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Web Campaigning

Author: Kirsten A. Foot, Steven M. Schneider
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006
Review Published: December 2007

 REVIEW 1: Scott Dunn
 REVIEW 2: Gerhard Fuchs
 REVIEW 3: Lydia Perovic
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Kirsten Foot & Steven Schneider

We are grateful to Scott Dunn, Gerhard Fuchs, and Lydia Perovic for their thoughtful reviews of Web Campaigning. All three review essays reflect an in-depth engagement with the book and the corresponding digital installation we produced in collaboration with Meghan Dougherty. They offer many interesting points of comment and critique in their reviews; we attempt to respond to several of them below.

It has been eight years since we began investigating the phenomena of Web campaigning, three years since we decided we should really stop collecting data and start writing a book, two years since we shipped the manuscript, and one year since it appeared in print. Although we were aware as we worked on the book that we were writing a retrospective, developmental analysis of Web campaigning based on data collected both contemporaneously and subsequently to the elections we studied, it is even more evident to us now that the book is an historical analysis of the first era of Web campaigning (1996-2004) in the US. In this spirit, we appreciate Dunn's comment that the book allows researchers to "meaningfully compare sites from different campaigns and different election cycles," and Perovic's insight that the framework we developed to interpret the first era of Web campaigning is valuable for making sense of new eras.

We still see the four primary practices of Web campaigning that we analyzed forming the core of what contemporary campaigns do, and note that all of the techniques we identified are still employed via new applications. In hindsight, our use of the phrase "web archaeology" (in Chapter 1) to characterize our approach to inferring web practices from artifacts was more prescient than we realized at the time -- and such an approach becomes ever more important as new generations of Web applications and objects are produced, often layered over preceding ones. As we predicted, the practices of connecting and mobilizing have been the growth zones in Web campaigning over the last few years.

Before we respond to some of the academically-oriented comments from the reviewers, we want to underscore that one aim of the book, as Fuchs noted, was to help Web campaigners' reflect on their strategies. Fuchs, Perovic, and other readers may be interested in seeing how John McCain's presidential campaign Web site incorporated, in its basic architecture, the Web campaigning practices we analyzed, as we had termed and defined them in the book. In the version of the site that McCain's organization launched in early 2007, three first tier sections were labeled "Informing You," "Involving You," and "Connecting You," and the site's "Take Action" (i.e. mobilizing) section contained many of features we had identified as enabling supporters to become advocates.

In Web Campaigning, we elaborated a framework for studying Web-based phenomena we called "Web sphere analysis." We concur with Dunn's suggestion that this framework is useful for studying many types of Web-based phenomena (see Foot & Schneider 2002, Schneider & Foot 2005). In our view, Web sphere analysis provides the most complete understanding of the phenomena under study when it features multiple methods, including the kinds of analyses introduced in Chapter 7, which Dunn viewed as the "weak spot" of the book. We believe that the survey of Web producers (though relatively small, it is still the largest of its kind to date), and the analysis of the impact of campaign-level variables on Web production practices, confirm and strengthen our findings in the preceding chapters. Relegating this analysis to an appendix would have, in effect, suggested that data gathered from producers are somehow less important to Web sphere analysis than data gathered from observation of the Web artifacts they produced. By including this analysis in the body of the book -- and by framing the analysis using categories of Web production practices derived from our analysis of Web artifacts -- we hope to have illustrated how multiple methods can be woven together to generate a robust understanding of a complex phenomenon.

It is (humorously) ironic to us that Dunn, as the political communication scholar among the reviewers, suggested that the analysis in Chapter 7 would have been better published in an appendix or elsewhere. In our view, the low level of explanatory power we found through our regression analysis of political-structural factors -- used commonly in political communication studies of campaigns -- in relation to campaigns' Web practices validates the importance of the STS-informed, practice-based approach we took. Rather than following in the traditional political communication scholarship vein of black-boxing political actors´┐Ż technology-related practices, we were able to demonstrate that the usual suspects of major party status, incumbency, etc, are not very useful for predicting which campaigns are most likely to be innovative on the Web. Moreover, our finding that campaigns' level of engagement in some practices explains more variance in other practices than any of the political system variables alone confirmed an important and valuable insight which we had formulated through inference using our other methods.

Although we agree with Fuchs that we could have done even more with STS theory, STS perspectives on socio-technical networks, the social shaping of technology, and the value of practice-based theorizing are woven throughout the book. The concept of Web practices, or acts of making on the Web, corresponds closely with ideas about production practices in other domains that have been investigated previously in both STS and media studies. We argue that any set of Web producers engage in Web practices of some kind, and the Web objects they produce reflect the practices in which they engage. A practice-based approach to studies of Web phenomena grounds such studies in the actual rather than the assumed uses of Web technologies, which is vintage STS. In tracing the ways in which Web technologies are employed, this approach makes possible analyses of the under-employment or absence of specific practices which may carry cultural, social, or political significance. It extends practice-based theorizing into the domains of political campaigning and of Web production -- moves that have not been made previously by STS scholars.

