When President Barack Obama took office, one of his first challenges was the United States economy and its veritable freefall. To an effort to slow that downward spiral, he signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a program designed to fund—and you would have heard this term 10,000 times by now—“shovel ready” projects that could help bolster the US economy.
For many—myopically disposed or not—the tech startup scene seemed to hold hold any number of said projects with the potential to positively effect both job creation and wealth creation. Unfortunately, government efforts didn’t seem to focus much on that aspect of the economy. Until now. Yesterday, Obama introduced the Startup America Partnership. Read More
This week, Cami Kaos and I talk about Ignite Portland 7 and Backfence PDX on the same night, Supercomputing 2009, ccSync, Tim O’Reilly on the war for the Web, Wikipedia’s annual fund drive, and Obama has never tweeted. And of course, get well soon to MetaFilter’s Matt Haughey.
This Thursday, Rahaf Harfoush, Associate Director of the Global Cooperation Initiative at the World Economic Forum and part of the Obama campaign‘s social media team, will deliver the keynote for InnoTech, one of the Silicon Forest’s premier business and technology innovation conferences.
The keynote will be a great opportunity to hear Rahaf’s insights into how the Obama campaign embraced social media to affect political change—and will likely cause you to reassess your use of social media. No doubt, her talk will also include an early glimpse of some of the themes she’ll approach in Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand, her upcoming book.
I had the opportunity to send Rahaf a few questions ahead of her arrival, and she was kind enough to take some time to answer. Here’s what we covered:
How did you get started in social media?
I have always loved technology. I guess I inherited it from my dad who is an avid science fiction junkie and technology always seems to represent unlimited potential and opportunity. I’m fascinated by how we use the web to interact and collaborate with each other. I love people and I love information and social media is the perfect combination of the two.
I don’t really remember when I got into social media, but I do remember it was before we called it social media. 😉
What brought you to the Obama campaign?
I was on the research and writing team for Don Tapscott’s book Grown Up Digital, and I was responsible for gathering research on technology, young people and the political process. My research took me to the very talented Chris Hughes, Obama’s Director of Internal Organizing who was designing a social network for the campaign.
I interviewed him and we hit it off. I was really inspired by what they were doing in Chicago and asked Chris if there was anyway that I could help. One thing led to another and I went down to Chicago for the last few months of the campaign as a full time volunteer. It was an awesome, empowering, thrilling experience.
Prior to your efforts, the strongest US online political campaign was championed by supporters of Howard Dean. What, if anything, did you learn from Dean’s efforts that informed the Obama campaign?
I think the Obama campaign heavily refined a lot of the strategies initially pioneered by Dean.
Dean was the first to use social networks (like Meetup) to organize supporters and start building the beginning of an online campaign infrastructure. He was also one of the first to experiment with online donations, particularly small amount donations.
The one main thing the campaign built on was the need for all of that online organizing to translate into offline action. This was where Dean’s campaign faltered, online enthusiasm did not turn into tangible votes or on-the-ground support.
Ultimately, everything the Obama campaign did online reinforced the need for offline organizing. Blog posts, contests, house parties, canvassing events the emphasis was always on getting supporters to get out of their house and into their communities on behalf of Barack.
Even if I didn’t know that, I would have to say the iPhone application. It was an extremely innovative foray into the yet untapped area of mobility. It effectively turned every iPhone into a fully functional field office. It allowed the campaign to stay connected to supporters in a very intimate way and ensured that they received the most up to date information.
That is very powerful to me. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface on what we can do with mobile.
If I had to pick a favorite social network for Portland, it would be Twitter, hands down. In both your work for the World Economic Forum and your personal life, within which social media site(s) do you find yourself most comfortable/engaged?
Twitter is my favorite too! [Editor: She’s @rahafharfoush.] I love my twitter community and I always find myself going to them for their opinions and advice.
For example, some people at the Forum were interested in identifying some thought leaders in particular industries. I asked my Twitter community and within minutes and over fifteen names of experts that had come recommended by people I trust and respect. You just can’t beat the speed or quality of information.
I am weary of this sudden mainstream appeal of Twitter, particularly those people that focus only on the number of followers. For me, it’s all about meaningful conversations. I’d take that over a big crowd any day!
Finally, a softball. I know you love to travel and explore. Have you been to Portland before? What would you like to experience while you’re in town?
I have never been to Portland before! I heard you have a beautiful waterfront. If the weather cooperates I would love to sit in a nice café with my new kindle and catch up on some reading and relax.
Thanks, again, to Rahaf for taking the time to provide those responses. I’ll be looking forward to seeing her speak on Thursday. If you’d like to join me, please register to attend InnoTech, this Wednesday and Thursday.
If you’re in Portland and involved in a the Web and mobile startup scene, any mention of “iPhone” is usually immediately followed by a mention of “Raven Zachary.”
Portland isn’t alone in that regard, the iPhone consultant—who helped create iPhoneDevCamp before there was even such a thing as iPhone development—has seen more and more attention for his services as the burgeoning iPhone market has come into being.
Well, now Raven has his hand in another app that’s sure to increase the iPhone limelight for him. Meet iPhorest, a new iPhone app launching this week at TED, the premiere “cool leading edge technology thinking and stuff” conference.
And Raven isn’t the only one excited about it. There’s this guy you may have heard of named Kevin Rose who told his 98,700 (and counting) Twitter followers about it.
What’s not so clear is exactly what iPhorest does—since it’s not yet available in the App Store. But it has something to do with planting trees. On the iPhone.
By downloading the app, the user activates a seedling both virtually and physically. As the seedling on their phone grows, users can also send seeds to other phones, starting a new forest.
