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Twittering Iowa

BY Patrick Ruffini | Wednesday, December 19 2007

Can the Internet do a better job at covering election night than the media? We are about to find out.

I would like to launch an experiment with Twitter on Iowa Caucus night. If you're caucusing in Iowa on January 3rd, sign up for Twitter, make sure you have the mobile feature turned on for the night, and send a Twitter a text message with your caucus location and the results in 140 characters or less. If possible, please send your message from inside the caucus location as the vote totals are being announced. Make sure your tweet contains the word "caucus" or is prefixed "@IowaCaucus" so we'll pick it up at the account we have designated for this purpose. We'll be tabulating the results and providing a real-time tally of our totals in the Republican and Democratic Caucuses.

What do I hope to accomplish with this?

For the Republicans, this will provide real time reporting of raw vote results. The GOP event is a relatively straightforward affair with a single round of balloting, so we will know the results relatively early in the evening. This will enable us to test the accuracy of a distributed reporting system like this, and hopefully beat the media to the buzzer with pre-official results.

For the Democrats, we're hoping to get several different layers of reporting from Caucus attendees. We want the results of the first, pre-viability ballot. We want anecdotal reports of who Dodd, Biden, and Richardson supporters are switching to, and the tactics that the Clinton, Obama, and Edwards campaigns are using the flip people. And we want the results of subsequent ballots. We'll be aggregating these data points and publishing as the night goes on, bringing a level of transparency to the caucus process that we've never seen before.

Follow @IowaCaucus on Twitter to receive these updates in real time. If you are an Iowa resident attending the caucuses, send a tweet to @IowaCaucus or a direct message, and we will automatically "follow" you to ensure your report is received. Give us some sense of who you are. We don't mind partisan supporters of different candidates reporting in, so long as the information is accurate. But if you turn out to be an Obama county chair and you report an improbably high Obama number, we reserve the right not to use it.

This should be an interesting experiment in how social media can impact politics in a state not known as a haven for early adopters. At most, we'd probably need a few dozen Twitter reporters in both parties to make this worthwhile. That's not a high hurdle to clear when the end goal is better information about the most anticipated political event in the last three years.