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Daily Digest: Why '08 Will Be the Election of Databases (One Way or Another)

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, October 10 2008

The Web on the Candidates

  • From the Voter Files: Passed in 2002 in the wake of the election debacle two years earlier, the Help America Vote Act required that every U.S. state establish comprehensive voter registration databases. The goal? To help people vote by keeping clean, standardized data at the state level, instead of with local elections boards. Good databases are a solution. But bad databases -- and putting faith in them -- can spell real trouble. What's the status of those voter rolls today? Well, long answer short: we dunno. The chairwomen of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission recently said that without real knowledge of what states have accomplished on the database front, "we're boxing in the dark." But what we do know is that legitimate voters being dropped from the rolls without cause. We've talked a great deal about data this cycle, from Obama's use of Catalist and VAN to the Republican National Committee's vaunted Voter Vault. And this election may indeed be the election of databases -- but it might be the states' voter databases we're talking about on November 5th. #

  • Your Map of the New Media Landscape: It's amazing what you can learn about new media while waiting in line at your local bagel shop! Thirstin' for a mid-afternoon iced coffee yesterday, that's where I picked up a copy of the free L Magazine's usefully detailed guide to the new media political landscape, from Wonkette to Townhall. It's savvy enough to include Mudflats, which until five weeks ago (a.k.a. B.P.E.) was a little-known local Alaska political blog. (A bonus, for some of you, at least -- there's a meaty accompanying interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.) #

The Candidates on the Web

  • Obama Mastering the Modern Art of Interfaces: The Nation's Ari Melber has a comprehensive rundown of Obama's "web-savvy voter plan." One line in particular about the campaign's Vote for Change mini-site caught my eye. "The spare bilingual homepage," writes Ari, "looks more like a search engine, soliciting information and helping visitors register, request absentee ballots or find polling locations." Indeed. When it comes to Team Obama's data operation, not only is what they're attempting do on the backend more ambitious than campaign's past. But the polished, intuitive interfaces that the campaign gives supporters to engage with that data -- from the iPhone app to MyBarackObama to Vote for Change -- may well make it the first campaign to truly master the modern art of interfaces. And the White House might be their prize for it. #

  • Won't You Be My (Similarly Voting) Neighbor?: A playful new video aims to demonstrate how the Obama camp's Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool makes fitting outreach into your life a piece of cake. With Neighbor-to-Neighbor, the video implies, persuading your peers is well within your reach -- even if you happen have a squirmy toddler on your lap. Or are solving a Rubik's Cube. Or are, um, playing a friendly game of Twister with your blockmates, as I often do. ("Right foot on green? Sure! By the way, have you checked out Barack's broadband rollout plan yet") The peppy video doesn't make everyone smile, though. In an email, Shaun Dakin of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry says the video represents his "worst nightmare" -- "a screaming baby calling me." #

  • Vroom, Vroom: Political Ads Jump into the Gaming Space: Some intriguing political billboards are popping up around Paradise City. Why so compelling? Because Paradise City isn't a town in Ohio or Pennsylvania -- it's the setting for "Burnout Paradise," a popular Xbox Live car-racing game. Game Politics Dennis McCauley shares a report that the Obama campaign is running road-side billboards in the game alerting gamers that early voting has begun. One advantage in-game ads have over traditional billboards is that, since XBox Live is connected to the Internet, the ads can be updated remotely. When it comes to politics, video games may be an untapped market, but some big players like Google and Microsoft are already exploring the potential of in-game ads. Though the tactic does raise a question. When people are already dropping fifty bucks for a game title, how receptive will they be to seeing a billboard for Candidate Jones as they go racing by? (Thanks Brett Schenker) #

TechCongress and Beyond

  • Legislative Handles = Small Step to a More Open Congress: One of the more infuriating aspects of, the Library of Congress's online legislative archive, has long been that actually linking to a document on the site wasn't easily done. Yes, you read that right. THOMAS's records were based on search results that often produced messy -- and temporary -- URLS. In another victory for the Open House Project, the Libary has announced the launch of Legislative Handles, which are human-readable, standardized web addresses that are much less unwieldy than the GET and POST commands that Hill staffers seeking permalinks wrestled with since time immemorial. (Or at least 1995.) Some parts of THOMAS still remain link-unfriendly. But if full bill profiles are what you're after, link away. #

In Case You Missed It...

Nancy Scola looks at Tech for Obama, a last-minute push for reluctant technologists to embrace and evangelize Obama.