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Team Romney used a program called 'Orca' to help win this past election, while Team Obama used microtargeting techniques. I am fascinated by back story of this past election. The day after the election reporters talked about how Team Obama microtarget voters during election; I wanted to learn more. Also, I wanted to know what technique Team Romney used, and as it turned out it was a disaster. I'm going start with Team Romney first because I want save the best for last.  

Orca was developed by Team Romney to help analyze polling location and help campaign direct 'get out the vote' in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Colorado. There were many problems with Orca:  

It was supposed to be a "killer app," but a system deployed to volunteers by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may have done more harm to Romney's chances on Election Day—largely because of a failure to follow basic best practices for IT projects.
Instead, volunteers couldn't get the system to work from the field in many states—in some cases because they had been given the wrong login information. The system crashed repeatedly. At one point, the network connection to the Romney campaign's headquarters went down because Internet provider Comcast reportedly thought the traffic was caused by a denial of service attack. As one Orca user described it to Ars, the entire episode was a "huge clusterfuck."
Ocra in the wild is one of nature deadliest killer. So, the plan by Romney's top 2 voting directors: Dan Centinello and Rich Beeson. Team Romney's Orca was going to kill Dems' voter turnout. That was the plan. Hehe, since I know the outcome. Here is the plan, which sounds better on paper:
To build Orca, the Romney campaign turned to Microsoft and an unnamed application consulting firm. The goal was to put a mobile application in the hands of 37,000 volunteers in swing states, who would station themselves at the polls and track the arrival of known Romney supporters. The information would be monitored by more than 800 volunteers back at Romney's Boston Garden campaign headquarters via a Web-based management console, and it would be used to push out more calls throughout the day to pro-Romney voters who hadn't yet shown up at the polls. A backup voice response system would allow local poll volunteers to call in information from the field if they couldn't access the Web.

But Orca turned out to be toothless, thanks to a series of deployment blunders and network and system failures. While the system was stress-tested using automated testing tools, users received little or no advance training on the system. Crucially, there was no dry run to test how Orca would perform over the public Internet.

Part of the issue was Orca's architecture. While 11 backend database servers had been provisioned for the system—probably running on virtual machines—the "mobile" piece of Orca was a Web application supported by a single Web server and a single application server. Rather than a set of servers in the cloud, "I believe all the servers were in Boston at the Garden or a data center nearby," wrote Hans Dittuobo, a Romney volunteer at Boston Garden, to Ars by e-mail.

Throughout the day, the Orca Web page was repeatedly inaccessible. It remains unclear whether the issue was server load or a lack of available bandwidth, but the result was the same: Orca had not been tested under real-world conditions and repeatedly failed when it was needed the most.

Team Romney literally couldn't log on into Orca because of bad password, also the system kept crashing:
And for many of those who managed to get to their polling places and who called up the website on their phones, there was another, insurmountable hurdle—their passwords didn't work and attempts to reset passwords through the site also failed. As for the voice-powered backup system, it failed too as many poll watchers received the wrong personal identification numbers needed to access the system. Joel Pollak of Briebart reported that hundreds of volunteers in Colorado and North Carolina couldn't use either the Web-based or the voice-based Orca systems;  it wasn't until 6:00 PM on Election Day that the team running Orca admitted they had issued the wrong PIN codes and passwords to everyone in those states, and they reset them. Even then, some volunteers still couldn’t login.

In Boston, things weren't much better. Some of the VoIP phones set up for volunteers were misconfigured. And as volunteers tried to help people in the field get into the system, they ran into similar problems themselves. "I tried to login to the field website," Dittuobo told me, "but none of the user names and passwords worked, though the person next to me could get in. We had zero access to Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Seems like the only state that was working was Florida

