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Who loves the Internet more: Obama or the Pope?

Category : Funny, Internet, Journalism · by Jan 25th, 2009

It seems that the Internet is catching on with the most powerful men in the world. Both the Pope and the new US president Barack Obama have this week announced new web strategies and told anyone that would listen how much they love this Internet.

The conversion is hardly surprising – both men derive most of their enormous power from being able to communicate directly to millions. And if there’s one thing the Internet does well, it is mass communication. Here the question though: who loves the Internet more – Obama or the Pope?

Let’s find out in a head-to-head competition…

Obama The Pope


The Obama team have embraced YouTube so heartily, you wonder whether it feels a bit winded. First there was the YouTube channel, then the Inauguration YouTube channel, and now the White House YouTube channel. Where’s it going to stop? A Potus 24-hour headcam?

But is the love fading already? There were 67 videos posted to the channel; but only 14 to the Inauguration site and so far just four to the White House. With just over 70,000 channels views and just under 7,000 subscribers, this is not looking so good.

Is the message – it’s fine when you need the message out there for votes, but not so fine when you’re in the job? And aren’t the videos, well, a bit boring?

The new kid on the block, Ratzinger aka Benedict XVI has ventured the first time into YouTube territory this week. The result? Over 200,000 channel views and just over 6,000 subscribers and climbing…

If you want a power base of followers, you’ll be hard pushed to beat the Catholics. What’s more, His Holiness’ people seem to understand the game better than the US presidential team, posted 16 videos already and, according to their new media man Father Federico Lombardi, they are planning to post up to three more every day!

The videos themselves are coming it at under two minutes – much snappier than the ponderous-by-comparison Obama versions. And the Pope is offering his site in four languages – Italian, English, Spanish and German. A late start but an impressive one.

Obama yesObama yesObama yesObama noObama no Pope yesPope yesPope yesPope yesPope yes

Phone, text and email

Obama has famously fought and won with the Secret Service to be allowed to keep his Blackberry and so be in instant email and text contact with his devoted followers, sorry, his senior advisers.

The president is also supposedly on Twitter – although the messages are no more than staff-written links to other events and rarely updated.

In the run-up to the election, the Obama/Biden team also went mobile-crazy, setting up a WAP site (a wap site?), sending frequent update texts, logging supporter’s mobile phone numbers and even producing a special Obama application for the iPhone.

A frequent emailer, it is possible that a laptop will appear for the first time on the desk in Oval Office for Obama’s use. Previously, Presidents had been prevented from using email so that it didn’t become a part of official archival records and so eventually be made public (so far only a handful of emails from have ever been sent; fewer received). That may be about to change.

The Pope has never been so much as pictured with a mobile phone, and it’s not clear that he has ever sent an email.

However, in his favour he does have his own Popemobile, which is famous throughout the world for being a bullet-proof popefish bowl on the back of a small Mercedes.

Not that this lack of person use has stopped the Pope from reaching his flock. The Vatican promotes His Holiness’ email address – – on its website, and you can apparently get a daily text message from the Pope from – although the $9.95 a month price tag make me a little suspicious.

On a recent visit to his home in Austria, the Archdiocese of Vienna did the job for him – offering a free daily text service with quotes from him delivered to the faithful. The same was true for World Youth Day 2008.

At 81 years old, perhaps it’s a little too much to ask of the Pope to be typing messages into a G1, but even so he falls down here.

Obama yesObama yesObama yesObama yesObama no Pope yesPope yesPope noPope noPope no

The World Wide Web

It was thanks to the radical use of the Internet as a social networking tool that Obama’s team managed to raise so much money and get so many people on the ground moving.

It was impressive, although there are already questions whether the same techniques are allowed or even legal when in power. The White House website has had a much-needed overhaul from something that crossed bland announcements with an historical archive into something more dynamic.

But, interestingly, the same ideas as on the campaign trail have been pulled into the White House, which again makes you wonder whether Obama really loves the Internet – or just its ability to get voters excited when your rival is out-of-touch enough to admit that he has never emailed or been online.

But how far does Obama really embrace the Internet? His team certainly appear to have misunderstood the value of blogs as amore personal form of communication – using the official blog to do little more than list press announcements. The earlier exciting use of photos also seems to have vanished. There is an official White House photographer – why not a Flickr feed of his pictures?

Currently, there is no Wi-Fi at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Vatican was one of the earliest huge-organization adopters of the Internet, sticking up a website long before most people were online.

It wasn’t a very good website but it was better than nothing. The website can been through a few iterations since then, and its front page was all the rage just a few years’ ago but there is not much content once you’ve got past the homepage and it is still sporting a "Christmas 2008" masthead nearly a month after it all ended.

