In the mid-term congressional elections of 2002, only 55 percent of candidates had a campaign Web site. By the 2006 mid-term elections, that number was up to 97 percent [source: The Bivings Group]. What politicians are realizing is that the Internet isn't a stand-alone medium, but one through which all other media is collected, created and shared [source: Online NewsHour]. The Internet can be a television set, a movie theater, a radio station, a telephone, a newspaper, a town hall, a fundraiser and a powerful recruiting center.
What we’ve seen over the past three election cycles -- 2004, 2006, and now 2008 -- is a rapid expansion of the features and functionality offered by campaign Web sites. In a 2006 report called The Internet's Role in Political Campaigns, The Bivings Group identified three “tiers” of campaign Web sites offering different levels of technical sophistication:
Tier One: Web sites that offer the basic campaign information, such as candidate biography, contact information, donations and volunteer sign-up. In 2006, 80 to 94 percent of campaign Web sites offered Tier One features.
Tier Two: Web sites also offering blogs, video, audio, RSS feeds and downloads. Between 14 and 55 percent of campaign Web sites qualified as Tier Two in 2006.
Tier Three: Campaign sites with social networking capabilities (such as “house parties,” team building or personal fund-raising campaigns), an “en español” option and podcasts. These made up 3 to 12 percent of campaign Web sites in 2006.
[source: The Bivings Group]
The Bivings Group also notes that challengers were much more prone to use Tier Two and Tier Three technology than incumbents, no matter their party affiliation. For example, 32 percent of challengers used blogs, compared to only 10 percent of incumbents [source: The Bivings Group]. Tier Two and Three technologies also were much more likely to be used in hotly contested or “key” races [source: The Bivings Group].
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular Web 2.0 features of campaign Web sites: blogs, social networks, video and electronic notifications.