Obama Mines for Voters With High-Tech Tools (NY Times)

With a “chief scientist” specializing in consumer behavior, an “analytics department” monitoring voter trends, and a squad of dozens huddled at computer screens editing video or writing code, the sprawling office complex inside One Prudential Plaza looks like a corporate research and development lab — Ping-Pong table and all (…). The president’s re-election base here looks more like a company than a campaign. For the last year, an office that appears nearly as long and as wide as a football field has steadily grown, with more than 300 workers now sitting bunched together. The campaign declines to say how many additional employees are posted in offices across the county, but a payroll of $3 million in January suggests the staff is larger than any ever assembled for a presidential race.
For instance, with the help of Web developers recruited from the private sector, it has dedicated considerable hours creating technology that can make its Web site, barackobama.com, fit perfectly onto any screen, be it an iPhone, Blackberry or Droid — a seemingly small detail that campaign officials say can make a huge difference when it comes to enticing donors or volunteers to stay connected or click a “donate” button.
It has tested various messages sent to different profiles of Internet users to see which get the best responses in terms of commitments of money or time — a single color change, advisers say, can keep an online user on site for longer. That effort has been helped along by the chief scientist, Rayid Ghani, who joined the campaign last year from Accenture Technology Labs in Chicago.
A review of Mr. Ghani’s academic papers during his time at Accenture shows that he specializes in gleaning consumers’ personal interests from available data online, and then developing messages to entice them to buy certain products based on predictive models of human behavior.
With 13 million e-mail subscribers as of 2009, more than 12 million Twitter subscribers and some 25 million followers of its Facebook page (compared with, for instance, 1.5 million following Mr. Romney), the campaign has instantaneous access to a huge universe of people, a considerable percentage of the more than 69 million people who voted Obama in 2008, though the campaign refuses to divulge specific numbers.
Both supporters and critics of the Obama campaign’s approach say it may in the end change the outcome by only a few percentage points. But that, campaign officials said, is enough.
“We’re under no illusions that this is going to be anything but a close race,” Mr. Messina, the campaign manager, said. “We are preparing for a very close race, as we always have been.”

Read all the article on New York Times


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