Ed. Note: Boing Boing's current guestblogger Clay Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. He teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where he works on the overlap of social and technological networks.
Here's another video made during the 2008 Presidential election, from the Republican side of the house. Like Dear Mr. Obama (and like everything my fall class at ITP was concerned with), this wasn't made by political professionals. The "video" is in fact mainly audio -- a 4 minute radio clip overlaid with pull-quotes and editorializing, taken from a 2001 WBEZ interview with Obama, where he is discussing the inequalities of rights vs. inequalities of wealth:
If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I'd be o.k.
But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasnt that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as its been interpreted and Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties.
This kind of material can sometimes be political gold ("The Warren Court wasn't radical enough!", "Breaking free of the Constitution!"), but this video, though it was seen a couple million times, didn't have that effect, in part because it didn't come out til the last week of October, when people's mind were already largely made up, and when other economic issues had become more pressing.
So why, since the material had been sitting there since 2001, did no one use it til a week before Election Day? No one found it. Search engines have made text search trivial, but audio and video are still hand-craft jobs.
Had some enterprising Republican found this in July, the McCain camp could have made use of it, possibly finding some way to make Obama respond. (That McCain would have lost anyway doesn't matter for future uses of the technique.) Seeing this, candidates starting exploratory committees for 2012 may try to harness partisan amateurs to find 'gotcha's in the increasingly large but hard-to-search audio and video archives coming online, through 'tag it and flag it' searches of an opponent's historical multimedia record.
Assume that every potential candidate for president has generated an average of 100 hours of audio or video a year to date; that to avoid wild goose chases, you want every minute listened to or looked at by ~5 different people; and that the average volunteer will review ~10 minutes of audio or video. With those constraints, a campaign would need something like 30,000 volunteers to cover every minute of a decade's worth of public speech, per opponent. (You can move the input numbers up and down some, but 10^4 users per decade of coverage seems like the right order of magnitude.)
These numbers are high, but not insuperable, and being able to swing this kind of distributed opposition research during the primaries may be an early show of strength. Howard Dean introduced the net as a fund raising tool, and Obama as a proselytizing and 'get out the vote' tool, but I think NakedEmperorNews has shown us the template for distributed opposition research and 'gotcha' political ads created off the candidate's books.
PS. Speculation bait for commenters: why do some videos generate almost all the traffic at a single YouTube version (e.g. Obama Girl) while others, such as this video, get reposted several different times to YouTube, even though the content is not altered? What makes one video have a canonical version and another not?