Monday, October 06, 2008

Obama's Google versus McCain's Yahoo

The Complaint

Earlier today, the Republican party filed a complaint to the Federal Election Committee (FEC) (warning, PDF link) about the Obama for America campaign.

The complaint goes like this:

1. A Newsmax article (which is like saying "A Fox news story, which means it's totally biased but you should believe it anyway) says that the Obama has gotten donations from some 11,500 foreign nationals.

2. If this is true, there a chance that the nearly 2 million people who have contributed to the Obama campaign might be illegally donating, since nobody's going to check a donation of $199 and below.

3. Therefore, we think that a lot of those those donations for the Obama campaign must be illegally done, since nobody could have almost 2 million people donating to their campaign.

Now, ignoring that the claims seem pretty flimsy so far, there is the basic complaint in the Republican party's complaint that really boils down to this:

Wah! Obama's getting more money than us, and that's impossible - we're richer1 Wah!

Yahoo versus Google

A year or two ago, I remember hearing an interview with the Yahoo CTO, and he was asked the question "How did Google beat you?"

I'm paraphrasing here, but the answer was "We tried to collect $1,000,000 from 10 peole like Ford, Bank of America, and so on. Google figured out it could collect $10 from 1,000,000 - and the were right."

In a lot of ways, this is the heart as to why the Obama campaign has been able to outperform its competitors. Senator Clinton started the primaries with more money - nearly $100 million dollars. Obama had to rely on smaller donations. But his campaign soon learned that 1 million people can give $25 - and do it again month after month.

Obama pulled a Google to Clinton's Yahoo. She had bigger donors - he had more of them.

In many ways, the McCain campaign has seen the same issue. They had richer people, but Obama was able to gather more. It's a model that's changing politics in a big way - and it's not just about the money.

When someone contributes that $25, they're now personally invested. They have a stake in that person winning, so they're more likely to follow the news. More likely to watch the debates and talk about it with friends. More likely to volunteer, even once. When you have 2,000,000 people donate to your campaign, that's one sizable army you can rally to your cause at a moment's notice - all that have a reason for you to win.

Central Control versus Public Control

The other difference between Yahoo and Google wasn't just in how they raised money - Google through smaller, focused ads while Yahoo sought the big commercial investments.

It was also about local control versus user control. In the original Yahoo, the Internet was divided into categories - like "Entertainment", "Business", "Technical", and so on. Then each each category was devided further, so something in Entertainment might be in "Movies", or "Television", or "Games", or "Cinema", and so on.

The problem was that this system required you have "experts" decide what went where. When the Internet was small, this was easy enough. But as the number of web pages grew, this became a nearly impossible task.

On top of that, what if the experts didn't put things where you expected to find them? What made something into "movie" versus "cinema"? What if you were looking for information about the movie "Momento", so you looked under "movies", and never saw the wealth of links about it in "cinema"?

Google took a different approach. It didn't rely on "experts" to assign things - it let people assign their own categories based on what they did. If you put a link to your web page with the word "movies" for Momento, people would find it just as if someone else put in "cinema".

Now, look again at the McCain campaign versus the Obama campaign. Obama is known for his big rallies (leading to the McCain campaign calling him the "biggest celebrity in the world").

But that wasn't the strength of the Obama campaign. It was the legions of local volunteers, organized through the web page. Looking for a local Obama event to make fliers or go door to door looking for voters? Go to the web page, put in your zip code, and there you go. It relied less on paid campaign managers, and more on the people who might only be able to volunteer once a month, or once a week - but add up the numbers, and soon you have a group that vastly outnumbers the paid McCain staff.

The McCain campaign has been more heavy run - rely on TV ads and media communications, while the Obama campaign has been able to use those local volunteers to get out the word quickly, move to action, then be ready for the next need - or, more likely then not, move on their own.

Perhaps that's why the RNC can't understand how Obama got so much money, so they believe it *has* to be through deceit. The alternative is to discover that they don't speak for the American people as they've claimed for the last 30 years - and now the people are funding - and speaking - for themselves.


Pam said...

Okay, you convinced me to donate. I don't have time or vacation to enable me to go off to Iowa or Ohio and campaign, but I can provide funds for somebody else to do it.

As a side-note, an additional benefit to getting lots of small donations is that you get people thinking that they *can* donate, and that doing so might make a difference. And even though they may only have $20 to spare now, they might have $200 next time, or $2000. And when they are wondering if they should sink that $2000 into the stock market or something, they may decide that getting a responsible leader elected might be a better investment.

John Hummel said...

My wife gave me a "YAY" when she read your comment.

But she still won't wear the Palin glasses. (Sigh.) (No, I kid. They're the Tina Fey glasses.)