The final result was failure:
"The end result," Ekdahl wrote, "was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that."
Microtargeting was something perfected by Team Obama. Imagine a room full of Nate Silvers. Team Obama had a room called 'The Cave' where analysts, software techs, mathematicians(created models), digital specialist. Peggy Noonan said before the election because she sees more Romney/Ryan yard signs, there are a lot people at Romney's rallies and it feels like momentum for Gov Romney. Well, Mrs Noonan the days of measuring who is winning by counting yard signs are over.
So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.
This is important: unlike Team Romney, the Obama team did not outsource their media buying to a consulting firm. The Obama team weren't buying heavy in classic tv ads slots, an example: nightly news. They would do target groups by age, race, sex. Lets say Team Obama is looking for campaign contribution and/or become or visible to women between ages of 40-49:
George Clooney had an almost gravitational tug on West Coast females ages 40 to 49. The women were far and away the single demographic group most likely to hand over cash, for a chance to dine in Hollywood with Clooney — and Obama
They sought out an East Coast celebrity who had similar appeal among the same demographic, aiming to replicate the millions of dollars produced by the Clooney contest. “We were blessed with an overflowing menu of options, but we chose Sarah Jessica Parker,”

 When it came to ad buys the Obama team chose what some may call unusual from the normal time slot. This is where it gets interesting. Because they never outsource, the Obama team have data from the cave showing the viewing habits from the people, team Obama wants to reach. Example:
Rather than rely on outside media consultants to decide where ads should run, Messina based his purchases on the massive internal data sets. “We were able to put our target voters through some really complicated modeling, to say, O.K., if Miami-Dade women under 35 are the targets, [here is] how to reach them,” said one official. As a result, the campaign bought ads to air during unconventional programming, like Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, skirting the traditional route of buying ads next to local news programming. How much more efficient was the Obama campaign of 2012 than 2008 at ad buying? Chicago has a number for that: “On TV we were able to buy 14% more efficiently … to make sure we were talking to our persuadable voters,”

 I watch Storage Wars on A&E and I always saw Obama's ads. I thought it was weird to see a political ad on that channel during that time, but it turns out I and others were being targeted. I also saw Obama ads on Discovery Channel and other prime time shows. I never saw Romney's ads during that time, so I guess that was the point.
 When it came to social media, team Obama created programs and data points that are ahead of our times, this is amazing:
Online, the get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook on a mass scale to replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers. In the final weeks of the campaign, people who had downloaded an app were sent messages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They were told to click a button to automatically urge those targeted voters to take certain actions, such as registering to vote, voting early or getting to the polls. The campaign found that roughly 1 in 5 people contacted by a Facebook pal acted on the request, in large part because the message came from someone they knew.
The Obama Facebook app was developed from the cave, it allowed them to contact your friends through you. There are no need for yard signs because the Obama team know they can get better results for get-out-the-vote with one click of your button on Facebook. Amazing, your friends would get a get-out-to-vote from the cave. Fuck a yard sign!!!
 This is why Team Obama was so confident on the night of the election:
The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states. In the past month, said one official, the analytics team had polling data from about 29,000 people in Ohio alone — a whopping sample that composed nearly half of 1% of all voters there — allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. This was a huge advantage: when polls started to slip after the first debate, they could check to see which voters were changing sides and which were not.
We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

 If you have time please listen to the interview. Team Obama ran an amazing race. There are more to microtargeting I didn't cover. Romney never had a chance. Hollywood should make a movie about this. Wow!


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Comment Preferences

  •  OFA called their system "Narwhal" (9+ / 0-)

    Seems that Obama was able to land their whale.

  •  Good info here... (14+ / 0-)

    I'm an IT guy, the convergence of IT and politics has always been of interest to me.
    I am stunned that they used a single web server, and that they relied on Comcast as an ISP... crazy. Just goes to show how badly they would have run the country.

    I live in Florida... we're not strong with counting down here.

    by weelzup on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 12:23:53 PM PST

    •  Microtargeting is an area I'm working in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I do online engagement/marketing consulting for mid-sized companies and for economic development organizations (two separate verticals for my company) and have been arguing the pro's & cons of a centralized command-and-control system like Orca versus micro-targeted crowd-sourced approaches.  

      Yes, the control and decision making is often centralized, but seriously, if you plan on reaching people, then reach out to them--in politics and marketing like this you simply don't have time or money to fuck around with your audience.

      Engagement is based on trust--which is why the ability to engage your friends in swing states works.

      On the Internet no one knows you're a dog--but if you trust your dog in finding the best steak in town, then you'll like go to the restaurant he suggests....



