The Geeks Behind Obama's Web Strategy

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The Geeks Behind Obama's Web Strategy
A group of Boston geeks helped Barack Obama turn the Web into the
ultimate political machine. Will he use it now to reinvent government?

By David Talbot  |  January 8, 2009

On a February night nearly two years ago, a Boston computer
programmer named Jascha Franklin-Hodge was entertaining a first date
over dinner at Shanti, in Dorchester, when his cellphone rang,
displaying a Chicago number. Bolting from his plate of korma and
dashing outside, he heard good news from the fledgling Barack Obama
campaign. Franklin-Hodge and his squad of Web designers and
programmers at Blue State Digital -- a small start-up in a
creaky-floored loft office on Congress Street in the Seaport District
-- had been hired to build much of Obama for America's digital
backbone: the interactive and social-networking features of, or MyBO.

MyBO would become the hub of the campaign's online efforts to
organize supporters, channel their energies effectively, enable them
to call millions of voters, and, of course, collect donations. Today
President-elect Obama has a new soapbox,, the official
transition website (also built by Blue State Digital). It features
such novelties as Cabinet nominees giving YouTube replies to comments
posted by average Americans. The extent to which Obama goes on to use
the Web -- as a portal to release more government data for public
consumption, as an instrument for rallying Americans to advance his
agenda, and to bypass traditional media -- is yet to be seen. But his
campaign platform promised Obama would use technology to create "a
new level of transparency, accountability, and participation." When
Obama takes the oath of office nine days from now, his hallmark is
likely to be a massive use of the Web.

He certainly took online campaigning to a new level. His e-campaign
included not only MyBO, of course, but also the powerful leveraging
of everything from text-messaging to YouTube video propagation to
supporter networks on platforms like Facebook -- and on a scale that
dwarfed what was achieved by Hillary Clinton or John McCain (for
example, Obama had more than 3.4 million Facebook supporters, six
times McCain's number). Of course, that night at Shanti, all that was
clear to Franklin-Hodge was that a polished but long-shot junior
senator would step to a Springfield, Illinois, lectern nine days
later, on February 10, 2007, to announce his candidacy.
Franklin-Hodge -- a baritone-voiced MIT dropout, now 29 years old --
had been around this block once before; he was part of a core group
of geeks who built the then-novel online apparatus for the Howard
Dean campaign. But 2003 was still the Dark Ages for online social
networking. The Dean tools for setting up meetings and donating were
a little rough. More important, fewer Americans were comfortable
using the Internet to form communities and to organize. (In 2003,
Facebook didn't exist in its present form but today has more than 40
million American accounts; it seems every other Joe Sixpack has a
Facebook profile.)

... /

Re: The Geeks Behind Obama's Web Strategy [Telecom]
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My only experience with Blue State Digital is that they seem remarkably
clue resistant.  Throughout the campaign they were running an open mailing
list server... anybody could join anyone else up on their mailing list, and
lots of people did.  Telephone calls to the folks at Blue State resulted in
total disbelief that this was a problem.

Mailing list confirmation became standard a decade or so ago, when Internet
use ballooned and sites were no longer really able to keep track of their
users or keep reasonable control over them.  To run a mailing list without
confirmation today is like walking into a bar with a KICK ME sign on your

I certainly hope that these people are not going to be giving any advice
to Mr. Obama about the future growth of the internet or about networking
policies.  If they are, we can all just go home now.
"C'est un Nagra.  C'est suisse, et tres, tres precis."

***** Moderator's Note *****

Scott, I think they will be giving President Obama a lot of advice:
after all, they are, by definition, the experts now. They helped him
get elected, so everything that they do or say is now assumed to come
from the oracle at Delphi.

Let's remember that most of our "leaders" don't know that supermarkets
have scanners, let alone that there is a medium of mass communication
outside of TV and Radio and newsprint. Those who run American, and who
will be telling Barack Obama what is best for us all, will fall over
themselves trying to sign up Blue State Digital to deliver _their_
message to the unwashed masses, and whatever those guys want, they

This is the great American success story: a kid drops out of college,
spends all his time trying to find a niche market for his particular
talent, and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. It worked for Bill

Bill Horne
Temporary Moderator

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Re: The Geeks Behind Obama's Web Strategy [Telecom]
Scott Dorsey wrote:
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I would guess that the IT people who work at the Whitehouse as well as
the IT people in charge of communications would clue them. Years ago
when I worked for the phone company, the president would fly to the west
coast and Looking Glass would follow and sit at March AFB, we tied the
plane into the public network through secure systems, and those people
were aware of everything.

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