President Obama's team has been lauded for the campaign they ran in their nearly-4-point victory over Mitt Romney last year, and no aspect of the campaign has received more praise than Team Obama's use of technology. As Sasha Issenberg chronicled in a three-part series for MIT Technology Review, the sophistication with which the Obama campaign applied digital, data and analytics far surpassed Romney's operation and offered a blueprint for campaigns -- both Democratic and Republican -- for years to come.
But, according to a report in The Verge, a divide has developed among those who helped develop the Obama campaign's digital operation. From the report:
At issue is the code created during the Obama for America (OFA) 2012 campaign: the digital architecture behind the campaign’s website, its system for collecting donations, its email operation, and its mobile app. When the campaign ended, these programmers wanted to put their work back into the coding community for other developers to study and improve upon. Politicians in the Democratic party felt otherwise, arguing that sharing the tech would give away a key advantage to the Republicans. Three months after the election, the data and software is still tightly controlled by the president and his campaign staff, with the fate of the code still largely undecided. It’s a choice the OFA developers warn could not only squander the digital advantage the Democrats now hold, but also severely impact their ability to recruit top tech talent in the future.
"The software itself, much of it will be mothballed," believes Daniel Ryan, who worked as a director of front-end engineering at OFA. To the techies who supported the campaign, this would be a travesty. The historic work the campaign was able to achieve in such a short time was made possible, Ryan and others argue, because the Obama tech team built on top of open source code — code that has been shared publicly and can be "forked," essentially edited, by anyone. "The things we built off of open source should go back to the public," says Manik Rathee, who worked as a user experience engineer with OFA. The team relied on open source frameworks like Rails, Flask, Jekyll and Django. "We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did in one year if we hadn’t been working off open source projects," says Rathee.
A DNC official responded to The Verge with the following comment. "OFA is still working out the future of their tech and data infrastructure so any speculation at this time is premature and uninformed."
The extent to which the Obama 2012 operation will share its technology -- whether programming, modeling, its voter database -- will be one of the most consequential questions in politics over the next few years. Campaigns in 2014 and 2016 will be clamoring to use technology and data Team Obama developed and refined over the last six years. Who -- if anyone -- inherits that infrastructure will have a six-year head start in the fast-changing digital realm.