That’s not to say that the Vatican isn’t savvy when it comes to the Internet – representatives from the Vatican turn up at alot of Internet industry functions and also keeps an eye on the policy issues – see this interview with the Vatican’s top geek, Sister Judith Zoebelein.

There are a huge number of Catholic networking site – at least one of which the Pope has supported.

So, overall, quite bad, except for the fact that the Vatican has its own piece of the Internet. At 110 acres and with less than 1,000 inhabitants, the Vatican is the smallest state in the world – and yet it owns and runs the Internet suffix ".va", with just 23 domains, all of them with the Pope’s oversight.

For what he lacks in depth, he makes up for in size.


Obama yesObama yesObama yesObama noObama no Pope yesPope yesPope yesPope noPope no

Institutional Change

Come into power promising change, and with new media credentials fluttering around him like magic doves, people are expecting the Internet to have a similar revolutionary impact on the White House as it has in many other parts of society.

The revolution was flagged up in an early blog post on the new White House website, promising that "Change has come to". But all it gave was three vague buzzwords – communication, transparency, participation – and a form to fill in.

One of those new media advisers then had a second stab at explaining what new, exciting development there were. And they were pages on: YouTube, Facebook and MySpace; a pdf database of boring policy meetings with a search on "internet" yields only seven results, one being a briefing paper from Microsoft and two other a meeting with the blind community, and another on "interfaith immigration".

Apparently learning little from the UK government’s e-petition approach (good idea, introduced without sufficient thought and safeguards); the entire participation element appears to be the Citizen’s Briefing Book – or, to give it it’s more accurate title, The Mentally Ill Citizen’s Ranting Book.

So, far from stunning. Perhaps the much-anticipated plan to hire the US government’s first-ever Chief Technology Office (CTO) will see the Internet used as more than shiny new baubles. The setting looks good – a series of stated goals and priorities – with two of the six directly involving the Internet.

But so far, the most interest in the job has come from endless speculation in the media and self-promoting Net heads swelling up with their own ideas about what the new CTO should do.

The one ground-breaking idea may end up stillborn after Julius Genachowski turned it down to become FCC chairman and have some real influence, and journalists in a frenzy have found themselves reporting that none of the big names in tech want the job either.

So far, not looking promising.

Originally not a great fan of the Internet, complaining that it can be a negative force that promotes hatred, intolerance and degradation, the Pontiff has warned to it in recent months, giving a speech just this week on New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.

Recognising his age and the digital revolution, he picked out the young as being the key to future communication for the Catholic Church. "It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent’," he said.

The head of the Pontifical Councils for communicating with the faithful, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, told reporters that statement was a "real watershed" and went on to talk about how the internet had profoundly changed the world of communications.

And while Obama’s team want every American with broadband access, it seems that the pope wants everyone in the world online, saying that it would be a “tragedy” if the "extraordinary potential" of the internet "were not made accessible to those who are already economically and socially marginalized".

The Internet should be open to all, he went on and modern communication tools are "truly a gift to humanity". If that’s not a ringing endorsement, nothing is.

Despite this enlightened viewpoint however, you will be hard pushed to see where the Pope’s love of all things new media will extend to the Vatican itself.

For an organization that still works largely in secret and maintains centuries-old traditions that don’t even pretend to make sense (burning logs with coloured smoke; making guards dress up like weird toys; and so on), it is not at all clear that Benedict XVI is letting the Net into his life.

Certainly better rhetoric than Obama’s team, but to fail to embrace what the Net can do for you is to love it only at a distance.

Obama yesObama yesObama yesObama noObama no Pope yesPope yesPope noPope noPope no


Obama winsThe WINNER! with 13 out of a possible 20 points is Barak Obama.

A strong love for the Internet during the heady days of campaigning may be waning now that he’s in power, but his personal use and experience of the Internet, email and mobile phones is just enough to push him in front of the Pontiff.

A close call that should have seen Obama zooming ahead. Must try harder.

Pope losesThe LOSER! but with a respectable 12 out of 20 points is Pope Benedict XVI.

It was neck-and-neck until the very end, with the Pope’s recent conversion to the power of New Media nearly enough to claim the prize.

But he was let down by a lack of personal awareness and knowledge – it’s one thing to be advised; quite another to understand it intrinsically. Plus of course, Obama already has good form, where the Vatican is still largely reliant on others picking up the gauntlet.

On the plus side, the Pope has a much longer timeframe in which to get across his vision. Obama has four years to make a splash; Ratzinger has got until the end of his natural life.


(5) comments

13 years ago ·

You are weird.

13 years ago ·

@ Rachel: Are you talking about Barack or the Pope? ;-)

Gun Trust Austin
9 years ago ·

It is an odd comparison/subjects of comparison. But I have to admit I enjoyed reading it.

karen patrick
8 years ago ·

This is hilarious! I knew that Obama would win against the Pope just because he’s younger.

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