Internet Voting: Inevitable, Complex and Unattractive

2 12 2010

In a previous classes we have touched upon the idea of Internet voting as a means to increase voter participation, so I was interested to learn the takes of Alicia Kolar Prevost and Brian F. Schaffner in their article “Digital Divide or Just Another Absentee Ballot? : Evaluating Internet Voting in the 2004 Michigan Democratic Primary.”

The authors were mostly concerned with how demographics across age, race and privilege impacted use of Internet voting in the 2004 Michigan Democratic Primary. The results were interesting but also a little disappointing. The authors concluded: “… Internet voting has been criticized for being biased against the very voters that are already underrepresented in the electorate. Our analysis finds that in the case of Michigan, this bias was not caused by the Internet method itself but rather by the fact that voting online required the foresight to request an absentee ballot weeks before the election.”

We can’t get to the answer to the question because of absentee ballot contingencies? Really? That’s awfully underwhelming. The authors provided one ray of light, however: “…once we control for this bias inherent in absentee voting generally, we find little evidence that online voting, when implemented as an absentee voting method, is biased along any dimension other than age.” On one hand, this conclusion is undermining in that it infers the known flaws of Internet voting – access limitations to certain demographics  – are already present in general absentee voting, so the notion of Internet voting shows nothing gained and nothing lost. So, then we’re left with the question of usage determined by age, which I don’t view as a flaw at all. Internet voting may have skewed young in this 2004 primary election, but it will take few election cycles before learning curves to Internet usage are diminished. We can’t expect that any new voting option will be embraced by a majority across any demographic at introduction.

Other barriers to Internet voting  not significantly addressed in this article but frequently addressed in class are privacy and security. What measures and resources do political parties (for primaries) and government bodies (for general elections) have to enforce securities that protect voters, authenticate votes and ensure no foul play? Surely Internet voting would be the most vulnerable to attack, and simple PIN numbers for authentication could easily be compromised. In my mind, the greater hurdle as Internet access and voter capability become lesser issues will be implementing a secure voting system that is simple enough for the public to navigate while being robust enough for the public to trust that their votes will be private and secure. I can see the public preferring other absentee voting or in-person voting options due to those complexities that would make Internet voting unattractive.

Given the high adoption rates of general Internet usage, Internet voting is practically unavoidable and inevitable, and I’m at least glad to read that there has been some serious testing and analysis for it. However, I hope that future research will be as concerned with security as much as access and usage.


The Watchdog Press Gets Kenneled and a New Breed of Press Emerges

1 12 2010

As I read Jay Rosen’s article Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press, I was struck by the statement, “Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is—no way around it—a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles.”

In that statement, Rosen reduced the watchdog press to either naive or coy to their powerful ability to create and sway political news agendas.

As I heard Thor’s stories about being a traditional journalist this past week, I thought about that statement in the context of his blog post kick-off: “If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.” He wasn’t playing naive or coy. He was recognizing (granted, mostly in the context of local news and sports reporting rather than politics) that there should be a distinct, intentional story angle and perspective in the interest of engaging readers and helping them identify the story constructs, even at personal risk. (I’m glad I haven’t been sued that many times!)

How refreshing. We often credit new media channels as evolving news transparency and quality, but achievements don’t rely on digital or dead tree formats – they rely upon self-aware journalists who understand the societal implications of which and how stories are told and the greater responsibility of the press to the politics. Seeing as there has been only a minority of journalists like Thor out there for the past several decades, a gap has emerged between the press and the people. The watchdog press has become more part of the system of politics than not, and so a new “minorstream” press led in the mainstream by The Daily Show and online by Daily Kos, Huffington Post and leagues of minor bloggers doing the work of questioning how stories are reported and asking the tough questions (whether or not they have the access to get the straight answers).

My sense is that the mainstream press, “minorstream” press will continue to persist and become more defined against each other. This combined wealth of reporting and resource will benefit political discourse in this country and hopefully help the journalists and the general public realize that setting and swaying the news agenda is a political act.

Defeat 1098 Prevails, Relying Heavily on YouTube

7 11 2010

The voters have spoken loud and clear. I-1098 was defeated in every county in Washington State. Despite this clean sweep, both sides of I-1098 were aggressive with Web marketing, fully embraced social media and raised incredible financial support – totaling $12,755,895.97 across all campaigns (PDC).

