Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorEmily BirnbaumNoneWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Politics

New DNC data tool aims to give an edge to campaigns light on tech expertise

Called Blueprint, the new tool will help down-ballot campaigns figure out what voters to target, the latest effort in a multi-year effort to fix the Democrats' data operation.

A sign reading "Vote Today"

The DNC's new Blueprint tool will help campaigns more easily target voters with ads and other outreach.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

In its latest effort to update its creaky digital systems, the Democratic National Committee is launching a new tool that will help campaigns and state parties across the country — particularly those with little tech expertise — tap into a trove of voter data to better target their messages as they work to wrangle seats at every level of government.

The DNC is touting Blueprint, a tool to help Democratic campaigns sift through data on hundreds of millions of people across the U.S., as a step towards shoring up the Democratic party's digital capabilities at a time when campaigning in person is impossible. It will help campaigns decide who to call, text, email and target with digital advertisements during this contentious and unprecedented election year and beyond.

"We're taking this rich set of data we have about voters, and we're making it really easy for campaigns to use that data," the DNC's chief technology officer Nell Thomas told Protocol in a phone interview. Now, rather than having to comb through the party's voter database themselves, campaigns at every level will have access to ready-made tables on voters' addresses, ethnicities, and voting history, among other data points, in a given area.

Thomas said Blueprint is a boon especially for down-ballot candidates, who often don't have the luxury of an in-house tech team focused on using data to mobilize prospective voters and volunteers. "Especially at smaller campaigns … the data person is also the IT person and is also the digital person," Thomas said.

"This gives those building blocks to users right away so they can spend less time doing that data-cleaning work and more time doing what really matters to campaigns, which is reaching voters," she said.



Protocol Cloud, your weekly guide to the future of enterprise computing. Sign up now.



Blueprint is part of a multi-year effort to modernize the party's data infrastructure, which was built back in 2011 for President Obama's reelection campaign. By 2016, that system, known as Vertica, became overloaded, and its near-daily breakdowns proved to be a frequent source of frustration for Hillary Clinton's staff and that of other Democratic campaigns. Meanwhile, the Republican party had spent the years since the 2012 race building itself a brand new data operation called Data Trust, which allowed outside groups and the party to exchange information they were collecting on voters.

In the wake of the 2016 loss, the DNC resolved to catch up to the Republicans' much-touted data operation that helped deliver the White House to President Trump, launching a range of new projects designed to improve upon its data infrastructure.

As part of that, the DNC and state parties agreed to create a new, outside entity called the Democratic Data Exchange, which would mirror the Republican Data Trust, allowing for data swapping between campaigns and outside groups. Last year, the party also announced it was deprecating Vertica and replacing it with a new cloud-based data warehouse called Phoenix, which is based on Google's BigQuery technology. That, the DNC's tech team said at the time, would at least provide campaigns with a more stable system that wouldn't crash under the pressure of so many campaigns using it at once.

And yet, even then, some worried that the new data warehouse would still require a data analyst with SQL coding skills to operate. Blueprint is an effort to solve that problem. The committee's tech and data teams spent months cleaning up the existing data in its warehouse. They looked for places where there were gaps — like, say, where voter's addresses were missing — and worked to fill them. It was an intensely manual project, Thomas says, but one that she hopes will save time-strapped campaigns down the line. Now, rather than doing that clean up work themselves, campaigns can browse the Blueprint tables and use that information to drive voter outreach.

The DNC has been piloting Blueprint in a number of states over the past several months, including Texas.

Last month, the Texas Democratic Party introduced a new model that scores every Texas voter from 1-100 according to how likely they are to vote for a Democratic candidate. Lauren Pully, the data and analytics director for the Texas Democratic Party, said her team used Blueprint to help expand that model and make it more effective.

This so-called "partisanship model" helps the state party more efficiently identify and target voters who might be inclined to help turn red areas blue. And Pully said Texas has used Blueprint's data to make its scoring system "even smarter," pointing out that the DNC's tool allowed the state party to access demographic and consumer data that it didn't already have. That includes information on a voter's ethnicity, neighborhood and income.

