The allure of Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy to people nimble with the Internet was clear long before he became his party's front-runner. A Web designer produced an online video mimicking a famed Apple Computer commercial to mock rival Hillary Clinton before the first primary vote was even cast.
The Illinois senator's ability to raise millions online fueled his rapid rise and sparked his recent decision to waive public financing for the presidential race. Obama's popularity online has risen at times to pop-culture phenomenon, from the "Yes We Can" music video produced by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas to "Obama girl" romping across YouTube. Obama has raised more than $200 million online from more than 1 million donors, according to his Web consultant, Blue State Digital.
Last week, the research company Nielsen Online reported that Obama's campaign Web site outpaced that of Sen. John McCain in May, the final month of the Democratic primary season. BarackObama.com had 2.3 million unique visitors that month, compared with 563,000 for McCain.
The designs of the Web sites themselves are a study in contrast.
BarackObama.com is sleek and minimalist - the IKEA of Web pages. "Log into MyBO," the site urges in hip-hop vernacular, referring to mybarackobama. That's the "social network" arm of the Web operation that has attracted 850,000 members.
JohnMcCain.com is louder and blockier. Some features on it virtually cry out "old school," like an online game called "Pork Invaders" with little pigs marching across the screen like the 1980s version of "Space Invaders."
Obama's campaign also placed many more image-based online ads in May, roughly 106 million for Obama compared with nearly 9 million for McCain, although Obama's battle for the nomination continued through that month and McCain's intra-party race had ended.
McCain's strength online has been in "search advertising," where he outdoes Obama 3 to 1, with 5.4 million sponsored links compared with 1.8 million for Obama, Nielsen said. The McCain campaign bought thousands of keywords on Google and Yahoo to drive users to McCain's Web site.
Beyond their own Web sites, which would presumably draw for the most part people already attracted to the candidate, Obama is discussed on blogs twice as often as McCain.
Obama was mentioned in about 0.75 percent of blog posts last month , compared with 0.39 percent for McCain. Even though each candidate has less than 1 percent of blog traffic, their numbers were still significant since it's rare for any celebrity (Miley Cyrus, Tiger Woods, Amy Winehouse, George Bush, anyone) to capture even more than a few-hundredths of a percent of the blogosphere with its infinite range of topics.
The Obama-McCain split was even greater in favor of the presumptive Democratic nominee on message boards and forums, which coalesce around even more tightly knit communities online, Nielsen pointed out.
There's no built-in advantage for either candidate in online use, according to Nielsen. Of U.S. adult online users, 36 percent were registered Republicans and 35 percent were registered Democratic. An additional 17 percent were registered as independents, and 12 percent were described as other or did not disclose their party.
"Barack Obama got a head start during primary season in using the Web effectively to garner support, both in terms of votes and donations," said Jon Gibs, vice president for media analytics at Nielsen Online. "Now that the contest has shifted away from the primary season, McCain may gain more traction online. But it remains to be seen if his core demographic will embrace the medium the way Obama's has."