Obama campaign opens Silicon Valley field office

@CNNMoneyTech February 17, 2012: 11:34 AM ET
President Obama is tapping Silicon Valley's engineers for a campaign edge.

President Obama is tapping Silicon Valley's engineers for a campaign edge.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Silicon Valley has a hot new startup setting up shop: President Obama's re-election campaign. The organization is opening a field office in San Francisco.

The goal is to tap both the region's deep pockets and its geek expertise. "We're taking the next step by providing tools and space for supporters in the technology community to help the campaign extend our current tools," Katie Hogan, the campaign's deputy press secretary, told CNNMoney.

The office employs only one paid staff member at the moment, who will connect volunteers with techie tasks like software development and social media outreach. In Hogan's words, the outpost aims to attract volunteers who will "use their creativity to explore whole new ideas we haven't even thought of yet."

Obama campaign insiders say they see technology and data as the killer app for the upcoming election. With the rise of social networks and mobile devices, plus a growing analytics tool set for finely targeting messages, engineers are becoming a vital resource for political candidates.

"They want to make sure they have a presence here in Silicon Valley," says former Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) product manager Dan Siroker. "Obviously there's a lot of support for him out there."

Siroker was one of the tech masterminds behind Obama's 2008 campaign. Once a key engineer on Google's Chrome team, Siroker took a leave of absence from his job after hearing Obama speak at Google. The candidate was candid about his desire to make data and analytics a cornerstone of his campaign strategy.

"He ended by saying 'I want you to be involved,'" Siroker recalls. After the speech, Siroker joined the campaign full time to work on data algorithms for targeted campaigning.

Siroker helped bring the idea of "A/B" testing to the Obama campaign, segmenting the viewership of BarackObama.com to test how different pictures and messages affected donations and volunteer sign-ups. He's now running a startup, Optimizely, that sells the kind of testing technology Siroker created for the campaign.

"He built a team of analytic experts who had these giant monitors," says Sam Graham-Felsen, who was the campaign's chief blogger in 2008. "What they were doing is testing every possible combination or iteration that you could imagine, like the color of the donate button on our website. Is blue or red a better 'donate' color? Is it better to say 'donate now' or 'donate please'?"

Felsen estimates that the sophisticated tests helped the campaign raise an extra $75 million dollars.

"Because it worked so well, that's the kind of thing the Obama campaign is doubling down on now," says Felsen, who is now a freelance digital strategist and speaker. "Everything they do is going to be highly rigorous and scientific." To top of page

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