Unleashed! Project Orca, the campaign killer whale

Big data fails big time for the Romney camp as its smartphone app crashes spectacularly, right on schedule for Election Day

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To summarize: Everything in the Orca rollout went great, except for a failure to do any quality assurance, proof its documentation, or beta test in the seven months from conception to implementation. Whoever was behind Orca apparently also failed to hire a competent Web designer, anticipate server loads, beef up its bandwidth, or notify its ISP to expect a bump in traffic.

(Orca appeared to be outsourced to an entity called The CheckMate Company -- at least, that was the website used to host Orca -- but I can't find out anything at all about them. The DNS registration is anonymous, the website is now offline, and Google turns up nothing about them. Anybody heard of these guys?)

Ekdahl concludes:

The end result was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc. We lost by fairly small margins in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. If this had worked could it have closed the gap? I sure hope not for my sanity's sake.

Ekdahl's blog post did not go unnoticed across the political blogosphere, and the problems weren't limited to Florida. Breitbart.com's Joel Pollak talked with a Colorado volunteer who confirmed Ekdahl's account:

I worked on the Colorado team, and we were called by hundreds (or more) volunteers who couldn't use the app or the backup phone system. The usernames and passwords were wrong, but the reset password tool didn't work, and we couldn't change phone PINs. We were told the problems were limited and asked to project confidence, have people use pencil and paper, and try to submit again later.

Breitbart's conclusion: The Romney campaign suppressed its own voters. The conservative Human Events blog declared "Project Orca dies on the beach." But my favorite headline is Politico's: "Romney's fail whale." Wish I'd thought of that one.

Bottom line: Having big data isn't enough. You need to know how to use it, too. As the Romney campaign learned, it's a lot trickier than it looks.

Have you ever had an IT project fail this badly? And what does "Orca" stand for anyway? Submit your own acronyms below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Unleashed! Project Orca, the campaign killer whale," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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