I had to think about this post for a while. Part of me wanted to post it because I work with computers for a living. Part of me wanted to post it because I’m friends with some of the people who wrote the original Obama campaign mobile application back in 2008 (which was very successful). So I’m definitely biased.
But the account of how the Romney campaign completely bungled their “get out the vote” app goes beyond technical issues. Was their app doomed to fail because it reflects a world-view that is becoming a dinosaur, not to mention rife with irony and hypocrisy?
And fail it did. Users were emailed 60-page PDF files to print out. Seriously. Users had not been given any training and were not allowed to use or learn the app before the election. On election day, the website was largely inaccessible because they only put it on a single server. Even users who could get to the app found that they had been given the wrong PIN codes and passwords. When that was cleared up, the servers started crashing. And especially ironic, with all the users trying frantically to access the servers, the campaign’s ISP (Comcast) shut down their network connection because they thought it was a “denial of service” attack. When volunteers couldn’t access the app they had no way to help get out the vote, so they had no choice but to give up and go home. There was no plan B.
One of the developers of the Romney app put it well:
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.
The Romney app’s world-view reflects the top-down, hierarchically regimented, centralized world view of the CEO, versus Obama’s decentralized, bottom-up, grassroots world view of the social networker or community organizer. It is central control versus local control. It is authoritarianism versus peer networking. It is automation versus human factors, homogeneity versus heterogeneity. In every way I can think of the latter is more powerful, more democratic, more capitalistic (in the real sense of the word), and reflects the things that have made the US the greatest country on earth.
It is also ironic that the businessman’s campaign miserably failed in one of their most business-centric tasks — marketing and sales. So even if you believe we need a more business-like approach in our government, maybe Romney just isn’t a very good businessman.