I'm excited. It’s my first election since being in the UK, and, not only that, it’s also the first digital election in history.
As the digital campaign trail gets under way, it has become obvious that this election will be one of the most heavily scrutinised, thanks to social media tools like Twitter and some clever digital mash-ups that are doing the rounds.
Tonight is the live televised leaders’ debate, which is not only going to be broadcast on ITV, but will also be tracked by Facebook and Twitter. (For those on Twitter, #ge2010 is the right hashtag to watch for the election madness).
ITV will also show off a new widget called “The Worm”, a "sentiment tool" to measure reactions of a panel or viewers, and their impressions live as the each of the three leaders - Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg - give their speech. These results are then shown in a “worm graph”.
I'm familiar with the Worm, because it recently featured in my home country, during a live televised debate of Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd against opposition leader Tony Abbott (I don’t expect readers to know this!) If the Brits are anything like Aussies, you can expect the peppering of value-laden keywords like "parent", "doctors", "schools", "nurses", "healthcare" to feature heavily in the debate (sounds more like a drinking game). Although Prime Minister Rudd came out on top, Aussies were most put off with his speech, including his tendency to employ such ‘ocker’ phrases as “fair shake of the sauce bottle".
Aside from the worm, there are other ways to 'measure sentiment' in this new digital age. Tweetminster have created a ‘realtime sentiment tracker’ tool. The tracker works by following the posts of 5,000 selected Twitter users, and then measure the tweets on a sentiment scale of 1 to 5, which is then collated to give a minute-by-minute impression of how the leaders in the debate are doing. Supposedly you see a picture of each of the leaders with an arrow next to it going up or down depending on what’s being said.
Facebook Live is offering a similar service, allowing people to share comments which will not only appear on Facebook but also on the ITV site.
Political parties have also been quick to embrace Web 2.0 tools in order to build up a good head of steam to drive their campaign. Labour registered a Wordpress blog, piggybacking on the Twitter hashtag, called #ge2010.
Google has also become a battleground. The Tories bought up 1,500 search terms over recent days, among them, "find my constituency", "polling station" and "mortgage rates". Voters searching for these terms will find adverts for the Tories among the sponsored links. A search for "general election" may serve an advert for UKIP. Labour is also reportedly buying search terms, however I’ve not seen any proof.
The Digital Economy Bill has been an early political hot potato. While the Commons debate was sparsely attended, the Twitter community has been most vociferous about the new laws. One cheeky tweeter @alecmuffet posting a photo of the near empty Commons room. Other tweeters made this clever mash-up of the #debill, counting the tweets, the votes and even naming and shaming the MPs that didn’t bother to show up.
Despite the fact that the Bill has passed into law, the online frenzy whipped up by its opponents has given me new hope that social media has put a lot more pressure on the politician of the 21st century. No more quiet dealings in dark chamber rooms. Instead, the Brit are demanding complete transparency of its leaders, which is great.
Of course, these whiz bang sentiment tools seem to rate the popularity of the leader, rather than examine the political party involved. So perhaps the sentiment tool is more suited to US politics than the UK system. Then again, we are having US-style presidential debates, so maybe it really will take the political pulse of the nation.
Other election web tools