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Politics 2.0 Meets Web 2.0

What goes on behind the scenes is crucial

Paul Brennan, CEO of Zeus Technology, the company that powered Barack Obama's online fundraising efforts, reflects on the new President's online campaign and explains why the UK political scene has a lot to learn.

Barack Obama's Presidential campaign has been widely praised for its use of social media and online tactics. Some have even gone as far to say that he would not have been as successful if it wasn't for the Internet. The results speak for themselves. In just a few months, President Obama raised over $200m in online donations, mobilized over 850,000 social networking participants, and promoted more than 50,000 events across the U.S. On some days, seven figure amounts were pledged in 24 hours and six figure amounts were donated per hour. The campaign's outcomes have been followed closely by UK politicians keen to build stronger relationships with citizens.

Building these relationships, however, is no easy feat especially since there is currently much negativity surrounding UK politics online. Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, recently criticized bloggers for fuelling a culture of cynicism. If political parties in the UK are to rise above this and engage with citizens, they need to think carefully about their online activity, especially when it comes to election campaigning. This relates not only to the nature of the tactics deployed, but also ensuring everything "back of house" is in place to cope with online demand.

Political campaigns are extremely intense and highly event-driven activities with so much at stake. Having a robust infrastructure to ensure online services can cope with high peaks in traffic is essential. Web traffic spiked enormously in the build-up to the U.S. election, even in the UK. According to Internet information specialists ComScore, in September 2008 alone there was a 27 percent rise in visits to UK political websites. While it is encouraging to see that the U.S. election has ignited interest in politics, it has also highlighted an important need to manage online demand. Huge peaks in traffic can mean a significant drop in the quality of service experienced by visitors and even cause website crashes. This is potentially disastrous, especially when vital activity such as fundraising is conducted online, as visitors will quickly abandon donating money if they suddenly experience a slowdown in service.

Investing in flexible and proven technologies that allow sites to cope with varying levels of traffic is therefore an important step for any political organization to take. These intelligent solutions monitor the flow of traffic into and out of a website, helping to avoid downtime or slowdown experienced by visitors. For example, when an application such as an online donations function becomes heavily loaded, solutions can precisely limit or prioritize traffic to other parts of the web so that users don't experience any delays.

When it comes to online services, appearances are important but what goes on behind the scenes is more crucial. Without intelligent solutions behind the scenes, political organizations will struggle to offer the very best level of service to online visitors and risk damaging relationships with the citizens.

More Stories By Paul Brennan

Paul Brennan is Chairman and CEO of Zeus Technology. He brings over 20 years of executive-level experience in the IT sector to Zeus. Previously he was Chairman of Apptix ASA and VisionOSS and was partner and CEO of Korral Partners and Chairman of Xtractor AS and Trustix AS among others. He was the CEO of Metamerge AS, where he managed the company through its successful acquisition by IBM Corporation. He started his career with 10 years at IBM Corporation in Europe and Australia after graduating with a degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Sydney.

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