    •  Most likely outsourced to overseas programmers (0+ / 0-)

      Cheap labor, cheap software, full of errors.

      Would we expect any differently from W.Rongney?

  •  Grunt-level accounts of the Orcan disaster (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MidwestTreeHugger, kurt, Dbug

    Ace of Spades and his buds vent in impressive detail about having tried to use Orca on election day:

    One set of tribulations was launched by a fubar "packet" - a 60-page PDF sent to many of the Orcanites that they had to print and take with them to the polling places.  A number of the packets did not warn the Orcanites that they first needed to obtain a poll watcher certificate.  

    Ace himself was turned away from his polling place because he had no cert.  With profound asperity, he notes that the packet's checklist never mentioned the cert, but did double-down on portable seating:

    Ace suspects the extra chair item on the checklist took the place of the cert item.  His posting that tell-tale gif provoked one of the great poliblog comments of all time:

    Also in the comments is what Newhouse told the Orcanites during a conference call about survey results (Comment 227), a confession of GOP poll watcher misconduct in Miami Springs, awestruck eyewitness accounts of the energetic Obama GOTV, and great confidence by many Acers that doing more of what failed this time to persuade Americans to vote against a Muslim Marxist will work again next time if they just do it more.

    "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

    by KateCrashes on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 12:47:20 PM PST

    •  That's a great article (0+ / 0-)

      One of the things that really got me. A simple thing the Romney people should have done, is redirect http URLs to the correct https (s for secure) URL Here:

      Next, and this part I find mind-boggingly absurd, the web address was located at "https: //". Notice the "s" after http. This denotes it's a secure connection, something that's used for e-commerce and web-based email. So far, so good. The problem is that they didn't auto-forward the regular "http" to "https" and as a result, many people got a blank page and thought the system was down. Setting up forwarding is the simplest thing in the world and only takes seconds, but they failed to do it. This is compounded by the fact that mobile browsers default to "http" when you just start with "www" (as 95% of the world does).
      That's just incredibly stupid. If they had tested it ahead of time, people would have noticed right away.

      But the angle said to them, "Do not be Alfred. A sailor has been born to you"

      by Dbug on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 05:22:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Grunt level accounts ... (0+ / 0-)

      " ... doing more of what failed this time to persuade Americans to vote against a Muslim Marxist will work again next time if they just do it more."

      Which is what I fully expect to happen in '14, and given their lack of any apparent learning capability, '16.
      Like Wile E. Coyote sawing off a limb - these guys are on the wrong side of the saw.

      Mind you, I'm quite pleased that they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Extremely pleased.

  •  I too marveled about this when I read it on Nov 7 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am feverishly looking forward to reading Jim Messina's book. I doubt though, if he'll reveal the trademarked details, because I understand that they intend to keep the structure of the Obama campaign alive to help him during the governing period of these next 4 years.

    I read that they learned their bitter lesson from seeing the campaign structure atrophy after they folded OFA into the DNC after 2008. It said they did not intend to just hand it over to the next Dem Presidential candidate because Obama supporters are attached to the Pres and nobody else.

    So our next candidate is gonna have to build from scratch or negotiate with Obama supporters directly for transfer.

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them." -- Pres. Obama (1/20/2009)

    by zizi on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 12:56:32 PM PST

  •  the failure of Romney as a businessman (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to establish adequate measurements is just amazing to me.

     I used to work for someone who was always saying, "If you can measure it, you can improve it." (Original quote was from Lord Kelvin)

  •  So Romney privatized to a consulting firm. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bosshogg, pgm 01, kurt, Cassandra Waites

    That worked well.
    And that in a nutshell, is how well privatization works.
    I know the GOP pushes for the government to privatize services, but I didn't think they actually believed it.
    Guess I was wrong.

    What are their names and on what street do they live-David Crosby-"If I Could Only Remember My Name"

    by IB JOHN on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:21:22 PM PST

    •  so, what consulting firm was it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and how much did the campaign pay them?  I think "follow the money" is excellent advice - my gut feeling is Romney could not pass up a chance to siphon off some campaign cash and throw it to a buddy...or a Bain capital associate....for Romney it's ALWAYS ALL about making money!