Before Blueprint, Pully said that campaigns lost lots of time processing data from dozens of different sources. Now, she said, "not every campaign that's going to use that data needs a data scientist to do it."

"This is one of many things that's being done to really modernize the infrastructure that all of the Democratic campaigns have available to them," Pully said. "Doing this at a national level means I don't have to do this in Texas while Florida does the same thing while Arizona does the same thing."

Given the party's calamitous security breach in 2016, Thomas said the DNC is taking extra security precautions to protect this data. That's one reason why the DNC chose Google's BigQuery technology. "We feel confident in Google's security program," she said. The party requires users to implement two-factor authentication before accessing the data warehouse. Users also sign agreements to abide by guidelines that prevent them from using the voter data for purposes other than campaigning.



Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.



"We believe that privacy and security are just as critical to being good custodians of the data as making the data high-quality," Thomas said.

The DNC is working on other future data projects, including its own "partisanship model" that predicts the likelihood that someone is a Democrat or a Republican and a system that more accurately tracks voters who have moved to different states.

Ultimately, it's unclear whether any of this will help Democrats compete with Republicans, who have, after all, been building a data program since the 2012 election. They also benefit from having a sitting president in the White House whose 2020 re-election campaign began as soon as he was inaugurated and whose massive rallies over the last four years have been data gold mines for Republicans.

But whatever happens this November, it's clear the DNC's investment in data will be critical in the years to come.

Correction: This story originally misidentified the Texas Democratic Party's data and analytics director as Laura Pully. Her name is Lauren.

Protocol | Policy

Senate infrastructure bill: Who’s winning and losing in tech?

The $1 trillion bill covers everything from cyber to electric vehicles. But who's best positioned to seize the opportunity?

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes $550 billion in new spending.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There's a little something — and in some cases, a lotta something — for everyone in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that's currently getting hammered out in the Senate.

The $1 trillion bill includes $550 billion in new spending, of which tens of billions of dollars will go toward broadband expansion, low-income internet subsidies, electric vehicle investments, charging stations, cybersecurity and more. The outpouring of federal funding gives anyone from telecom giants to device manufacturers a lot to like.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

When the COVID-19 crisis crippled societies last year, the collective worldwide race for a cure among medical researchers put a spotlight on the immense power of big data analysis and how sharing among disparate agencies can save lives.

The critical need to exchange information among hundreds of international agencies or departments can be tough to pull off, especially if it's medical, financial or cybersecurity information that is highly protected by regulatory guardrails.

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Protocol | Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Power

The game industry comes back down to Earth after its pandemic boom

Game company earnings reports this week show a decline from last year's big profits.

The game industry is slowing down as it struggles to maintain last year's record growth.

Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The video game industry is finally slowing down. After a year of unprecedented and explosive growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big game publishers and hardware makers are starting to see profits dip from their 2020 highs and other signs of a return to normalcy.

This week alone, Sony and Nintendo both posted substantial drops in profit compared to this time a year ago, with Sony's operating income down more than 40% and Nintendo's down 17%. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive saw a dip in revenue and said its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year would not match last year's growth, while EA posted a revenue bump but an operating income decline of more than 43% compared to this time a year ago. Ubisoft, which reported earnings last month, saw its sales and bookings this past quarter drop by 14% and 21%, respectively, when compared to a year ago.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Allocations wants to make it easier to invest in startups as a group

Now valued at $100 million, it's emerging from stealth to challenge Carta and Assure in the SPV market.

Kingsley Advani, CEO of Allocations, wants to make it easier to form SPVs.

Photo: Allocations

Software is eating the world, including the venture industry. Carta and Assure have made it easier than ever for people to band together on deals. AngelList's venture arm debuted new ways to create rolling funds. But the latest startup to challenge the incumbents in the space is Allocations, a Miami-based startup that's making it easy to create and close special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, in hours.

"If you look at Pinduoduo and group shopping, SPVs are group investing," said Kingsley Advani, Allocations' founder and CEO. Instead of one investor having to cough up millions, multiple people can write smaller checks in an SPV and invest as a cohort. It's a trend that's taken off in 2021 as investors compete to get into hot startups.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Latest Stories