Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Viral," or just a mild infection for Congress?

Can something be viral just because someone says it is? Representative Eric Cantor seems to think so. He's created a website that is as viral as all get-out (according to the service that created the site).

You may recall the dust-up in the House of Representatives when Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the House adjourned, and the Republicans refused to leave. They were protesting the refusal of the body to vote on offshore drilling, and kept their seats as the lights and microphones were turned off.

Cantor was one of the protesters, and has started an online petition. The goal? To get Pelosi to reconvene Congress (

I'll give Cantor credit for trying to use new media. As the web designers breathlessly write

This really is a case study in how like-minded people who don’t even know they’re working on the same thing can converge to create something bigger than themselves. It really speaks to the nature of viral communications. There was no strategic plan, no unifying message grid, and no conference call to coordinate the whole endeavor. But people with the same passion, who had the tools at their disposal, were able to move into action quickly. Will the House reconvene? It’s not likely, but thanks to new media, more people are aware of the need for energy independence.
And for the past 24 hours I've been getting hourly tweets on Twitter from Cantor as the numbers continued to climb for the petition. 5,000! 6,000! It's just like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington! (an actual tweet Cantor forwarded).

OK, so let's take stock. As of this morning, about 17,000 people have signed the petition, and a little over 2,000 have viewed the accompanying video on YouTube.

Let's compare that to something like, say, the DVD DRM code posting revolt of 2007. Within 24 hours was inundated with posts featuring the forbidden code, YouTube videos with songs and signs featuring the code went up, blogs, Flickr accounts, and countless other sites posted the code. Within 24 hours several million individuals had taken action.

The code protest indeed had become viral, spreading rapidly through the Internet, each post triggering new responses that furthered the message.

I'm not sure I'm seeing the same thing here (especially looking at the numbers).

And one more thing -- during the code revolt the Internet was abuzz with conversation back and forth. When Cantor first tweeted me, I looked at the petition, and had a question about the claim that "House Republicans have a plan to lower gas prices, a plan that has the votes to pass." I tweeted back, asking if he cold provide a link so I could read about the plan. No response.

Later on, I asked what was to happen with the petition when they got enough names, and how many names they considered enough. No response.

Hmmm. So has the "Call Congress Back" gone viral? Well, I think if you have to ask, then the answer is obviously not -- or at least not yet.

In the meantime, gas prices here in Orange, Virgina dropped 25 cents over the past three days. Should I credit the vacationing Speaker of the House, or the Republican Representatives sitting in a room with the lights out?

- Ralph

Day 53 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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