      •  Avanade? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        From Project Orca on tumblr:

        The rumor in some tech lists is that the Romney campaign outsourced the development of Orca to Avanade, a branch of Accenture, which is heavy in the use of developers in India, China, the Philippines, Spain, Morocco, Argentina and Slovakia.

        "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

        by KateCrashes on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 02:55:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Or Targeted Victory? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sawgrass727, Cassandra Waites

        Wired State asks, "Was Al Gore's Dev in Charge of Romney's Aps?" and says:

        The organization is called Targeted Victory, and they have Romney logos flashing on their site now.
        It goes on to say that Targeted Victory has only two developers:  Vincent Gallegos, who previously led web development projects for Al Gore, and Will Boykin, "who has a 96% chance of being an Obama voter." [Trans.: Boykin's African American.]

        "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

        by KateCrashes on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:08:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, Who Did Code Orca Then? (0+ / 0-)

          Avanade told me today on Twitter that they were not involved in Orca. Nobody has bothered to ask. I did. They said no. I believe them.

          Meanwhile, Accenture isn't answering, and they are rumoured to have been on this job.

          Sean Gallagher on Ars Technica finally confirmed after three days that Targeted Victory did NOT have the job of coding Orca. However, he doesn't say who did, and he doesn't respond to the issue of why Al Gore's dev is on Romney's job. That is a legitimate question to ask. Why? Because Targeted Victory worked on Romney's social media campaign and other aps, including the failed VP notification ap -- failed because of content/time problems/leaks? or technology?

          Will Boykin has a good job and appears to be perfectly competent in this firm that has a number of prestigious clients.

          But it's perfectly fine to ask whether Obama voters will work for Romney with the requisite enthusiasm and care.  He is a very likely Obama voter.

          I'm not the one who invented identity politics or racialism in politics and the conviction that people have to vote inside their demographics. I just blog about it when it seems to affect the technology upon which half of America depended.

          Can Tech Writers Ever Report Frankly on Fellow Geeks?

      •  Targeted Victory, FLS Connect + Stevens Schriefer? (0+ / 0-)

        And RedState(OMG I clicked on RedState):

        So what caused the breakdown and why didn’t it get fixed in time? Well according to sources who worked closely with the program, the blame is at the feet of consultants.

        Specifically Targeted Victory, FLS Connect, and The Stevens and Schriefer Group. While the Romney campaign did work with other consultants, they were apparently not part of the problem.

        They say that the truth is the consultants essentially used the Romney campaign as a money making scheme, forcing employees to spin false data as truth in order to paint a rosy picture of a successful campaign as a form of job security.

        "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

        by KateCrashes on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 03:21:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sounds like the Romney campaign's... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ...own false positive spin to their mega-donors.

          Thorough incompetence and lack of ethics.

        •  None of those identified by Red State coded Orca (0+ / 0-)

          None of those three firms worked on Orca.

          I asked questions about Targeted Victory because Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica would not name the firm, and Targeted Victory was Zac Moffatt's firm where he worked before the Romney campaign. And as I noted, they worked on the other ap for Romney that failed.

          Lots of other speculation has gone around about Microsoft, Accenture, etc.

          Targeted Victory has now been confirmed by Gallagher as not having worked on the job (though they don't appear to have made their own statement -- the kind of thing that social media experts tell you only leads to worse problems).

          But we still don't know who did code Orca.

  •  Orca failure (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KateCrashes, bosshogg, pgm 01, sawgrass727

    Has anything Microsoft developed worked well at launch?
    His volenteers probably spent the whole day downloading upgrades.

  •  Thank You ... (0+ / 0-)

    great diary. Tipped, Recommended, and I will re-read and study.


    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 03:54:07 PM PST

  •  So close (0+ / 0-)

    With such a close race, is that really an amazing campaign?

    Based on how close it was, I wouldn't be holding up the winner's strategy as a superior strategy.

    For Romney to be using an "outdated" system, to not have had access to election day GOTV material based on a glitch, yet come so close in every swing state, it surely doesn't speak very well to the opposition's system!

    What if his system had actually worked on election day??

    Nothing speaks to success, like success. But seriously, with such a close margin, to point at the data technology as the game changer seems premature and your argument isn't entirely convincing.

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