One of the many things for which the mad Roman Emperor Caligula became infamous was his insistence that his horse, Incitatus, be made a member of the Senate. Later, Caligula decided that perhaps the office of Consul, the most senior magistracy in Rome, would also fit on the animal’s resume.

Caligula was not alone in his ancient adoration of animals. Alexander the Great founded a city in honour of his horse, Buchephalas.

It’s not fair to mention Turnbull’s name in the same breath as Caligula’s, as he’s not mad. Nor does Alexander fit: the Macedonian had no trouble extending his republic.

But Malcolm Turnbull’s dogs blog.

One of the canine correspondents, Rusty passed away early this year. But his site, Malcolmturnbull.com.au, nonetheless retains a presence for his other canine companions, described as “very important members of the Turnbull family.”

The cheesiness of dog blogs aside, the site is as slick and informative a website as an Australian politician has ever been able to crank out. He’s also got a personal Facebook, MySpace and YouTube presence (no updates since May). There’s even an unofficial Facebook homage.

His stuff is ahead of the pack, but frankly that’s no biggie given the generally poor and HQ-driven nature of most political websites in Australia. And who can forget Gary Nairn’s mechanism for deciding whether or not the Feds should blog: he issued a consultation paper. On bits of dead tree. Without an online presence more sophisticated than an email address for submissions.

If Turnbull looks at the plethora of online electioneering in the USA, and the grass roots fervour it has created among generation Y, the next election could have a very interesting new dimension that will endear him to the many digital-chardonnay swillers among the social media promotion crowd as someone who “gets it”.

Turnbull may also excite the digerati thanks to his investment in WebCentral, a web hosting startup offloaded to Melbourne IT in 2006 for $61 million. The Turnbull family investment vehicle trousered a good few million from the sale (Lucy Turnbull remains a non-executive director), and the new opposition leader has in the past cited the sale as an example of how his business activities go beyond the banal accumulation of cash and instead create wealth for the community.

That’s a message Australia’s capital-starved and relevance-deprived IT startup community would love to hear from the opposition leader’s pulpit, as they continue their never-ending and improbable quest to get local investors to nurture an antipodean Google equivalent. Whether they’ll hear the message is another matter, because digital entrepreneurs are a tiny constituency.

Turnbull’s choice of Communications Minister and position on the national broadband network are more likely to determine whether he is initially seen as Digital Caligula or Silicon Alexander.

Peter Fray

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