First Hand Account of Tech in the Obama Age: From the Campaign Trail to the White House

13 March 2009

A screenshot of the new White House web site

A screenshot of the new White House web site

Tech & The District is pleased to present its first contributing blogger, Liz Purchia!  Liz, a Public Affairs team member at Hill & Knowlton in D.C., left to join the Obama campaign in the summer of 2008.  She offers her thoughts on technology during the campaign and what it will bring to The District.  Enjoy!  -Vanessa


First Hand Account of Tech in the Obama Age: From the Campaign Trail to the White House

As a campaign staffer on the ground in Iowa during the general election, I saw firsthand the strong role grassroots organizing plays in communities across America, particularly in rural areas.  I was in charge of Muscatine County and when I needed to meet with my supporters and volunteers, who often lived 30 miles away from each other, I relied on the online social network the Obama digital teams built.

Barackobama.com outweighed John McCain’s site by leaps and bounds.  The Web site’s features allowed viewers to personalize their own site on my.barackobama.com (similar to Facebook), to join online groups with people who shared their same interests.  Groups like Sportsmen for Obama or Women for Obama grew to the thousands.  Without leaving home, supporters could post events in their community, call voters, produce canvassing lists.  I even had volunteers in Massachusetts using the website to call voters in Iowa, updating them on voting laws and encouraging them to vote.

The digital team headquartered in Chicago was supported by in-state digital teams that worked with field organizers to help complement their work regionally.  Based on our feedback and ideas, the site would transform to improve accessibility and ability to reach out to constituents.

No political campaign has seen anything like what President Obama did.  As the saying goes “imitation is the best form of flattery.”  His Web site is a model for others to use.  The campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, who ran for prime minister of Israel, is eerily similar to Obama’s.  I would even go so far as to say www.SarahPAC.com took tips from Obama.

From the first day after the election, a new White House Web site was up and running and completely revamped.  It’s as user-friendly as the campaign site.  There were full digital staffs for the Transition and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which was only a positive sign for what’s to come.

As a member of the Public Affairs team in Washington, D.C., I often monitored the Web sites of Members of Congress and the different departments.  Looking back now, others have taken a cue from the Obama handbook and are improving their sites.  Recovery.gov and WhiteHouse.gov are just the beginning of the tech advances in government.  Technology will allow the Obama administration to be the most open and accessible administration in history.

Grassroots organizing will always be a central component to political campaigns, but the ability to use technology and social networking tookfield operations to a whole different level, which will only continue to be refined and improved.

If the administration’s use of technology is done anything like the campaign, I have HOPE our country will turn itself around.

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