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Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Top 10 Political Technology Stories of 2008

Every New Year marks one of the most fascinating times in the news: the yearly wrap-up, in which the top 10 stories/events in a particular category of the past year are featured. Today, we’re going to hop on that bandwagon as we present the Top 10 Political Technology Stories of 2008.

10. Senate Candidate Raises Money via Twitter

chuckdevore

Chuck Devore, Candidate for U.S. Senate

Chuck Devore, who is running to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010, took an innovative approach to online fundraising. He created a Twitter-based fundraising drive called TweetForChuck. TechPresident took note of this unique effort, commenting:

And while the donations are small in number (about 70 at press time) and amount (most are $20 or under), the project is cleverly attempting to build a tweeting web by, for example, tying contributors to those who led them to the Tweet for Chuck project. This is well worth keeping an eye on.

9. Twittering Election Results

Patrick Ruffini, Republican Online Strategist

Patrick Ruffini, Republican Online Strategist

When Patrick Ruffini initially proposed his “Twittering Iowa” idea, he concedes that he “wasn’t sure what to expect” because “Iowa is a small state, and not particularly known for tech-savviness.” However, Twittering Iowa was a great success – so much so that Election Journal began using Twitter to watch out for voter fraud on election day. After Twittering Iowa, Ruffini commented:

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. Post-macaca, predictions abounded of citizens armed with camera phones bringing us live coverage of everything. It hasn’t happened… yet… but we saw a glimpse of the future tonight in Iowa.

8. McCain Campaign Asks Supporters to Produce Campaign Ad

After Joe the Plumber gained instant celebrity status following the third Presidential debate, the McCain campaign launched an initiative asking people to produce a YouTube video sharing their story as to how they are like Joe the Plumber. The winning video would be run as a television ad by the campaign. The resulting video was, by many accounts, one of the best TV ads run by the McCain campaign during the entire cycle.

7. RNC Launches New Online Platform Discussion Site

Roughly two months before the Republican National Convention, the Republican National Convention launched GOPPlatform2008.com, a site that allowed anyone to use the Internet to share their thoughts on the platform for the Republican Party. The website was a significant step toward peer production for the Republican Party. ABC News took a look at the site and wrote:

An individual can log on to the site and upload their written comments or video comments. A team led by Platform Committee Executive Director Steven Duffield will sift through the online submissions up until the convention and party officials said they are open to using some of the videos or statements in the platform drafting meetings in Minneapolis.

6. Members of Congress Provide Government Transparency via Twitter

As of today, at least 39 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have joined Twitter. At first, these technology-embracing members of Congress came under heat, as NPR notes:

In essence, members of Congress are forbidden to post on any Website that might include politicking or advertising, at least in their capacities as representatives. Communications on external sites must be clearly identified as coming from a House of Representatives official for official business.

The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing government transparency, soon launched the Let Our Congress Tweet website in response. In the end, the project was a success, and Congress decided “to modernize its rules so they can join us on Twitter and other online communities.”

5. Barack Obama Announces Biden Pick for VP via Text Message

Obama's Vice Presidential Selection, Joe Biden

Obama's Vice Presidential Selection, Delaware Senator Joe Biden

Breaking with campaign tradition, Team Obama decided to take its typical tech-savvy approach and announce Obama’s Vice Presidential pick via text message. Looking at this distinctive approach, Jose Antonio Vargas wrote:

Last night, in a cell phone text message that was quickly followed by an e-mail linking back to a new page on his Web site — my.barackobama.com/vp — aides to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) campaign wrote: “Barack will announce his VP candidate choice through txt message between now & the Conv. Tell everyone to text VP to 62262 to be the first to know! Please forward.”

Note three things: the casual reference to the candidate (”Barack”); the call to “forward” the text (to friends, relatives, etc.); the perceived personal appeal of being “the first to know”; and the timing — the text was sent two weeks before the Democratic National Convention kicks off. That gives plenty of time for the text to be passed around.

4. “The Network” Beats “The List”

During the primary season, Micah L. Sifry illustrated the power of “The Network” (which the Obama campaign had) over “The List” (which the Clinton campaign used):

To be purely schematic about it, let’s posit that Clinton’s giant list falls into this form of one-to-many communication, (Forgive me if this looks like it was sketched on a back of a napkin–but it’s essentially an abstracted form of a graphic my partner Andrew Rasiej has been drawing for years in his efforts to get politicians to wake up to the power of the net.)

list

Here we have one speaker and many recipients. The conversation is all one-way. The citizens are isolated from each other, and the politician isn’t do much to either introduce them to each other, or to respond to their feedback.

That was the paradigm of broadcast TV and direct mail fundraising. Now we’re in a networked age, where everyone can connect to everyone else and expects some degree of interactivity and reciprocity. Further, the power is shifting away from the speaker at the top towards the network of connections forming among all the participants.

network

In practice, this converts in all kinds of ways to political power. A campaign can send an appeal to its million-member list, or it can foster a network of 20,000 small-donor activists, each with their own personal lists. If you assume that an email to a million people will have about a 20% open rate and a 20% click thru, that’s 40,000 responses. Not bad. But people are far more likely to respond to a personal appeal from a friend or an acquaintance than an impersonal mass email.

In the end, the power of “The Network” was clearly demonstrated in the election, as Obama’s network bested both of his opponents (Clinton and McCain), who focused on their traditional lists.

3. The Obama Campaign Used Grassroots Data and Computer Modeling to Allocate Resources in Real Time

David Plouffe, Obama for America's Campaign Manager

David Plouffe, Obama for America's Campaign Manager

On a panel hosted by Harvard’s Kennedy School, David Plouffe, the now renowned genius who ran the Obama campaign, discussed on how “the Obama campaign used volunteer-produced data to create computer-generated models of states — down to segments of a media market — to determine how the campaign was doing at any given moment.” Plouffe’s notes that by relying on data from volunteers:

You’ve got real-time data, and that makes you make scheduling decisions and resource-allocation decisions and where to send surrogates and you’re adjusting those by the end multiple times a day. Not just down to the media market, but down to chunks of voters in those media markets. We’re not doing as well as we need to here, so we’ve got to throw a lot of our resources in there. These guys are making a surge in a media market, we’ve got to go try and correct that.

2. This is the Era of Personal Politics

Nancy Scola yesterday wrote about some fine examples of personal politics in 2008. She highlights the need for the GOP to “lay a tech foundation for rebuilding the party,” the importance of crowd-powered websites like Digg in politics, a MoveOn piece about why President Obama will need to “tap into the wisdom and passions of the electorate if he’s truly going to make transformational change,” and a phenomenal article in The Washington Post, in which Jose Antonio Vargas concludes that:

Now, because of technology in general and the Internet in particular, politics has become something tangible. Politics is right here. You touch it; it’s in your laptop and on your cellphone. You control it, by forwarding an e-mail about a candidate, donating money or creating a group. Politics is personal. Politics is viral. Politics is individual.

time-poty

The 2006 Time Person of the Year was You!

In 2006, Time magazine named you the person of the year. In 2008, this was finally reflected in politics.

1. Barack Obama Raises $500 Million Online

President-elect Obama's campaign raised $500 million online

President-elect Obama's campaign raised $500 million online

For a long time, people were noting that Obama was rewriting the rules for fundraising by raising an incredible amount of money online. In the end, the Obama campaign raised a whopping $750 million in total – but even more staggering is the fact that the campaign raised two-thirds of that, $500 million, online. His fundraising was so devastating that the big question is now: will Obama’s fundraising mark the end of public financing?

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