If, like me, you were caught off guard by the sudden currency of “cloud computing” in this newspaper and elsewhere (hasn’t every e-mail ever sent brushed against the clouds on its way to and from satellites?), the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Social Media and Politics” is the reference work for you. Look up “cloud computing,” and here is what you will find: “a term that describes the use of a network of remote servers that were traditionally run from localized computers. Rather than using one’s own computing hardware and software to run programs, store information, or develop content, these files and services are held elsewhere and accessed via the Internet from massive off-site data servers.”

The first volume provides a handy chronology of how social media evolved. It begins, surprisingly enough, with a 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush, the engineer who headed the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Writing for the Atlantic Monthly, Bush urged the creation of “a collective memory, which he called the memex, to facilitate and augment the powers of human thought by storing and organizing information; this essay is often cited as the first to suggest the properties later realized through hypertext.” (Unfortunately, there is no entry for “hypertext,” but basically it’s copy displayed on a computer screen that transcends ordinary text by linking to other texts.)

As promised in the encylopedia’s title, there is plenty of politics between these six covers. The entry on “Saturday Night Live,” for example, will revive interest in the 2008 skit in which Tina Fey aped Sarah Palin so hilariously that “over 14 million people watched the sketch on NBC.com and Hulu.com, making it the most-viewed clip ever on the network’s Web site, as well as the most-watched viral video overall to that point.”

In her introduction, principal editor Kerric Harvey of George Washington University argues that social-media content deserves more respect than it usually receives: It is taking “its place in the American archive of record,” a storehouse that began with the library of Thomas Jefferson, which became the core of the Library of Congress.

Not all lawmakers seem to have gotten the message, though. In an appendix, the editors profile congressional media use, which ranges from an apex occupied by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who, as of October, had generated more than 800,000 Facebook likes, boasted 1.8 million Twitter followers and posted 603 videos — to a nadir occupied by Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who had 33 Facebook likes and no Twitter account.


The cost of this set rules it out for most home libraries, but this is one of the reasons we have public libraries.

— Dennis Drabelle