adopt the same habit of hashtags that moves stories -- and if it does, whether it will even be led by the Kos-Greenwald-Marshall-Hamsher-Klein-Stoller-Yglesias Netroots movement. (Note: In the comments at Blog P.I. a fellow Twittizen points out there is a website collecting progressive hashtags: Tweetleft. And as she observes, organized hashtag use lies beyond "'the usual' accounts.")

And my question for the Right is whether they know any of the Top 5 Conservatives on Twitter, because I haven't got a clue.

Benchmark note: As of Sunday afteroon, Markos Moulitsas (2,411) has 7,288 fewer followers than John Culberson (9,699).

Adapted from a post at Blog P.I.

Open Left and MyDD, One Year Later

I love me some traffic charts. -Patrick

This week marks the one-year anniversary for Open Left, a spinoff of the original netroots blog, MyDD. As far as I can tell, the date was not observed on the site itself, but then Chris Bowers, Matt Stoller and the rest are busy running a political website. My own blogging though (typically at Blog P.I.) is pretty much just about political websites, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Open Left with MyDD, and see how the two sites have fared in the year since they went in different directions. Via Compete:

Open Left and MyDD site traffic comparison via Compete.com

Here's how I'm reading this:

The Swift Boating of John McCain

[Promoted - In 2004, John Kerry said "We're going to build an army of truth-tellers."   I guess that is no longer operational.  Congratulations, Democrats...this is what you've built, instead! - Jon Henke]

It's an article of faith among among Democrats that John Kerry, a war hero, was unduly smeared by a group of fellow veterans who did not know him or his accomplishments. I took more a mixed view of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, finding some of their claims worthy of discussion (Kerry's involvement with the Winter Soldier Investigation) and others unworthy (Kerry's supposed "war crimes"). So I hesitate to use the phrase in the title, but I think it's warranted. Four years later, some on the left are doing the exact same thing. The Politico has already taken note of two in particular. One is Gen. Wesley Clark, who is likely to get some major press coverage. Less likely to generate interest offline, but still likely to be influential, is this John Aravosis post:

Honestly, besides being tortured, what did McCain do to excel in the military?

It's not "nice" to ask the question, but it's actually a pretty good question. ... A lot of people don't know, however, that McCain made a propaganda video for the enemy while he was in captivity. Putting that bit of disloyalty aside, what exactly is McCain's military experience that prepares him for being commander in chief? It's not like McCain rose to the level of general or something. He's a vet. We get it. But simply being a vet, as laudable as it is, doesn't really tell you much about someone's qualifications for being commander in chief.

One might think that Aravosis would think twice about taking this line of attack, considering his support for John Kerry in 2004. On the other hand, AMERICAblog spent most of that year trying to make President Bush sound like a deserter. And in fact, Aravosis has been pushing this McCain-is-not-a-war-hero line for awhile. But let's answer the points Aravosis avoids: McCain spent more than a half-decade as a prisoner of war. Significantly, he refused an offer of early release in 1968, remaining behind with his fellow POWs and denying the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory (McCain's father was a four-star admiral leading the U.S. Pacific Command). Meanwhile, Aravosis portrays John McCain as participating in a propaganda video as if McCain did so of his own volition, rather than being held captive. To the contrary, McCain often made trouble for his captors -- cheering the bombing of the North with his fellow soldiers -- and spent significant time in solitary confinement. I don't refer people to Wikipedia as a matter of course, but these sections are very well-supported, and the bibliography is a credible one. Meanwhile, based on the comments to Aravosis' post, it sounds like his critics are likely to try pinning the 1967 USS Forrestal disaster on him as well. Oh, and there's this lovely comment:


Meanwhile, Aravosis' 2004 candidate was "merely a vet" who spent just four months in combat, gave time to and whose convictions on the Iraq war developed late, at best. But I don't want to argue about John Kerry; that may be the point. In fact, Barack Obama's lack of a military record is an unlikely plus: he grew up at a time when military service was neithe obligated nor obligatory. Aravosis' post by itself is deliberately inflammatory and poorly reasoned. Alone, it wouldn't demand a response. But with liberal 527s outspending their conservative counterparts, it will be very interesting to see how far Obama supporters pursue this line of attack in the coming weeks and months.

Cross-posted from Blog P.I.

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