Lessig warns that if Obama wins but doesn’t govern according to principles of openness and change, as promised, supporters may not be so interested in serving as MyBO foot soldiers in 2012. “The thing they [the Obama camp] don’t quite recognize is how much of their enormous support comes from the perception that this is someone different,” Lessig says. “If they behave like everyone else, how much will that stanch the passion of his support?”
Three items to illustrate the above.
First, do check out the remarkable overview in the International Herald Tribune:
“The juxtaposition of a networked, open-source campaign and a historically imperial office will have profound implications and raise significant questions. Special-interest groups and lobbyists will now contend with an environment of transparency and a president that owes them nothing. The news media will now be contending with an administration that can take its case directly to its base without even booking time on the networks.
More profoundly, while many people think that Obama is a gift to the Democratic Party, he could actually hasten its demise. Political parties supply brand, ground troops, money and relationships, all things that Obama already owns.
And his relationships are not the just traditional ties of Democrats – teachers’ unions, party faithful and Hollywood moneybags – but a network of supporters who used a distributed model of phone banking to organize and get out the vote, helped raise a record-breaking $600 million, and created all manner of media that was viewed millions of times. It was an online movement that begat offline behavior, including producing youth voter turnout that may have supplied the margin of victory.”
Next, check out a older case study in these email-forwarded excerpts, from the following article:
How Obama Really Did It. The social-networking strategy that took an obscure senator to the doors of the White House. By David Talbot. Technology Review, September/October 2008.
The most interesting lesson is how action-oriented the use of the social networks was.
“Trippi learned that 104,000 Texans had joined Obama’s social-networking site, www.my.barackobama.com, known as MyBO. MyBO and the main Obama site had already logged their share of achievements, particularly in helping rake in cash. The month before, the freshman senator from Illinois had set a record in American politics by garnering $55 million in donations in a single month. In Texas, MyBO also gave the Obama team the instant capacity to wage fully networked campaign warfare. After seeing the volunteer numbers, Trippi says, “I remember saying, ‘Game, match–it’s over.'”
The Obama campaign could get marching orders to the Texans registered with MyBO with minimal effort. The MyBO databases could slice and dice lists of volunteers by geographic microregion and pair people with appropriate tasks, including prepping nearby voters on caucus procedure. “You could go online and download the names, addresses, and phone numbers of 100 people in your neighborhood to get out and vote–or the 40 people on your block who were undecided,” Trippi says. “‘Here is the leaflet: print it out and get it to them.’ It was you, at your computer, in your house, printing and downloading. They did it all very well.” Clinton won the Texas primary vote 51 to 47 percent. But Obama’s people, following their MyBO playbook, so overwhelmed the chaotic, crowded caucuses that he scored an overall victory in the Texas delegate count, 99 to 94. His showing nearly canceled out Clinton’s win that day in Ohio. Clinton lost her last major opportunity to stop the Obama juggernaut. “In 1992, Carville said, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,'” Trippi says, recalling the exhortation of Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville. “This year, it was the network, stupid!”
“The MyBO tools are, in essence, rebuilt and consolidated versions of those created for the Dean campaign. Dean’s website allowed supporters to donate money, organize meetings, and distribute media, says Zephyr Teachout, who was Dean’s Internet director and is now a visiting law professor at Duke University. “We developed all the tools the Obama campaign is using: SMS [text messaging], phone tools, Web capacity,” Teachout recalls. “They [Blue State Digital] did a lot of nice work in taking this crude set of unrelated applications and making a complete suite.”
Blue State Digital had nine days to add its tools to Obama’s site before the senator announced his candidacy on February 10, 2007, in Springfield, IL. Among other preparations, the team braced for heavy traffic. “We made some projections of traffic levels, contribution amounts, and e-mail levels based on estimates from folks who worked with [John] Kerry and Dean in 2004,” recalls Franklin-Hodge. As Obama’s Springfield speech progressed, “we were watching the traffic go up and up, surpassing all our previous records.” (He would not provide specific numbers.) It was clear that early assumptions were low. “We blew through all of those [estimates] in February,” he says. “So we had to do a lot of work to make sure we kept up with the demand his online success had placed on the system.” By July 2008, the campaign had raised more than $200 million from more than a million online donors (Obama had raised $340 million from all sources by the end of June), and MyBO had logged more than a million user accounts and facilitated 75,000 local events, according to Blue State Digital.
MyBO and the main campaign site made it easy to give money–the fuel for any campaign, because it pays for advertising and staff. Visitors could use credit cards to make one-time donations or to sign up for recurring monthly contributions. MyBO also made giving money a social event: supporters could set personal targets, run their own fund-raising efforts, and watch personal fund-raising thermometers rise. To bring people to the site in the first place, the campaign sought to make Obama a ubiquitous presence on as many new-media platforms as possible.