Both sides of the ballot populated their messages in a variety of online channels. All data below was captured on Nov. 7, 2010. Here are the properties and statistics for the “Yes on 1098” camp, which raised a total $6,401,764.01 and spent $6,099,874.10 on its campaign.


10,941 Likes, 22 photo albums, 34 events

Following 975, 275 followers, on 18 lists, 385 tweets

10,254 channel views, 23,227 total upload views, 15 subscribers, 16 videos posted

The campaign against I-1098, “Defeat 1098” hosted a competitive online presence as well. Here are the properties and statistics for Defeat 1098, which raised a total $6,354,131.96 and spent $5,113,900.13 on its campaign.


4,325 Likes, 0 photo albums, 1 event

Following 1,502, 526 followers, listed by 28, 510 tweets

93,508 channel views, 26,586 total upload views, 13 subscribers, 30 videos posted

While we can’t see how much traffic came to the campaign websites, we can see they had varying success in social media. For example, Yes on 1098 had used Facebook to much greater effect, utilizing events and photo applications and earning nearly 11,000 Likes. The engagement therer pummeled Defeat 1098, which drew just 4,325 Likes, on the biggest social networking platform. Twitter didn’t seem to be a successful medium for either campaign, which each drew fewer than 600 followers.

The big difference online for the winning opposition campaign was YouTube. While the pro-1098 camp only posted 16 videos drawing 10,254 channel views and 23,227 total upload views, the Defeat 1098 campaign posted 30 videos drawing an incredible 93,508 channel views, 26,586 total upload views. I had to double-check the numbers because the channel views were so dramatically dominant. I noticed the Defeat 1098 YouTube videos in ads on YouTube and ad spaces on other blog sites, so I have to believe there’s a correlation in the ad spend driving people to the YouTube that the campaign made and the high number of channel views they received.

What stood out to me was how the effective the video medium had to have been in delivering the message. Defeat 1098 essentially extended its television ads online and drove voters to watch them to get the message. We often think about social media being about the conversation, and Yes on 1098 put a lot of effort into hosting the conversation on Facebook, an obvious choice. However, strong campaign messages can get lost in social media conversation, where the latest opinion is usually the most prominent. Defeat 1098 appeared to control and drive its message with more content and less opportunity for rich dialogue — and that worked tremendously.

Yes on 1098 spend nearly $1 million more than its opponent, but it should have prioritized more of that budget on video commercials to spread its message. The lesson in this initiative race seems to be that while organic conversation that social media offers can be an opportunity for campaigns, if you want to control the message you have to amplify the messaged content to regularly steer the conversation in your favor.

Bite-Size Messages, Big Time Implications

1 11 2010

As I began reading Joe Trippi’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an excerpt stood out to me in Chapter 3.

“A television ad reaches voters passively. You just sit there and the box tells you what to think, or what you want — unlike the Internet, where you open a search engine or eBay or and tell the box what you want… This is the bottom-up, interactive communication. Television has a top-down, one-to-many  structure… If it’s done well, some images stick, possibly even some ideas — although in a 30-second spot, there is usually only time for one or two visceral reaction so stick. Children playing: good. Pollution: bad. Old people in church: good. Criminals on street corners: bad. This is one of the reasons political debate in our country has been “dumbed down” — not because media consultants don’t want you to think — but because no serious discussion of issues can possible occur in 30 seconds. “

I was shocked by the disparity Trippi identifies between the two mediums, which I believe are becoming more and more the same. I agree with him that television is a passive communication (for most people without Internet TV yet). You just turn on the TV, browse the channels and wait for the content to come at you. During prime-time hours right now you will get inundated with political ads. Trippi paints the picture of the Internet being interactive, allowing users to dictate what they see. I get his point, but I think that’s becoming less true over time.

On the Internet, I definitely have control over my time and which websites I browse to, but as I check a friend’s blog I see an ad for Dino Rossi in the ad space. I head over to a local tech reviews blog and see an ad against I-1093. My IP address must have triggered the ads. What’s so different between websites and TV channels now?

