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Obama Extends Online Lead with New iPhone App

October 5, 2008

Over the course of the 2008 election, Barack Obama's campaign has leap-frogged John McCain online. As CBS, ABC and Politico (among others) have documented, Team Obama has far out-paced McCain in deploying web technology to fundraise, establish social networks, advertise to targeted audiences, build email lists and otherwise facilitate grassroots organizing. Now, with the release this week of its new application for the iPhone, the Obama campaign has added a powerful new tool to help its supporters get out the vote, literally wherever they are.
The Obama '08 iPhone application (available for free) brings much of the content and functionality of the Obama web site to the Apple mobile device now used by millions of Americans. Users can access positions on the issues, receive breaking campaign updates, get national and local campaign news, find nearby Obama events and browse video and photos. And as the Los Angeles Times noted, "with the device's global positioning system technology, it will give you directions to the nearest campaign office."
But the real breakthrough for political organizing at the grassroots level is the "Call Friends" feature. In a nutshell, Call Friends turns the iPhone into your own mobile, personal phone bank, letting you call and track the support of the people you know in the states that matter most.
As Stephen Shankland of CNET reported:

The most notable feature "organizes and prioritizes your contacts by key battleground states, making it easy to reach out and make an impact quickly," according to the software.
On my phone, the application ranked contacts in Colorado, Michigan, and New Mexico at the top; at the bottom was a friend whose cell phone has a Texas number, though she actually lives in California.

The Obama '08 iPhone application also automatically calculates Call Stats, tracking not only the status of your personal outreach to each of your own contacts, but showing the totals and leaders nationwide. Importantly, users' privacy and anonymity is protected. Only the total number of calls made is uploaded; no personal data or contacts are uploaded to or stored by the Obama campaign.
The new iPhone application provides another stark contrast between the online approaches of the Obama and McCain campaigns. While Team Obama has offered another innovative new tool to empower bottoms-up organizing, the McCain campaign instead pioneered with gimmickry - and bribery. As the Washington Post mockingly reported in August, the McCain campaign offers its devotees points and prizes for "Astro Turfing," that is, cutting and pasting McCain propaganda into blogs and web sites:

"Spread John McCain's official talking points around the Web -- and you could win valuable prizes!"

While the McCain campaign's sole online achievement has been to drive views of its endless stream of attack ads, the Obama camp has one-upped its rival once again in putting cutting-edge technology to use at the grassroots. As Politico's Ben Smith recently concluded:

"Obama's then goes on to do what McCain's doesn't, which is to provide his supporters this whole infrastructure to organize themselves to do things that are going to help get Obama elected, and McCain's just doesn't do that."

For information and download instructions for the Obama '08 iPhone app, visit here.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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