July 29, 2013

How the Obama 2012 campaign — replete with hugely tusked mascot — mined and processed data.

Dan Balz writes about "How the Obama campaign won the race for voter data," quoting the campaign manager Jim Messina about the obsession with tracking and measuring data.
It took the technology team nearly a year, but it produced software that allowed all of the campaign’s lists to talk to one another. The team named it Narwhal, after a whale of amazing strength that lives in the Arctic but is rarely seen....
So, "amazing strength" and Arctic habitat are the distinguishing features of the narwal? Here's a picture to help you think about what these folks really said when choosing this name:



Back to Balz:
The next goal was to create a program that would allow everyone... to communicate simply and seamlessly... That brought about the creation of Dashboard... 

The Obama leaders not only wanted all the lists to be able to talk to one another, they also wanted people to be able to organize their friends and family members.... “... what if we could build a piece of software that tracked all this and allowed you to match your friends on Facebook with our lists"....

It took months and months to solve, but it was a huge breakthrough. If a person signed on to Dashboard through his or her Facebook account, the campaign could, with permission, gain access to that person’s Facebook friends.... The [Obama] team could supply people with information about their friends based on data it had independently gathered.... It knew who was solid for Obama and who needed more persuasion — and a gentle or not-so-gentle...
 Tusked!
... nudge to vote. Instead of asking someone to send a message to all of his or her Facebook friends, the campaign could present a handpicked list of the three or four or five people it believed would most benefit from personal encouragement....

On Obama’s target lists, the voter file contained no good contact information for half of those young voters — they didn’t have land lines, and no other information was available.
Here's an idea: Get the officials at huge universities in swing states to let you hold big rallies on campus, cancelling classes, and let the campaign require students seeking access to send the campaign their email addresses.

16 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

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Henry said...

If a person signed on to Dashboard through his or her Facebook account, the campaign could, with permission, gain access to that person’s Facebook friends

If a person didn't give permissions, the campaign would just check with the NSA. It's metadata.

Amichel said...

It's amazing to compare the success of the Obama campaign's Narwhal system to the flop of the Romney campaign's Orca. I remember hearing dozens of complaints throughout election day from conservative bloggers, volunteers, and activists about the Orca system. They made elementary mistakes such as failing to forward Http adresses to Https secure ones, sending out the wrong pin numbers for people to log in, and even failing to setup a stable help line to fix the problems once they were found.

I think the increasingly monopoly of the Democractic party on IT and computer savvy voters is and will continue to be a real problem for the Republican Party. You can't compete with the same people who designed and worked for companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon with direct mail and precent captains going door to door.

El Pollo Raylan said...

Jim Messina's Wiki bio calls him an "office staffer."

The narwhal data collection method is actually rather long in tooth: office spindle

damikesc said...

The somewhat disturbing part is that it will be nearly impossible to get the government to curb their incessant gathering of data if candidates are doing it to get elected in the first place.

And how much of the Facebook functionality is due to the people who run FB being quite die-hard Democrats? I suspect that Facebook helped Obama 2012 and am fairly positive they would not do the same for any Republican candidate.

As far as what your employer did, with the SCOTUS trying to deeply shrink down the group of people with standing to actually file a suit, it will become even more prevalent.

I'm not sure if this country is saveable at this point. The problems I dislike seem to be unavoidable as candidates for office will violate privacy as much as possible to allow them to get you to vote --- no way they will cut back when they get power.

We need a Republican to do exactly what Obama is doing (literally, no changes needed) to finally get most "civil libertarians" to take notice. This is why I have no problem with what Greenwald and Snowden are doing: The Left should be OUTRAGED at all of this. Instead, they seem proud of their "accomplishment"

Matthew Sablan said...

The Obama campaign used data collection methods that, when used by corporations, are called an invasion of privacy by the very people targeted by the Obama campaign. Is this hypocrisy? No: People don't mind being sold things they want to buy, but are offended by being sold things they would not want to buy.