Let’s look at social media specifically. Here’s a few messages from my Twitter stream when I search “I-1100” right now, on the eve of elections:

  • @Yesto1100: I-1100 is ahead 48-40 in new KING 5 poll. Spread the word to friends, family and colleagues to push I-1100 over the top. Every vote counts.
  • @BizDevWRA: Vote for Liquor Reform—Vote Yes on I-1100 by Dominic Holden – News – The Stranger, Seattle’s Only Newspaper
  • @ gerrardiana Can’t decide on I-1100: a bad initiative now that I agree with in principle vs. the unlikely hope of decent legislation later?
  • @dredpiraterob: RT @1SunRisen: No on I-1100 and I-1105.
  • @comeonsrsly: I voted for I-1100. The opposition didn’t convince me.
  • @diggzdime: I hope everyone votes yes on I-1100 no more having to make two stops for liquor and chasers…

Honestly, I’m not getting a lot from these or any other messages to inform my vote. Many of the tweets I saw were humorous. Others repeated pro and con rhetoric. Many more simply linked to news sources with articles . I don’t see the proliferation of discussion so much as I see a higher volume of the same messages that I could find on TV. There are some new articles that I could find if I really dig, I’m sure. I gather that the smart organizations work to flood the social streams with their stories. To that point, our #digidem tweets were easy to find due to our retweeting efforts. But was that a good thing, minimizing the average citizen wanting to use the channels to make their voicse heard or search for a greater selection of sources and content?

Whereas at least with Twitter I have the ability to search and the illusion of limitless sources, Facebook is a wash. It has got to be as familiar an environment to TV as I can think of. I “subscribe” to a list of friends (channels) who populate the news stream (broadcast) with their links, thoughts and Likes. On top of that, I get serviced ads in the right sidebar — many of them political ads as of late. There are a lot of Halloween updates today, but they’ve slowly evolved into the evening and tomorrow they’ll be totally political. I don’t get to choose what they broadcast, I just chose to follow them and I’m served their messages. To Trippi’s point, this is definitely the interactive, many-to-many model, but do I get more meaningful messages out of it?

I have limited ability to search on Facebook and I’m limited to searching my connections. I can’t easily find discussions that aren’t hosted by supporter or opposition pages. Those pages just contain the YouTube videos replaying the TV commercials. I’m either finding an echo chamber or no chamber at all.

30-second TV spots or 140-character messages? If this is the promise of the Internet, it’s not Trippi’s promise. We’re not seeing revolution, we’re seeing more “dumbed down” debate and the Internet’s playing reruns of children playing, pollution and old people in church.

Great Expectations for Government Online Access Fall Short

18 10 2010

Sarah Schacht is founder and executive director of Knowledge As Power, an online nonpartisan system that helps individuals effectively participate in the legislative process. Her article “Democracy, Under Everything” seeks to expose the access and transparency issues in modern government and provide some solutions for how citizens can let elected officials know that they want change.

While I understood and sympathized with many of the points that Sarah made, I thought her expectations for government were at times totally unrealistic or simply unnecessary.

Sarah makes the case for transparency and access by citing the Constitution – a sound approach – but her expectations for how quickly we should have online access that information seems to be based upon the speed at which private businesses and far more simple databases can publish. She provides no context for how quickly government has been able to adopt previous technologies (telegraph, TV, newspaper, etc.) as to explain why government should be perceived as failing now.

I firmly believe that it is the government’s role to govern first, and keeping up with the Joneses of technology falls somewhere after that, probably in the double-digits of listed priorities. Technology should be a tool, not a responsibility of government. Sarah seems imply otherwise.

For example, she said that in 2006, “legislative staff members received 800 to 1,300 emails in their inboxes each week and peaks of 8,000 to 16,000 emails per day.” Obviously this number has multiplied as email has become a more preferred channel of communications. That’s a lot of email! Sarah criticized government’s inability to keep up with the unprecedented volume of feedback, and said, “… you couldn’t help but feel that most offices were so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers that they weren’t able to hear what their constituents were saying.” Well of course they can’t. She doesn’t scale expectations or seem to understand that large organizations have to look at macro trends with data of that amount. Offices of government may fail to recognize these trends, but it’s simply unrealistic to expect that they should have to acknowledge individual messages of that volume.