The viral Internet offered myriad ways to propagate unfiltered Obama messages. The campaign posted the candidate’s speeches and linked to multimedia material generated by supporters. A music video set to an Obama speech–“Yes We Can,” by the hip-hop artist Will.i.am–has been posted repeatedly on YouTube, but the top two postings alone have been viewed 10 million times. A single YouTube posting of Obama’s March 18 speech on race has been viewed more than four million times. Similarly, the campaign regularly sent out text messages (at Obama rallies, speakers frequently asked attendees to text their contact information to his campaign) and made sure that Obama was prominent on other social-networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace (see “New-Media King” chart above). The campaign even used the microblogging service Twitter, garnering about 50,000 Obama “followers” who track his short posts. “The campaign, consciously or unconsciously, became much more of a media operation than simply a presidential campaign, because they recognized that by putting their message out onto these various platforms, their supporters would spread it for them,” says Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a website covering the intersection of politics and technology (and another Dean alumnus). “We are going from the era of the sound bite to the sound blast.”
Money flowed in, augmenting the haul from big-ticket fund-raisers. By the time of the Iowa caucuses on January 3, 2008, the Obama campaign had more than $35 million on hand and was able to use MyBO to organize and instruct caucus-goers. “They have done a great job in being precise in the use of the tools,” Teachout says. “In Iowa it was house parties, looking for a highly committed local network. In South Carolina, it was a massive get-out-the-vote effort.” MyBO was critical both in the early caucus states, where campaign staff was in place, and in later-voting states like Texas, Colorado, and Wisconsin, where “we provided the tools, remote training, and opportunity for supporters to build the campaign on their own,” the Obama campaign told Technology Review in a written statement. “When the campaign eventually did deploy staff to these states, they supplemented an already-built infrastructure and volunteer network.”
Using the Web, the Obama camp turbocharged age-old campaign tools. Take phone banks: through MyBO, the campaign chopped up the task of making calls into thousands of chunks small enough for a supporter to handle in an hour or two. “Millions of phone calls were made to early primary states by people who used the website to reach out and connect with them,” Franklin-Hodge says. “On every metric, this campaign has operated on a scale that has exceeded what has been done before. We facilitate actions of every sort: sending e-mails out to millions and millions of people, organizing tens of thousands of events.” The key, he says, is tightly integrating online activity with tasks people can perform in the real world. “Yes, there are blogs and Listservs,” Franklin-Hodge says. “But the point of the campaign is to get someone to donate money, make calls, write letters, organize a house party. The core of the software is having those links to taking action–to doing something.”
Our third item is a commentary from the Canadian John Sobol, focusing on the use of the website itself, and how he reacted to criticism that was voiced on it:
“In fact, one could even argue that Barack Obama was elected because he had a great website. Does that sound silly? It isn’t. www.mybarackobama.com, planned by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, was in many ways the heart of the Obama campaign. This state-of-the-art online community was the primary vehicle and catalyst for tens of millions of individual donations to the Obama campaign. It generated an estimated 1 billion emails to members, emails that will be studied in communications courses for years to come as models of simple, direct and informative email marketing.
The website also offered easy-to-find and easy-to-use toolkits to promote local activism, and a platform for members to create and join action groups. The Florida Veterans for Obama, for example, garnered 5157 members, hosted 521 events, made 19,598 calls and raised $27,982.59 during the campaign. There were over 35,000 of these self-organizing groups that cost the campaign nothing in terms of time or money, but that contributed energetically to its success. Scalability and hyper-efficiency are two of the key qualities of networked communications and the Obama campaign thoroughly understood their power.
Interestingly, the single largest group that formed on Obama’s community website during the campaign was created to attack him on a point of policy, including posts encouraging members to vote McCain unless Obama stopped supporting Bush’s controversial surveillance bill (FISA). So what did Obama do when he was directly challenged in the middle of his campaign on his own website? Seemingly very little. He did not “feed the trolls,” as the old Internet adage goes. Nor did he respond with a knee-jerk command-and-control reaction such as deleting the group or its members, which would have been disastrous. Instead he watched and waited, comfortable in the knowledge that some disagreement is inevitable on any community website, and that should the issue blow up, having its epicenter on his own turf would actually make it easier to deal with than otherwise. Ultimately, although unsatisfying to those who wanted him to change his position, Obama’s response was web-savvy, and clearly succeeded in minimizing the impact of the dissent.”