Bob Boyd said...

"I am the law, and I am the judge! I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor!" - Captain Nemo, (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) who used a spur on the bow of his submarine to pierce the hulls and thereby sink surface vessels of nations he veiwed as illegitimate oppressors. Not knowing about the existence of Nemo or his new, high tech machine, authorities theorized these attacks to be the work of a giant, rogue Narwhal.

damikesc said...

It's amazing to compare the success of the Obama campaign's Narwhal system to the flop of the Romney campaign's Orca. I remember hearing dozens of complaints throughout election day from conservative bloggers, volunteers, and activists about the Orca system. They made elementary mistakes such as failing to forward Http adresses to Https secure ones, sending out the wrong pin numbers for people to log in, and even failing to setup a stable help line to fix the problems once they were found.

There was evidence of hackers interfering with Romney's IT thing as well. Anonymous claims they "stopped" Rove from "hacking the vote" in several states by interfering with ORCA.

Mary Beth said...

I had always thought that they named it Narwhal because of this video.

chuck said...

Sounds like an extension of the old ward organization to social media. Machine politics in the cities has led to corruption and debt. I expect the country as a whole will suffer from the same problems as this new manifestation of political monopoly takes hold. Techies can be rather stupid about politics and the thrill of solving a technical problem will be hard to overcome. As Tom Lehrer sang

"'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department', says Wernher von Braun."

Hagar said...

The Democrats need to understand that while they have the advantage now, that may not always be so, and with respect to the NSA data-base, which will include the Obamacare records, when all that get up and running, it may well be that both Democrats and Republicans may find themselves on the outside looking in at this wonderful machine that neither can control.

Rise of the nerds, if not yet the machines!

But which set of nerds?

raf said...

Perhaps Narwhal was just the cover story to "explain" how they got data that really came from NSA, IRS, etc.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

This sort of thing is why I haven't visited Facebook in well over a year. (OK, I haven't actually gotten around to deleting my own account yet; it seems a bit drastic. But, honestly, at this point it might as well go. I don't want to look at it, and at present all it generates is annoying daily messages from Facebook pleading for me to come back, already.)

I do not want to be in a position where my Facebook friends (nearly all of whom are considerably to my left -- that's sort of par for the course if your friends are mostly classical musicians in the SF Bay Area and you're yourself somewhat rightward of Jerry Brown) can pass my name and contact info on to political operatives who will then set about to nag me incessantly. I don't need the grief, in all honesty.

I've no doubt it's effective. So is telemarketing, or it wouldn't exist. It's still a scourge and a pestilence.

tangurena said...

I think the Narwhal name was chosen because a lot of the staffers are redditors and the narwhal is one of the mascots of reddit and "the narwhal bacons at midnight" became a meme for a while.

As someone who ran for election (in 2008) and is also a programmer, I am very impressed by what the Obama team did. Not that I've seen anything more than a few hints in news articles like this. I think there could be an interesting market in making smaller scale versions of this for small candidates (my entire campaign came out of my pocket and I spent only 3 digits) as many of them have budgets well under $5k.

cubanbob said...

If the Obama Administration was as competent as the Obama Campaign the last four and a half years wouldn't have been such a train wreck. Like Hollywood, special effects will only get you so far.

stlcdr said...

With the fancy 'cute' naming of what is being done, it lessens the potential oppression that comes with privacy invasion, amongst other things (police brutality wouldn't feel so bad if they painted their truncheons with flowers).

There is a large segment of the population that is indifferent to how the information given to one party is then given to another; the 'nothing to hide' syndrome.

This is where the Obama campaign came up trumps with votes: find out what top 5 things people are concerned (sic) about and fit their own narrative. Instant win. The problem with this is that when mining something like Facebook data is that it is a self-centered publishing media - 'social media' is a misnomer (in general).

You can't run a country by catering to the whims of the little people.