Crowdsourcing Obama’s inauguration


CNN, using Microsoft’s amazing Photosynth, aims to crowdsource a 3D vista of Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration on 20th January 2009. This will be the most digitised Presidential inauguration in history, and I suspect many cable TV networks will rely heavily on the digital content generated by those present, in addition to their own content, in their coverage of this historical event. 

I’ve followed the development of Photosynth for a long time, captivated by its potential to revolutionise the way we manage and see photography. It still runs best on Windows, but a new Silverlight based plugin allows Macs to view synths. I haven’t tried Photosynth on Parallels, but I doubt if it will run better than the Silverlight plugin for OS X.

I am interested in and have briefly written on the potential of synths to capture locations of human rights violations and other sites of violence, a forensic tool crowdsourced as it were. It could be an interesting ethnographical tool for anthropologists, if one were able to distinguish photographs taken by various identity groups with a vested interested in the ownership of or access to a contested site (say a temple). 

Integrate Photosynth with Flickr, and you’ll also be able to find some interesting mashups of popular locations around the world, like the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower, akin to the synth of the Roman Colosseum.

Obama, the web, the Internet and mobiles

One of the many ways that the election of Barack Obama as president has echoed that of John F. Kennedy is his use of a new medium that will forever change politics. For Mr. Kennedy, it was television. For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet.

How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics, Claire Cain Miller, NY Times

It’s passe to suggest the implications arising out of the way Obama and his campaign leveraged the web and the Internet. While many say he outsmarted McCain, let’s not forget that he also outsmarted Hillary Clinton. When they were both battling it out for the Party nomination, there was a lot of commentary on the significant differences in their two websites, in both content and design / presentation. Obama’s website signified a very different approach to and understanding of the power of the Internet to shape electoral politics in the US today. Obama’s site design was matched by a team that understood social networking, mobile phone activism, traditional email campaigns, online video and multimedia and more generally, just using the web to animate the campaign and its supporters, including for example setting up micro-sites against smear attacks by Hillary Clinton. It was also clear that the Hillary camp realised the importance of the web to encourage or disenchant voters when in June 2008 they revamped the website and took off all the attacks Obama

The NY Times article will be a harbinger of many more that analyse in more detail ways in which Obama and his campaign team was able to animate and engage a younger vote base, very familiar with ICTs and new media as their preferred and oftentimes only means of creating, accessing, disseminating and engaging with content and discussions the politics of the US Presidential elections. Obama’s telegenics helped, but more through YouTube than through terrestrial or cable TV.

Obama’s was a hip, fresh, vibrant campaign – and being here in the US both during Super Tuesday in February and when Obama won, it’s easy to see why he and his campaign appealed to first time voters and younger voters (as well as other age groups). As others have noted,

What impressed me about the text-message campaign was that it was an effective device for collecting millions of voter contacts, while also signaling that Obama connects with young people. This won’t do much to persuade 50-something independents in the Midwest, but this is the type of marketing campaign that will get young people to register and to get to the poll.

And it hasn’t stopped with Obama’s victory at the election. A new site – – at least for the moment, continues the engagement he had during the campaign (or more importantly, perceived engagement) with voters in the US. A Flickr photostream shows hundreds of photos in support of Obama, and not just from those who voted for him.

Stirring up shit

There are lessons here for engaging citizens interested in the promotion of democracy even under repressive regimes like Sri Lanka today, some of which I will be keenly experimenting with in the months to come.

Technology, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

The fall of the House of Clinton, an article in the Economist, has an interesting take on the decisive role the Internet and web played in the campaigns of the two Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton machine was too stuck in the 1990s to grasp how the internet was revolutionising political fund-raising. Mrs Clinton built the best fund-raising machine of the 20th century—persuading Democratic fat cats to make the maximum contributions allowable and accumulating a vast treasure trove of money. But Mr Obama trumped her by building the best fund-raising machine of the 21st century.

Mr Obama simultaneously lowered the barrier to entry to Obamaworld and raised expectations of what it meant to be a supporter. Mr Obama’s supporters not only showered him with small donations. They also volunteered their time and enthusiasm. His website was thus a vast social networking site (one of his chief organisers was a founder of Facebook)—a mechanism not just for translating enthusiasm into cash but also for building a community of fired-up supporters. Mr Obama’s small donations proved to be a renewable resource, as supporters could give several times, up to a maximum of $2,300. Mrs Clinton ran out of cash.

Questions on e-voting in the US: Chads redux?

Recent debates on the nature of Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory over Obama in New Hampshire centre on e-voting irregularities. These debates are as important today as the issue of chads and the election of George Bush in 2000. The big difference is that chads were counted manually. E-voting is registered and counted eletronically.As Jon Stokes notes in an interesting article on this issue on Ars Tecnica,

New Hampshire does not have the manual audit requirement that is necessary to prove that an election was fair, so that state’s ballots were effectively counted in secret by closed-source machine code

he goes on to say that,

“From my perspective, this is what’s really at stake in the ongoing e-voting controversy: the government’s inability to fulfill its obligation to prove to the public that our elections are fair makes our democracy so much more fragile, and so much more susceptible to cracking under the shock of a major election controversy.”

The point is that ICTs in and of themselves don’t contribute to public confidence in elections results and the electoral process when embedded in mechanisms not open to public scrutiny.

I hope Man of the Year was not a prescient script for the US elections!