WASHINGTON (AFP) — Barack Obama outdueled Hillary Clinton on the Web during their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But Secretary of State Clinton is giving President Obama a run for the money in the latest Web 2.0 sweepstakes.
The former first lady has taken to digital diplomacy with a vengeance, contributing to DipNote, the slick State Department blog, and soliciting questions from the public online, a feature called "Ask the Secretary."
She also has her aides firing off updates -- more than 1,000 so far -- on the @dipnote feed on micro-blogging service Twitter and posting photos on the State Department Flickr page at flickr.com/photos/statephotos/.
In addition to longstanding websites State.gov and America.gov, there is an official State Department YouTube channel at youtube.com/statevideo and a State Department Facebook page which instead of friends has "fans."
Clinton is not just using the Web for public diplomacy.
One of her first acts after taking office was to create an internal State Department website, "The Sounding Board," to solicit feedback from department staff, who have the option of posting anonymously if they prefer.
Obama's vaunted new media team, meanwhile, has revamped the White House website, whitehouse.gov, but has not yet transformed it into the dynamic, interactive and transparent forum many expected.
Clinton to some extent is benefiting from a head-start bequeathed to her by her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, whose spokesman Sean McCormack pushed the State Department into the social media arena.
McCormack blogged at blogs.state.gov, Twittered and began taking questions from the public via YouTube, an initiative he labeled "Briefing 2.O."
His efforts were lauded by the Arizona State University-led Consortium for Strategic Communication (CSC) for "communication innovation and a concern with engaging new audiences that is all too unusual in government."
Also receiving praise from the CSC was Rice's former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy James Glassman, who advocated using the Web to win what he called the "war of ideas" with Islamic militants and other extremist groups.
In her first "town hall" meeting with State Department employees, Clinton stressed the importance of Web 2.0 tools and said "the United States government has been pretty slow in coming to grips with technology."
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have barely scratched the surface as to what we can use to communicate with people around the world," she said.
In her first DipNote blog post last week, Clinton returned to the theme, saying she planned to "take advantage of new social media tools so the State Department can share its diplomatic work with a broader audience."
The "broader audience," however, has not yet signed on.
The DipNote Twitter feed had only 1,770 followers as of Saturday, 177,000 fewer than pop star Britney Spears. The State Department Facebook page had just 3,634 fans and the State Department YouTube channel only 748 subscribers.
The DipNote Twitter messages, in keeping with the 140-character limit, are brief, ranging from the political to the promotional.
"The decision by the Government of Ecuador to expel a second American diplomat is very troubling," read one recent "tweet."
"You could feel the energy in the air at Tokyo Univ. as Sec. Clinton spent over an hour taking questions from students," read another during the secretary of state's recent visit to Japan.
The State Department for its part follows some 650 people on Twitter including a diehard Hillary-for-president supporter who goes by the handle "Still4Hill."
Tom Watson, a blogger for TechPresident.com, a website devoted to technology and politics, is among those closely monitoring Clinton's Web efforts.
"It will be interesting to see what she does with the online operation in the coming months, but there are signs that Clinton (who watched her former rival dominate the online wars during the 2008 primary campaign) understands that the online lever may be important," Watson wrote on techpresident.com.
Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a progressive think-tank based in Washington, said Clinton's embrace of the Internet is going to be imitated by others in the Obama administration.
"It's going to be all the cabinet officials, all the major agencies and departments," Rosenberg told AFP. "They're going to be under pressure to use these tools to bring themselves closer to the American people and the people of the world.
"It's going to become imbued throughout the entire government," he said. "If you want to give a shiny apple to your boss and your boss is Barack Obama one of the shiny apples you can give him is a great YouTube video that reaches millions of people about a subject that he cares about."
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