To those who say the Internet arcs toward the trivial, try this on for size: Currently, the most searched-for phrase on the blog aggregate site Technorati.com is Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Paris Hilton is No. 5.
Commentators often refer to the Internet as the great equalizer, but when it comes to the 2008 election, it appears that the murky economy of Web traction may even give an edge to the long shots. And Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas and an avowed Libertarian known around D.C. as "Dr. No" for his persistent opposition to just about everything, is a long shot if there ever was one. He has yet to break 2 percent in a poll of GOP candidates and raised just under $640,000 in the first fundraising quarter of the year, pocket change compared with the three GOP candidates who topped $10 million.
But his supporters have flocked to the Internet with such enthusiasm that Paul is now showing up among the much richer candidates in various measures of Internet traffic. Using sites like Digg.com, which allow users to vote on their favorite items to vault them to more prominence on the site, they keep a steady diet of Ron Paul material coming through the pipelines.
Technorati spokesman Aaron Krane confirmed that, to the best of the company's knowledge, the online support for Paul is genuine. (Tech-savvy devotees occasionally attempt to enlist programs called "bots" to artificially boost their candidate on search engines, but Krane said Technorati is usually able to detect and delete the cheaters.)
So how are a comparatively small number of supporters able to keep up--and in some cases outpace--with the publicity machines of opponents with much more money and support?
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Krane suggests, arguing that, while coverage in big-media circuits requires a lot of spending on campaign appearances and TV spots, supporters of the fringe candidates have better reason to resort to this kind of guerrilla warfare in cyberspace.