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Obama’s Web Future

The technologies that helped seal victory for the president-elect could also play a role in his administration.
November 5, 2008

Yesterday’s election will go down in history for the highly sophisticated way that both campaigns–but especially president-elect Obama’s–leveraged the Web to mobilize volunteers, get voters to the polls, and keep field organizers informed so that they could make tactical adjustments in the final days and hours.

This morning I stopped by the Boston offices of Blue State Digital–the company that built and maintained the social-networking tools used by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee–for a postmortem, and to ask what Obama might do next with his vaunted Web operation.

Jascha Franklin-Hodge, a cofounder and chief technology officer, was cagey about the future, saying that the Obama camp is charting its Web strategy as we speak. But he did say that the Obama e-mail and volunteer list appears to be the largest ever marshaled in American political history, and he implied that it will be leveraged to help Obama govern.

Meanwhile, what’s clear enough is that the Web had a massive effect on Election Day. In the past four days, Franklin-Hodge said, distributed Web volunteers made staggering numbers of calls: 500,000 on Saturday, 600,000 on Sunday, 1 million on Monday, and 1.1 million on Tuesday. Those were just the calls made by volunteers sitting in front of computers in their houses; it does not count the people who reported to phone-bank centers or who went door to door.

“The behind-the-scenes story that you don’t see is the level of integration between the technology that we built and the organization that was built,” Franklin-Hodge said. It amounted to “the largest nationwide field organization that has ever been created.”

But of course if there is a Republican technological deficit, you can bet it won’t last forever.

Franklin-Hodge was an alumnus of the 2004 Dean campaign, which pioneered the use of the Web to help people connect and organize meetings, to assign those people tasks like making phone calls from their homes or knocking on doors–and, of course, to get them to donate. The technologies involved have evolved toward leveraging databases of voters and volunteers and slicing and dicing information in different ways. The Obama campaign made an early and strong commitment to making these technologies a centerpiece, with obvious payoffs. Hillary Clinton and John McCain ramped up similar efforts at later stages–but never quite caught up. I called the McCain campaign but did not hear back; I’ll follow up with their perspective and plans if they do.

Video by David Talbot, edited by Conrad Warre

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