I realize I've been pushing Virtual Vantage Points a lot in recent days, mostly because I love what it does - examines and compares the discussions taking place in a number of communities, and demonstrates that the most important discussions about particular issues may be occuring in places you haven't looked.
The presidential campaigns are paying a lot of attention to the top-tier political blogs on the left and the right - and while the Instapundits and Eschatons of the world certainly deserve attention, they represent only a small portion of those who read and write online and have sincere and smart policy-based discussions.
When you go beyond the top online fundraisers you learn a lot from those "other" bloggers:
Maggie Mahar penned one of the more comprehensive and well-written pieces that breaks down public opinion toward American healthcare policy options and details the economic realities of implementing some of those options. Great reading for anyone who's interested in health policy - no multiple PhD's required.
Jesse Jenkins lent some space on his blog to Alexander Tinker so he can spread the word about Focus the Nation, a group that is organizing a national "teach-in" about global warming solutions and actively calling on members of Congress to participate.
Dozens and dozens and dozens (and seriously more than I can link to) of moms are writing about an issue that just hasn't gotten the attention I expected from the campaigns - safe toys. This issue resonates so strongly with moms who write online I'm shocked the campaigns haven't built events around this single issue and made it a top-tier concern. If you look at it online, this issue is being discussed by moms more than health policy, more than immigration, more than just about anything. I have to believe that the candidate that owns this issue will earn a ton of votes.
This kind of research is critical not only for the campaigns, but for companies that want to market to any of these constituencies. The research is strictly qualitative at this point, but it's essential to understand the needs of the community. The campaigns and companies that choose to use the same tools and speak the same language of the communities we're reviewing, respecting its cultural (and technological) norms will strengthen its reputation and influence.