In addition, this book contributes to practice theory by adding further illumination to the reciprocal relationship between micro-level techniques and meso-level practices with macro-level structures. In addition to indicating how and to what extent Web campaigning practices have evolved over time, we demonstrated that as they have evolved, the reciprocal relationship between these practices and the structures of the campaign organization and the electoral arena has become more evident. In other words, the practices of Web campaigning reflect offline structures at the meso-level (addressed by Orlikowski (1992)) and the macro-level (addressed by Giddens (1984)), and create online structures at the micro- and meso- levels. We argue that these micro- and meso-level structures shape political relations in the electoral arena and thus hold implications and potential influence for macro structures. While the influence of existing offline structures on web campaigning practices is clear, and is the focus of much research on technology and politics, this book is among the first to analyze the influence of campaigns' evolving Web practices on the kinds of meso-level organizational and political structures that are of interest to scholars of STS and political communication alike.

All three reviewers expressed appreciation for the Web Campaigning Digital Supplement. We are very grateful that MIT Press agreed to exercise the fair use doctrine of US copyright law and host several hundred archived impressions of election-related Web pages on their site, along with a majority of the book text. Dunn asked why we did not incorporate any screenshots in the book itself. One reason was that we decided early on to focus our illustrative efforts -- and, not inconsequentially, our negotiations with the publisher -- on a robust digital installation. Another, equally important reason, is that many of the key points in our analysis referred to Web production techniques manifested via links across multiple Web pages. It would have been difficult to illustrate these phenomena through individual screenshots reprinted in a book. Instead, we sought to demonstrate the importance of presenting scholarship of the Web on the Web, and to do that in a novel way via the TiddlyWiki platform. Jerome Ruston, inventor of TiddlyWiki, gave our digital installation a rave review, saying "it radically simplifies the annotation of data, and demonstrates a beautiful blurring of boundaries between programming and writing." To enable tag-based taxonomies and user networking within the Web archive on which the Web Campaigning Digital Supplement is based, Meghan Dougherty created Wayfinder as an alternative interface to the archive. We hope these efforts will inspire others to develop additional creative ways to present digital scholarship digitally and invite public engagement with it.

Since 2005, several developments have emerged suggesting the need for a new generation of scholarly research examining the relationship between political campaigning and the Web. First, as Perovic noted, the full-throated arrival of "Web 2.0" technologies support alternative models of content creation and community construction. Second, the emergence of highly structured linked environments, including those driving search engine results, challenge earlier understandings of interactivity, openness, and democratic potential. Third, the ubiquity of a Web presence among campaigns at all levels of political office expands the field of study from national to local politics. Fourth, the rapid convergence of voice, video, and text on the Internet that has expanded the Web "site" to a more comprehensive digital presence should shift researchers' gaze beyond a focus on the Web browser as the sole platform for Web campaigning.

These factors taken together challenge scholars to move beyond the questions addressed by research focused on elections during the first era of Web campaigning. During this era, Web campaigning moved from the exotic and exploratory fringes of the electoral arena to its very core. In addition, as demonstrated in a volume we co-edited with Randolph Kluver and Nicholas Jankowski, The Internet and National Elections: A Comparative Study of Web Campaigning, scholars are well served by addressing these questions in cross-national, comparative contexts. Web campaigning has become so synonymous with electoral campaigning, its edges so blurred and indistinct, that it is difficult to isolate its impact or even clearly define what, precisely, it consists of. Perhaps this is why some have dismissed the role of the Web in politics as anything but revolutionary. To the contrary, we think that despite the near-ubiquity of the Web and the consequent blending of the offline with the online, practice-based and developmental approaches enable analysts to discern the unique and specific effects of Web campaigning on parties and campaign organizations, elections, and democratic politics in general. The new era of Web campaigning research should address questions that examine -- in view of the evolving electoral arena as a whole -- the role of citizen-generated content, the shift of video to the internet, the transition from a computer-based Web to a multi-platform internet, and the consequences of near-ubiquitous internet diffusion in some societies. We hope future researchers will follow Dunn's advice and "build on this foundation by refining [our] typologies, by examining specific rhetorical devises used on campaign web sites in more depth, and by exploring the effects that various web campaign strategies have on their audiences."

In closing, we want to voice our appreciation of David Silver's selection of reviewers affiliated with three of the audiences to whom the book is addressed: scholars of political communication such as Dunn, scholars in science & technology studies such as Fuchs, and non-academic Web campaigners and campaign analysts, such as Perovic. The differences in the perspectives these reviewers brought to the book are very interesting to us, as we wrestled throughout the writing process with how best to engage each of the communities they represent without alienating the others. That each reviewer wished for an additional (but different) something in the book is predictable; that all three reviewers found (different) aspects of the book praiseworthy is a delightful reward for having attempted the challenge of writing to multiple audiences.

References

Foot, K. & Schneider, S. (2002), Online Action in Campaign 2000: An Exploratory Analysis of the U.S. Political Web Sphere. Journal of Broadcast and Electronic Media, June, 46:2, 222-244.

Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structure, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Kluver, R., Jankowski, N., Foot, K., & Schneider, S. (Eds.) (2007) The Internet and National Elections: A Comparative Study of Web Campaigning, New York, Routledge.

Orlikowski, W. J. (1992) The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, 3, 398-427.

Schneider S. & Foot, K. (2005) Web Sphere Analysis: An Approach to Studying Online Action. In C. Hine (Ed.), Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 157-170.



Kirsten Foot & Steven Schneider


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