Should Obama and McCain Have APIs?

candidatesWith the launch of the general election, much attention has been given to the online efforts of John McCain and Barack Obama. The big story for Obama has been the amazing fundraising success and the early adoption of social media, especially the 955,016 supporters on his Facebook page. Larry Dignan at ZDNet has a description of the Obama IT strategy. McCain began his online effort with his own McCainSpace social network, which has gotten less traction, and his Facebook group has 141,876 supporters.

Of course both are using the web to raise money, sign up volunteers, coordinate events, and maintain their spin on the news. But now Patrick Ruffini of suggests that McCain take a page from Web 2.0 and
leapfrog Obama by employing an API
. Ruffini applauds the thoroughness and depth of the Obama site but believes that an API unleashed to enthusiastic supporters could produce for McCain the web energy that a centralized staff cannot.

He gives a specific and well-thought-out roadmap for how an API focused on contacts, actions, and donations could work, and points out the security and control issues.

This is an interesting idea - other Web 2.0 success stories show that sometimes it only takes a small number of fanatic adopters to create the platforms and tools that other less-committed participants can then benefit from. As Ruffini puts it:

We've heard often that campaigns can no longer control their message. The successful ones get a cacophony of supporters talking about the candidate, and then sell that story to the media. Obama's crowds, more than his message, are the story. APIs are a logical extension of that trend. The message is devolving to the users. And so too will the infrastructure used to deliver that message."

This seems to be the first tech-friendly presidential election, with these two candidates being the ones that tech workers preferred, including in the center of Silicon Valley.

Also interesting to note that, as verified here by Rich Zygler, the tech team of the up-and-comer Obama uses the LAMP stack (a quick look at the page source also shows jQuery-flavored Ajax), and the conservative McCain's site is powered by ASP.NET.

John Musser




Organizing information is an important task for important decisions like these. On the other hand leaving data organization up to politicians is bound to ensure no progress. The obvious solution is for impartial orgs to write the api and fill in the data. That way people can look at one place and take a look at issues on both sides. There's no way to get rid of spin, but depending on who writes the API you can trust the API as well as you can trust their other information. Unfluence + political policy/issue API sounds like an interesting mashup for someone to make.