Net Communities and Politics reports on the fifth annual Votes, Bits & Bytes conference:

The panelists said the most valuable lesson online campaigners may be able to garner from Web-based companies is that building a sense of trust remains at the center of winning loyalty from customers or political followers.

To Tod Cohen, deputy general counsel for government relations at online auctioneer eBay, the reason why eBay has been so successful is linked inextricably to the morals expressed on the company’s business card-size ideology outline. The values card, the brainchild of company founder Pierre Omidyar, includes reminders that people are generally good, that they usually treat others the way they wish to be treated, and that the company strives to foster an open, honest environment among its customers.

Esther Dyson observed that while the notion of building trust on the Web is key to furthering online politics, the utopian idea of a “global village” where people are completely upfront with each other is “implausible.” However, she agreed that sites such as eBay and Craigslist make up a valuable template for politicians as they search for ways to attract supporters online.

“eBay itself is politics,” Dyson said. “It changes how people view themselves in relation to institutions. The sense of empowerment is the same as in viewing politics online, and the idea of sharing feedback gives people a sense of empowerment. The major difference is that business is about controlling information, and politics is about disseminating information.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.