Home opinion-and-analysis Cornered! And the winner of the next election is...Big Data

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Nate Silver, the statistician behind the New York Times' fivethirtyeight blog correctly predicted the outcome of the US presidential election in all 50 states, convincingly demonstrating the power of big data: but what if that power were applied pro-actively rather than merely predictively?

The Obama camp made good use of data mining and analysis techniques in this year's campaign. Next time around lessons learnt from the experience are likely to be applied even more aggressively, probably by both sides.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, its US correspondent, Nick O'Malley reported how the Obama re-election team, led by former White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, built up a massive and sophisticated database of the electorate, which it exploited to good effect.

"The 2008 campaign led by David Axelrod was famous for the way it harnessed a massive network of volunteers across the country and collected information from them - demographics, spending and donation habits, political concerns, voting habits," O'Malley said.

"The problem was that the databases in Chicago could not talk to one another. The donations team kept its data separate from the political team's, which could not access the voter registration campaign team's database.

"Messina's first task was to marry the databases. He raided Silicon Valley for its best and brightest, appointed a chief scientist and moved the new staff into the growing offices in Chicago to write new code."

Naturally the Obama camp has not revealed all its secrets. "Back in January a Newsweek reporter visited the Chicago headquarters to explore the mine, and found a staff committed to protecting its secrets" O'Malley said. Nevertheless, he was able to glean a couple of insights from other published reports.

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Stuart Corner

 

Tracking the telecoms industry since 1989, Stuart has been awarded Journalist Of The Year by the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (twice) and by the Service Providers Action Network. In 2010 he received the 'Kester' lifetime achievement award in the Consensus IT Writers Awards and was made a Lifetime Member of the Telecommunications Society of Australia. He was born in the UK, came to Australia in 1980 and has been here ever since.

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