Campaign Trail

The Obama Dashboard and what it means

Molly Wood May 25, 2012

If you’re going to drive a car and get anywhere, you’ll need a dashboard. Check your speed, fuel, mileage.

That’s the thinking of the Obama reelection campaign, which this week launched an online dashboard for its network of volunteers. It’s a bit of technology that could have a big effect on how the campaign is conducted and who might win in November.

Nancy Scola has written about the dashboard for the Atlantic.

Nancy Scola: You see a dashboard of the activity that you’ve done on behalf of the campaign, so that’s calls made, that’s doors that you’ve knocked on, that’s money that you’ve raised on behalf of the campaign, and it’s tracked over time, so you can keep tabs on how much you’ve contributed to that effort.

Moe: How do they know which doors you’ve knocked on?

Scola: The stuff that’s sort of the offline aspect of this actually gets tracked when you go into a field office and they’ll give you a walk list and they’ll tell you the neighbors to talk to, that gets entered back in on the field office side. Some of the stuff, the phone calls that you’re making through the online interface gets tracked, too. In the past, those are two completely different systems, and never the twain shall meet. What they’ve been able to do now is track them in one system, so everything you do online and off is identified with you as a single person rather than multiple entries in their databases.

Think of it like a disciplined army. Orders get handed down through a chain of command, from the highest paid staff to the humble volunteer.

Micah Sifry is with the website Tech President and says, “If somebody makes an email donation to the campaign, your field staff will then know, don’t call that person up today to ask for a donation. They just made one. And it’s little things like that that will allow the campaign to fine tune how it connects with voters and supporters.”

So what will all this mean on Election Day? Sifry says the Obama camp wants to be able to not just rally its troops but mobilize them as well. “What the dashboard I think will give the Obama campaign the ability to do is more efficiently have a real time sense of what people are doing, what kinds of messages are working and moving swing voters, and where you need to move resources to shore up poll numbers. So, Obama’s team is betting that their investment in this kind of technology infrastructure is what they need to get a few extra points of grass roots turnout in those swing states.”


You might get a big smile out of this next story. Computer software is better at telling the difference between a smile of joy and a smile of frustration than humans are. Researchers at MIT brought in test subjects and gave them a long tedious online form to fill out. When the subjects hit submit on the form, everything got deleted and they had to start over.

The software knows it’s a frustrated smile because of tiny lip curls and cheek raises that indicated frustration. People, on the other hand, tend to look at the whole face rather than add up smaller signals.

What does this mean for you and me? One day, you’ll tell your computer “I’m not mad at you, I’m smiling.” And the computer will be all, “I know you’re mad. I know what you’re like when you’re mad.”

Yay the future.

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