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National Journal: Blackberry Domination Ending On The Hill

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For years now, Blackberries have been nearly ubiquitous on Capitol Hill. But a new survey suggests that Blackberry domination may be coming to an end. National Journal reports 77 percent of Hill staffers say they have Blackberries -- down from 93 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Hill staffers own iPhones -- up from 13 percent in 2009. Maggie Fox, managing editor for technology and health care for National Journal, discusses this shift.

What is contributing to this shift in mobile devices on the Hill?

"It's primarily because staffers are going out and buying this phones on their own and so the various government agencies that manage these networks had to accomodate that. Staffers want to use their smart phones. A blackberry is a secure device, but it's very nice to be able to browse the internet and play games and do other things that blackberries don't do."

Is security one of the issues that has led to the longevity of the blackberry?

"That is the main issue there. Blackberry has its own servers. If you have a Blackberry account, you control your own servers and email. That has made blackberry the king of Washington for so many years. The President still carries a Blackberry. But Apple and the makers of other smart phones have quickly caught up and figured out how to make those email connections secure. As they're doing that, various government agencies are allowing their workers to move over to smart phones if they would like them and even issuing them, especially the iPhone. On the hill, it's a little slower, as the security is still an issue, but they're still moving over to these smart phones."

What about federal agencies? Are you seeing a similar change in the executive branch?

"The executive branch is a little slower to make this change, but for instance, NOAA -- the weather agency -- has allowed its staffers recently to use the smartphones. I don't know what this is going to do to the culture of Washington. Everybody knows the jokes about 'crackberries' being so addictive and the whole issue of 'blackberry thumb' -- the hearings are going to look a little different when everyone isn't looking down and using their thumbs anymore, but using their little fingers to poke the keyboards on these smart phones."

Your survey also looked at social media activity. We saw in the case of former Congressman Anthony Weiner how use of Twitter -- for instance -- can turn into high-profile news stories. Is that discouraging staffers from engaging with social media?

"It's probably not. A lot of these staffers are very young, and they're very, very comfortable with social media. Now, our surveys showed that Twitter is not nearly as popular as some of the other social networks. Facebook is number one in most places except among the executives, who still like LinkedIn, which is a bit stodgier. Twitter -- you can't post your profile so easily on Twitter. It's not so static, it's more fast-moving, but people are very comfortable with that."

"Anthony Weiner could have made his faux pas on any of the social media outlets, he just happened to have done it on Twitter."

In 2008 the Obama Campaign was known to have an effective social media campaign. What are we seeing from Republican candidates this time around?

"They're getting a little more savvy, but they're still going pretty slow. Newt Gingrich was the first to take up Facebook's new timeline format. Facebook was extremely pleased about that and promoted that. Facebook tries to go in and train the members of Congress and candidates a little bit about how to use these social media sites more effectively -- and of course they want them to use Facebook. They still haven't caught up to the savvier users though, like the nonprofits, which make heavy use of them."

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