Politics has always been about networks, but recently these have started to mean technology networks in addition to the more usual ones. I had the opportunity to attend a session on "Impact of technology on the 2012 Campaign Trail". It was a discussion amongst invited speakers on how technology is (a) being used and (b) changing how the campaign teams reach out to voters and try to get their candidate's message across.
Before I go any further, this is just about The Tech and will be a non partisan commentary only representing the current technology strategies of the various campaigns. The right and wrong usage of technology is also not something I want to be covering in this blog.
On with the show…..
Political campaigns are getting increasingly savvy about getting their message across to voters. We have mostly heard or read about how social media and micro blogging are being used to reach out and target voters especially on the Democrats side. So has this changed anything?
Well, actually, yes…. so while there are multiple examples to show how technology has changed the face of political campaigns, my focus in this post is on two areas:
1. Field operations- Back in the “good old days”, campaigns relied on index cards and party workers making manual updates to voter information – slow, inaccurate and producing not very actionable data. Now a party worker can go on a door to door campaign and update voter information and responses real time into a central database. (Spoiler alert - Remember the term "real time”). This makes the data that is collected much more actionable. Of course, there are different analytics performed on the data and results in targeted messaging. The ability to use analytics on the database and target the voters based on very granular, specific, information is key. Field operations now become more realistic, efficient, optimized and prepared to be personalized.
2. Gamification - Rewarding or providing incentives to individuals or teams when they achieve certain goals is part of gamification. Political campaigns are leveraging the gamification concept to reward individuals or groups who can motivate or spread the message of the campaign to other voters. This can be considered as the virtual equivalent of planting a 'Vote for X" sign in your yard that influences neighbors and passersby.
Now, on to "realtime". What were significant patterns during the first presidential debate? First, was all the microblogging and realtime analysis of the debate that was occurring. Second, was the virtual conversation on "Big Bird'.
So it seems like the biggest trend in this election is the use of microblogging and the like to track events like the debates in real time. Be it #eastwooding or google hits for Big Bird - there is a lot more voter participation online, expressing opinions and congregating in virtual communities. There is also real time online fact checking from multiple sources – its getting difficult to hide out there….
While they are milling around their virtual watercoolers and exchanging thoughts, and commentaries, voters are extensively consuming and sharing graphics and videos and with each other. With gamification, we will probably see a lot more of video and graphics used in the campaigns. Without getting into details, we have been hearing of the famous political videos related to both parties on Youtube.
So how does all this translate into networkology? To name a few: • Realtime data and trending = Increased network activity, Bursts of data • Gamification and Video consumption = different traffic patterns, higher demand for bandwidth and better quality of experience. • A combination real time data and video gives us varying traffic patterns and profiles, bigger data sets, increased analytic tools usage.
How can networks match up to these trends? Piece of cake - networks need to be able to dynamically grow and contract based on the microblogging or trending activities; very similar to the elasticity required when moving virtual machines between data centers. Have a physical network? Partition it logically to scale up or down with a combination of technologies. For better quality of experience when viewing those graphics and videos or doing gamification, techniques like content caching and traffic prioritization help. When live streaming debates, prioritization of the video streams becomes key.
Coming back to the campaign tactics, there is no single magic potion or silver bullet that parties can use to woo or contact voters. Till they arrive at that single path to get to voters, they plan to continue all known possible methods to persuade voters during this election. While it seemed that the 2008 election saw technology being harnessed as a part of the Democratic campaign, it is not clear yet if there has been anything more than incremental innovation this time around.
A lot of this will become clear post-election. Till then, sit back, relax and watch the show – we’ll see how voters respond.