Harper Reed (nata2) took 1,000 photos of himself and superimposed them into one picture.
If you are on G+ and you heard certain Google engineers crowing about Harper Reed, the wunderkind that ran Obama's Big Data get-out-the-vote (GOTV) machine, it didn't take long to find Harper's feed and see a big old photo of election night with none other than Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, in the foreground. On Instagram, he confirms in person that this is Schmidt.
Harper -- whose connections include Joi Ito who runs the entire Internet and Richard Daly who runs Chicago -- isn't a former Google engineer as far as I can tell, but his networks contain Google engineers who adore him. And Schmidt could have spent election night with the champagne bucket almost anywhere, even just at home, and still win -- but he chose to come to Chicago and spend it with the geeks on the campaign. In every single way, this is Google's election -- and the election of Facebook, Twitter, and other big companies that created social media -- and then mined it for the Democrats' GOTV data to win.
History will record that the geeks first created the giant fishing nets of free social media that everyone joined; then they strained out of all of us our deep personal data about preferences and profiles and beliefs; then we were told this was for marketing products we would like, you know, like yoghurt or shampoo; then it was all used as Big Data in an election campaign. All within the space of about five years. We went from social media (open) to Big Data (closed) all while being told soothing things about open-source software and the evils of those "walled gardens" of Facebook whose overlords wouldn't always let competing engineers get hooks into data. They did anyway.
When I asked what Vadim Lavrusik, the community manager at Facebook, what FB was going to do with the 71 million political comments which he bragged that Facebook had logged, he blocked me from further view of his account and statements. That's how they roll.
Very few people are really contemplating this outrageous totalitarian grab at our freedoms and taking any serious notice of it. If I were the Republicans, I'd insist on a Congressional hearing about election technology immediately, once they get done pawing over Paula Broadwell's purloined emails and photos of burnt buildings in Benghazi. Although they are all related: the Internet is to blame for every bit of it! (Videos on Youtube, gmail folders.)
I suspect this will never happen; some Republicans want to learn why their tech team messed up; most don't. Meanwhile, the Democrats don't want anyone to look at them too closely; the election- campaign geek NDA and Dashboard data have replaced "classified" as something more secret than State Department's cables, which those geeks could hack anyway.
Alex Madrigal of the Atlantic is among the tech influencers crowing about Harper Reed; Sean Gallagher of my nemesis Ars Technica probably beat everyone to the first detailed post election story. But there were tons before and during like this Mother Jones piece.
Alex wrote "How a dream team of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google built the software that drove Barack Obama's reelection". They did this not for money, as they took pay-cuts, but love -- and I would argue vanity, and the desire for influence, if not power.
Harper is famous for being vain; he writes frankly on his G+ profile, "I am awesome". And he is, as only a Burner, a geek, a start-up guru, and a Singularist can be. His resume has all the known geek stuff in it, and a gap year between April 2010-April 11. I wondered about that gap. Seminars at Singularity University? Secret consultations with Googlers over how to take over the world?
Well, the Adrianna-in-training Alexias Tsotsis at TechCrunch, who often brags that she drinks a bottle of wine while blogging, explained it very coherently lol:
Reed was at Threadless until 2009, then moved to Rackspace for a couple of months, after which he worked on personal projects and advised startups like SugarSnap and Tap Me, while working on personal projects like CTAAlerts.com and Supertrackr.com.
Among the things he did was literally hack into the Chicago transit authorities app to, um, liberate the data for the people and make cool stuff and other personal projects while working on personal projects.
Other resume high points and lifestream data points (he's a prolific lifestreamer, but that hides what he actually did in that gap year lol)
o Seth Godin -- who I calmly call a totalitarian for his awful views on how to govern society -- he worked with Seth at Squidoo
o Singularity -- which I also very normally call fascism/technocommunism, and now I finally have company, and of all things, from NPR. Reed sniffs at the FUD and claims it's all much more nuanced. It's not. This is a very red flag. His arguments of feigned incrementalism and such against NPR's legitimate points are all very lame but with his Nate-Silvers-like cult of personality now, it will be hard for people to stand up to him.
o Chalk talks -- from these, we learn the sordid little open source cults that infect all these nerds are even more virulent with Obama's CTO for the campaign. Here's how he thinks you should run projects:
- weed out people who get in the way of the project early, dismissing summarily anyone who is "abrasive and aggressive"
- BUT the remaining alpha males selected on the basis of...pheromes? or something get to "butt heads" and fight constantly until "truth" comes out in what is called "truthquisition".
Pruning – kind of like a bonsai tree. It’s knowing when to remove someone from your
community. Hire problem solvers and fire the non-problem solvers, or guide non-problem solvers to be more productive. Take away: don’t be a pussy.
Butt heads constantly – Argue towards truth. Arguing is very important and leads to clarity. Don’t be afraid to butt heads when solving problems.
Etc. Er, who gets to decide what "productive" means, asshole? You? Production...for whom? Eric Schmidt?
No, this is not a culture you want to grow. It's a totalitarian culture. It is not liberal or democratic. It has no due process. It runs on sheer gut to make the cuts of those "nonproblem solvers" who are merely eliminated on the basis of various cultural and mental cues. In real life, you can't eliminate dissenters and those who "don't produce" or "get in the way"; you have to manage them fairly as a president.
When Alexia gushed about Reed winning the CTO position his friends stampeded to congratulate, and one guy wrote the kind of thing we always need to be worried about:
Paige Craig · Top Commenter · CEO & Co-Founder at BetterWorks
Yo Harper - couple ideas for ya bud:
1) How bout Obama and the brain trust all get on Quora (hell, maybe even all of congress).