For each virtual tree planted, The Conservation Fund will plant a native tree in real life – starting with restoration of vulnerable wildlife habitats along the Gulf Coast. They will work with the nation’s leading public natural resource agencies to ensure the long-term protection of each iPhorest.
iPhones and sustainability? What could be more Portland-y than that? [UPDATE] More Portland people of course! Raven adds:
The lead developer and designer, Andrew Pouliot @andpoul, is in Portland, as is the 3D modeler, Alex Jetter. Thanks to Bram Pitoyo for the recommendation for Alex.
It’s a very cool concept. I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to test drive it—and help a few flowers bloom trees grow.
As soon as I know more, you’ll know more. But I wanted to congratulate Raven on iPhorest as soon as I could.
It seems appropriate that the town known for its wikis—and home to the father of the wiki, Ward Cunningham—is home to a service inspired by the wiki view of recent changes. Even if you don’t let your readers edit your site, it’s always nice to let them know what you’ve changed.
To test drive this feature or to add it to your site, visit Versionista.
Aside from being beautiful, it’s a feature rich application designed to get individuals more involved in the political process. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opponents of the Obama campaign rival the proponents in downloads.)
The application has a “Call Your Friends” tool that helps you organize your contacts by key battleground states — a feature we’re hoping will generate thousands of additional personal contacts. You can also easily mark reminder notes to yourself on which friends you have called, who they are supporting and who wants a reminder call on Election Day. The information does not leave your phone (so your friends’ and your own privacy are protected) but the total amount of calls the application makes are tallied, so you can keep track of your progress as we close in on November 4th.
Leaving politics aside for the moment, it’s a pretty impressive display of what is possible using the iPhone and iPod Touch platform.
[UPDATE] I just heard that the Obama ’08 for iPhone folks will be holding a launch party for the app during the next presidential debates. Head on over to the Mission Theater on Tuesday, October 7 to congratulate the team and watch some politicking. To RSVP, see the Obama ’08 iPhone App Launch Party and Presidential Debate Party on Upcoming.
Is Portland beginning to take center stage in mobile app development?
So yes, the app is super cool. (And if you agree, you may want to digg it.) But, I think—in my Silicon-Forest-centric frame of mind—that’s not the only cool thing happening in this story.
There’s something else that’s going on here. And when I say “here,” I literally mean here.
While the application is an impressive feat for a volunteer effort (or any effort for that matter) what I think may be even more interesting—and Zachary, arguably the premiere consultant for all things iPhone, agrees—is the underlying story about mobile app development in general—a development effort that, more and more, seems to be centered around talent right here in the Silicon Forest.
“This speaks to a growing trend in Portland toward mobile app development,” said Zachary. “We’ve really got something starting here.”
I’m terribly proud of this application. I’m also honored to have been part of making it happen. It’s not simply that we built something that we believe will empower people to bring change to Washington, but it is also the fact that we assembled an exceptional team.
The amount of energy that went into this was fun to be around. Raven Zachary and Jason Grigsby’s strategy genius, Jonathan Wight’s very powerful development fu, Mike Lee and Tristan O’Tierney’s hacking support, Louie Manta’s visual-zing-wow aesthetics, Aileen Jeffries and John Keith’s many-faceted support, and Dom Sagolla’s tireless testing work. Phew. That’s the lot of us.
We all hear, time and time again, how mobile is the next big thing. Wouldn’t it be nice if that big thing were happening right here in Portland?
I think it would. And I think it has the potential to happen.
And with efforts like this—and the growing ranks of mobile developers here in town—I’d say we’re well on our way.
Congratulations to the whole team—but especially the Portland folks—on launching an amazing app that’s sure to step on to a national, if not worldwide, stage.
The McCain campaign web site recently published a link to a Versionista comparison that shows changes to Obama’s web page about the Iraq war. The link, which is captioned “Obama Refines His Iraq Page”, is posted alongside other links which point to off-site articles written by various political commentators who are critical of Obama. The aim is obviously to generate the perception that Obama’s position on the war is inconsistent.
While the technology was exceptionally cool—much like change trackers I used to use back in the dotcom days—there was one thing that piqued my interest even more than the technology. Versionista is from Portland, Oregon.
Versionista was inspired by the highlighting that occurs when wiki pages are edited:
A side-by-side comparison and multiple other views let you see “before and after” versions of every monitored page. We highlight what text has been added, deleted, or moved. Versionista will keep up to 25 versions per page. You can “rollback” in time to see older versions.
The Versionista service allows you to test drive the system with two URLs. Or you can subscribe to begin tracking multiple URLs.
The pricing is aggressive for hobbyists—the lowest-level subscription runs about $200 a year for 30 URLs—but for professionals who desperately need this type of “what changed when” functionality on a limited basis, the pricing shouldn’t be too terribly oppressive. Power users can track up to 2,500 URLs for $6,000 a year.
So what about exploiting the service? I knew you’d think about that, because you’re a smart cookie.
YOU MAY NOT USE SOFTWARE PRODUCT TO STEAL OTHERS’ COPYRIGHTS OR TRADEMARKS…. YOU MAY NOT USE SOFTWARE PRODUCT TO SPIDER OR CRAWL GOOGLE ADWORDS, OVERTURE LISTINGS, OR OTHER PAY-PER-CLICK OR SIMILAR SERVICES FOR THE PURPOSE OF DEFRAUDING THEIR SYSTEM.
I know a number of breaking-news bloggers who have been begging for a service like this. You may be in the same boat. Given that you’re allowed to track two URLs for free, I’d suggest you try it out. And when you do, I’d love to hear how it works for you.