In another instance, Sarah criticizes that the public isn’t able to access congressional records for 24 to 28 hours after a session. This is a failure according to what standard? A tweet? The US was set with checks and balances to maintain a deliberately slow, difficult process to avoid mistake or power imbalances. I don’t expect publishing to move any faster. As Sarah points out, many Congress members spend their time outside of Washington. Legislative process is relatively slow, so why the expectation to keep up to the pace of instant publishing? Especially in cases when people are elected to office every two or four years at the national level, what is the urgency for the public to need access to content so quickly? Surely mechanisms need to be in place to ensure confidentiality in cases that would affect economies or national security in certain cases, so do those considerations need to be sacrificed in the interest of pure access and transparency? I think not. The media has privileges to access and expedite the dissemination information process for the rest of us. That’s the whole point. Sarah admits that the language is robust and nearly unreadable. Even when we have access to legislative records, we’d rather wait for the media to translate it for us!

The only time when Sarah credits innovation and progress is a case in New York when private talent was hired organize and create systems for regular content publishing. Certainly that move made for tangible improvement but also required a contractor to do so. There was nothing democratic or legislative about the process. Someone got hired to do the job. I think Sarah should relook at her criticisms around access and transparency that that she expects democracy to afford and understand that to meet her expectations for speed and efficiency it came at the cost of private business. That’s really at the heart of the matter: Do we expect elected officials that turnover every election cycle to run an efficient, accessible business or focus their time to take on the issue that affect everyday people, on the issues they promised to answer? My guess is that they’re focusing on the later, and I prefer that.

In mobile, one size does not fit all

22 02 2010

Last week I sent out an informal survey to my Twitter and Facebook network with questions determining how people feel about their mobile phones. Sixteen people responded, and I assume that all of the respondent’s have above average-knowledege about mobility and technology and live or have some connection to the Pacific Northwest. This is a distinct, unrepresentative population.

That fact that the group is so relatively uniform makes the answers that much more surprising and interesting. In the survey I asked just two questions:

  1. What do you see driving the future of mobile innovation?
  2. When considering the purchase of a new phone, what do you find important?

I asked people to rate a variety of answers to those questions as unlikely, somewhat likely, likely or very likely.

For question one, respondents thought social media, photos/video and location based services were most likely to drive mobile innovation. For social media and location-based services, 62.5 percent of respondents found them both to be “very likely” to drive mobile innovation. Voice services, security and financial transactions drew lower response rates.

For question two, respondents thought that carrier and applications were most important when considering the purchase of a new phone and thought voice quality and price were also important. They found looks and security to be least important when considering a phone purchase.

What does this mean? For this audience of connected, early adopters, marketers should know that carriers, applications and services matter, and looks, security and financial transaction don’t matter as much in the purchasing decision.

Microsoft reenters the fray

15 02 2010

Earlier today, Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 Series, a new operating system that includes Xbox and Zune integration, and positioned its future phones to compete with iPhone, BlackBerry and Android in the US and Nokia abroad.

Microsoft’s past mobile operating system behaved like mobile PCs (and quite well), but the iPhone showed that people want different, more optimized mobile experiences. Microsoft addressed this issue by putting social experiences at the center of Windows Phone 7 Series and allowing people to make and see social communications in their online networks – Windows Live (including Xbox) and Facebook – without having to use specific, individual applications. This is a push approach (as opposed to manually “pulling” the data) that will be attractive to consumers who will enjoy the automation of their social networks on their phones.

We saw this strategy with Google Wave last month: Companies are vying to become the preferred social media aggregate. Whereas just a couple years ago companies were competing for growing social network market share, they are now trying to envelop each other.

What does this mean for consumers? Great experiences lie ahead. Microsoft and its competitors continue to challenge each other and innovate in the mobile industry. In the short term, if companies continue this trend of aggregation, people will benefit with functionality much like push email: People will  see more automated, agnostic social network updates rather than having to rely on specific applications to gain content. With that evolution, companies will better service customers who want fewer steps to communicate and more time to interact.