2) Can we get rid of those ridic travel budgets and get Obama & team to use AirBnB.
3) Access to presidential parties requires a high Klout score.
4) Can we get a GroupOn or LivingSocial special on for the Lincoln Bedroom so us avg Joe's have a chance ;).
Yes, it's all in jest, but Sergei Brin isn't kidding when he says he wants to eliminate political parties and just have "independents" all just, you know, chat and use Google search and hangouts to run stuff.
Zeynep Tufecki, who is one of the lefty sociologists on social media who I constantly polemicize with (one-sidedly, as she simply won't let my comments through and ignores me), who was happy to praise Twitter for their censorship-by-country plan, at least stepped up and filed this op-ed piece showing concern about Big Data and manipulation in campaigns. That's because she's to the left of Obama considerably. I criticize her in the comments for being too gingerly.
These guys aren't kidding. Look at what Mother Jones wrote, uncritically, about Obama 2008:
I hadn't realized that the Siroker resume went back to Google like so many -- well, there you have it. What company isn't better positioned to give you data on every single person on the Internet in America and what they search for?
I don't know why Mother Jones, even with the Romney aspect, don't ask more about this creepy stuff:
Dan Siroker, who took a leave of absence from Google to work as director of analytics for the campaign, employed A/B testing to figure out which combination of images, text, and videos were most likely to compel BarackObama.com visitors to reach for their credit cards. (Siroker now provides those services to a vast array of commercial and political clients—including Mitt Romney's campaign and Mother Jones—through his company, Optimizely.) All told, Siroker estimated A/B testing boosted OFA's fundraising by $100 million, 20 percent of its online haul.
In the past, this information has been compartmentalized within various segments of the campaign. It existed in separate databases, powered by different kinds of software that could not communicate with each other. The goal of Project Narwhal was to link all of this data together. Once Reed and his team had integrated the databases, analysts could identify trends and craft sharper messages calibrated to appeal to individual voters. For example, if the campaign knows that a particular voter in northeastern Ohio is a pro-life Catholic union member, it will leave him off email blasts relating to reproductive rights and personalize its pitch by highlighting Obama's role in the auto bailout—or Romney's outsourcing past. A ProPublica analysis revealed that a single OFA fundraising email came in no less than 11 different varieties.
So in other words, the campaign can deliberately lie about its platform by selectively presenting it.
Peggy Noonan was among those who was chilled by all this before the elections. She wrote about it in terms of Obama being someone that people didn't like:
The other day a Republican political veteran forwarded me a hiring notice from the Obama
2012 campaign. It read like politics as done by Martians. The "Analytics Department" is looking for "predictive Modeling/Data Mining" specialists to join the campaign's "multi-disciplinary team of statisticians," which will use "predictive modeling" to anticipate the behavior of the electorate. "We will analyze millions of interactions a day, learning from terabytes of historical data, running thousands of experiments, to inform campaign strategy and critical decisions."
This wasn't the passionate, take-no-prisoners Clinton War Room of '92, it was high-tech and bloodless. Is that what politics is now? Or does the Obama re-election effort reflect the candidate and his flaws?
Did you see that video where Obama thanks Harper Reed and all the other staff and volunteers? He even sheds tears in it. I clicked on this video already viewed by 8 million, hoping that at last I might see an emotional and unscripted Obama. But instead, it seemed like the zombie apocalypse -- as always, he seemed as if the coat hanger had been left in his jacket and a stick had been put down his throat making him able to speak only in controlled bursts. The tears seemed to squeeze out of him on cue, as if one of the techies was nearby with a hidden bulb and syringe.
I've talked endlessly in recent posts about the Romney campaigns problems with Orca and the dilatory tech journos who won't really cover them -- although they'll gush endlessly about the details of Obama's tech. Mother Jones summarizes what was right with Obama's campaign in tech terms:
REED REPRESENTS an approach to technology that distinguishes the Obama campaign from its counterpart in Boston. Whereas Romney has outsourced much of his data-focused operations, this time around Team Obama—which has been advised by representatives from Google and Facebook, according to Bloomberg Businessweek—is trying to emulate a start-up atmosphere in hopes of fostering the kind of innovation rarely associated with stuffy political shops. Fewer consultants, more in-house geeks.
Reed is passionate about open source software you read everywhere. But he's not passionate about open *systems* like a market and going into a marketplace to get services based on merit, and he's certainly not passionate about open society and protection of minorities who dissent against "benevolent dictators". He and the other coders were all friends before they came to Obama's campaign and all chat on Twitter. The start-up and inhouse atmosphere in fact means tight, totalitarian task forces where the benevolent dictator rules -- I'm almost resigned to the fact that this will spread now to the rest of public life...
It already has -- among the features of Obama's tech tools was "gamification" where people competed with others or their own best record. Obama was told at one point that they had knocked on 300,000 plus doors in Ohio.
This is the kind of system that absolutely cries out for pripiska -- and pripiska will enter into it sooner or later. That's the "fudging" of numbers that Soviet workers used to do in the field when they were constantly under pressure to show progress on various break-neck, Stakhanovite projects. In the Obama campaign, it didn't matter if the numbers were fake because by broadcasting them, they could GOTV.
At some point the bubble bursts, the edifice crashes and even the coders "have the Obama campaign in their rear-view mirror" as one coder says who now is having to find a job if his previous employer won't take him back after 18 months' absence. Not to worry, Rootscamp is coming up with a job fair for all these people and we know where they will go first: into government with gov 2.0 budgets sprouting to give them jobs.