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If you were anywhere in Iowa yesterday, you might as well assume that anyone around you could report on what you were saying, even in what you thought was a private moment at a restaurant. That’s the hard lesson learned by veteran GOP political strategist Ed Rollins, who was repeatedly flummoxed in a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, who hectored him about a conversation he had that was transcribed and sent to a TownHall.com blog by the one other person in the restaurant.

Some choice nuggets in the overheard — and then blogged — conversation:

Rollins believes Rudy Giuliani is “done,” “has no money,” and was “hurt terribly by those police cruises with his girlfriends.”

Rollins said Fred Thompson was “a disgrace as a candidate. Fred has been a friend a long time, but has never converted a single vote. No one is taking him seriously.”

Welcome to the new media world order, Ed. Everyone can and will blog something newsworthy you might say even in the seeming privacy of a restaurant conversation with your wife. It’s not necessarily a good thing, it’s just a new reality when everyone can snap a photo or take video of you with their cell phones or quickly write up a blog post on a laptop or tap out a text message broadcast over Twitter. If enough people pick that up, the news will spread quickly enough and you’ll be red-faced on Fox News.

That’s just one of the many insights I had in watching the Iowa caucus results come in while bouncing around online and surfing the TV remote simultaneously. Another one was that perhaps Barack Obama’s online prowess in collecting MySpace and Facebook friends had actually paid off in his win in Iowa. That relates directly to a question I had asked you here on MediaShift, with most people being pretty hesitant to predict a correlation between online popularity and real world popularity. Most impressive was how Obama pulled in such a huge percentage of younger voters in Iowa.

Twittering at the Caucuses

The other big takeaway was that, as with the Southern California wildfires, the micro-blogging platform Twitter can produce important, quick news updates.

But the credit to that finding goes to GOP e-consultant Patrick Ruffini, who asked voters to send in Twitter updates live from their caucuses to try to beat the networks at their “entrance poll” games. Ruffini even started a Facebook group to get the word out about his Twittering efforts.

It’s fascinating stuff to follow his Twitter feed for the night, as he tallies the precinct totals he was getting for the Democractic caucuses, mainly in more liberal college towns. Ruffini noted that the Obama momentum was pretty strong much earlier than any TV reports I saw. Here’s how he explains his Twitter success on his blog at the end of the night:

Very shortly after 7 p.m. central time, all the [Twitter] reports were pointing in a single direction: a big night for Barack Obama. This led me to post at 7:20 p.m. that the trendlines were for Obama, long before the media caught on. Though I figured most of these tweets came from urban and university precincts, the 2- and 3-to-1 advantages I was seeing consistently were clearly enough to overcome even a mighty Clinton and Edwards surge in more rural parts of the state.

From a partisan perspective, I do wish we’d had more than three or four Republicans in this bunch, though I did know that the Democrats — with their multiple rounds of voting — would provide for more interesting coverage. Even more people participated via email and text messages — showing the ease with which one could implement an open, lightweight, distributed election day reporting system as a refresh to the closed, bulky, proprietary systems operated by the parties.

So I’m calling this experiment an unqualified success. This exercise in citizen journalism foretold the result far more quickly than dispatching two dozen stringers to caucus locations throughout Iowa.

I don’t know if I would give Ruffini total credit in scooping the networks, as he never made any official projection of Obama winning, but I do give him credit for pulling off a very quick ad hoc group of stringers via Twitter and email that gave informal results on the fly. Plus, the asides and commentary gave nice color, and Twitter’s 140-character limit keeps the gab at a minimum vs. TV’s talking heads that go on and on.

Other Caucus Resources

While there were a lot of live video and audio feeds from Iowa online, nothing I saw trumped the simple cameras that showed live caucuses on C-SPAN or the cable news networks. Still, it was nice to get alternative perpsectives online, and the breadth of information coming out of this tiny Midwestern state was impressive. Here’s a list of various blog posts, videos and maps that can help you relive the night:

Iowa Caucus Podcasts, Blogs & New Media at Podcasting News

Obama and Huckabee Surge To Victory Buoyed by Bloggers, Youth and Online Organization on Wired Threat Level blog

Huckabama Wins, A Few Observations on Mashable

Who Needs CNN? at TechPresident

Obama Beats Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire Online at HitWise blog on Jan. 2

Patrick Ruffini’s Twitter feed

Podcastmama’s Twitter feed

Tweet Scan search for iowa caucus= mentions on Twitter

Google Map Caucus results

Des Moines Register’s YouTube VoterVideo project

Brave New Films’ live video and chat feed

Caucus Cooler blog on caucus rumors

The Ointment video spoofs

What did you think of online coverage of the Iowa caucuses? What resources did you count on that we’ve missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll update this post with anything we missed.

Additional research for this story by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo.