CIO Insight on Obama technology

Ed Cone of CIO Insight has published a series, “How the Obama Campaign is Using Technology to Change Elections on the Ground.” (Big ups to Baratunde for the tip). There’s a few tidbits here and there worth repeating:

“It’s the difference between open and closed source.” — Cyrus Krohn, director of the eCampain division of the Republican National Committee. Presumably, Obama = open source. I wonder if Krohn sees that as positive, negative or neutral? Certainly, my colleagues would agree that open source is a massive positive.

The Ground Game: Open Source vs Closed“. This article largely discusses minimally-supported local teams and (or “MyBO” for short). Cone observes, “The Republican’s answer to the vaunted website, known as McCainSpace, did not go live until August, and the McCain campaign is generally seen as lagging on the technology and organizational fronts.” The article confirms that the Republicans continue to equate the Internet with “microtargeting” marketing and that the Obama campaign has “leapfrogged” them.

Local Area Networks: How the Obama Campaign Works on the Ground” describes the pyramid-shaped MyBO system: users at the base of the pyramid have relatively fewer options than those at the top, which distinguishes MyBO from, for example, Facebook. Nonetheless, local volunteers can command teams of other volunteers to undertake impressive amounts of critical work like registering, identifying, and persuading voters. For anyone familiar with GOTV campaigns (if not, here’s my GOTV primer), what’s radically new is the possibility for such teams to self-organize, with minimal supervision from the campaign. This allows the campaign to aggressively leverage its paid organizing staff. The “force multiplier” power of good technology skews even further Obama’s decided ground-game advantage.

Connecting the Compaign: How the Democrats Built Their Network” describes the Voter Activation Network (VAN) system, headquartered not too far from where I am, that has been the data backbone of the DNC. (All of the Democratic candidates had access to VAN during the primaries, in the interest of growing the pie for everyone, thought in the heat of battle that did lead to frictions that had to be resolved by segregating the data out. So here the commons lost some ground to self-interest). Any organizer, however technology-crippled, will tell you that databases are the key to winning campaigns. (Back in the day, they would use huge stacks of index cards and the like). Some key insights about social networking:

“Facebook is great for broadcasting yourself to friends, but it’s not very action oriented. There are few features at MyBO for broadcasting yourself in the abstract–instead it’s geared to getting people to take action.” [Jascha Franklin-Hodge of Blue State Digital]. In essence, MyBO redirects the energy of social networkers to specific, campaign-oriented tasks, such as canvassing neighborhoods. Ruffini [Bush-Cheney 2004 webmaster] agrees that the system has “morphed into a very useful tool.” A killer application, he says, is the group-building feature, which allows people to create connections to potential voters in their area, rather than just talking about their personal views of the campaign as they might on Facebook.

Going Mobile: Texting and Twittering in the New Ground Game” identifies the VP selection text-message signup as a “watershed moment” for the campaign. It was a great way to collect thousands of phone numbers that are normally very difficult to acquire. Yet the technology also appears to be immature, with many who signed up failing to get the text message, as well as expensive.

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