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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Narwhal and Orca

The Obama campaign had Narwhal, the data platform that underpinned the campaign and let it track voters and volunteers.   The Romney campaign had Orca, which was not the same king of thing, as Alexis Madrigal explains at The Atlantic:
Orca was supposed to be the Republican answer to Obama's perceived tech advantage. In the days leading up to the election, the Romney campaign pushed its (not-so) secret weapon as the answer to the Democrats' vaunted ground game. Orca was going to allow volunteers at polling places to update the Romney camp's database of voters in real time as people cast their ballots. That would supposedly allow them to deploy resources more efficiently and wring every last vote out of Florida, Ohio, and the other battleground states. The product got its name, a Romney spokesperson told NPR , because orcas are the only known predator of the one-tusked narwhal.
The billing the Republicans gave the tool confused almost everyone inside the Obama campaign. Narwhal wasn't an app for a smartphone. It was the architecture of the company's sophisticated data operation. Narwhal unified what Obama for America knew about voters, canvassers, event-goers, and phone-bankers, and it did it in real time. From the descriptions of the Romney camp's software that were available then and now, Orca was not even in the same category as Narwhal. It was like touting the iPad as a Facebook killer, or comparing a GPS device to an engine. And besides, in the scheme of a campaign, a digitized strike list is cool, but it's not, like, a gamechanger. It's just a nice thing to have.
...
For all the hoopla surrounding the digital savvy of President Obama's 2008 campaign, and as much as everyone I spoke with loved it, it was not as heavily digital or technological as it is now remembered. "Facebook was about one-tenth of the size that it is now. Twitter was a nothing burger for the campaign. It wasn't a core or even peripheral part of our strategy," said Teddy Goff, Digital Director of Obama for America and a veteran of both campaigns. Think about the killer tool of that campaign, my.barackobama.com; It borrowed the my from MySpace.
...
 "The real innovation in 2012 is that we had world-class technologists inside a campaign," [Michael] Slaby [Obama's 2008 chief technology officer], told me. "The traditional technology stuff inside campaigns had not been at the same level." And yet the technologists, no matter how good they were, brought a different worldview, set of personalities, and expectations.
The article also does a good job of distinguishing