Clinton 2016 Tech Aims to Make Mobile Participation Fun (and Have Fun with Trump)


The most interesting tech news to come out of the Democratic convention so far is the launch of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s new mobile app. The campaign’s digital director, Jenna Lowenstein, describes it as “a field office in your pocket.” Designed to give people in non-battleground states concrete actions they can do that will help the campaign win, the app—which is available here on iTunes—aims to gamify the process of voter mobilization.

Every day, users get four challenges, such as checking in for an organizing event, sharing a post or video to get the word out, filling out a commit-to-vote card, or sharing insights from policy quizzes with family or friends. Then they compete against everyone else in their social network on a common leader-board, with winners offered bonuses like signed campaign merchandise and special campaign updates from senior officials.

The welcome screen for the Hillary 2016 app

The welcome screen for the Hillary 2016 app

If those asks seem somewhat pedestrian, that’s because this app isn’t about getting campaign supporters to take on the traditional tasks of phone-banking or going door-knocking. (The campaign is using and building those tools, too.) Rather, it’s aimed at tapping into a wider pool of latent supporters who may get motivated to do more by first playing along with some easier asks. Campaign sources say it was inspired by popular games like Farmville, Hay Day, Neko Astume, and Tiny Tower, and is designed to fit into supporters’ busy schedules.

Its features sync up with Twitter, Facebook, and SMS, and will be continually updated over the course of the campaign, campaign officials say. Members of its design team include senior product manager Stephanie Cheng, who most recently co-founded the mobile game company Kooapps; senior product designer Denny McFadden, who led product design at charity:water before joining the campaign; director of mobile Bruno de Carvalho, who was head of mobile at Livestream and Timehop; and developer Matt Vermaak, who worked for Grubhub/Seamless.

Speaking at a Politico/Microsoft event Tuesday afternoon in Philadelphia titled “Digital Campaigns: How Can Democrats Win With Tech?”, Clinton digital director Jenna Lowenstein said that the Hillary 2016 app was only two days old but already “getting really positive feedback.” Indeed, as of Tuesday evening, its overall rating in the iTunes store was four and a half stars out of five, across 463 user ratings.

Challenge cards from the Hillary 2016 mobile app

Challenge cards from the Hillary 2016 mobile app

There were few other revelations about tech and the campaign at the Politico/Microsoft event, as campaign professionals Lowenstein; Keegan Goudiss, the director of digital advertising for Bernie 2016; Betsy Hoover of 270 Strategies (which is advising the Clinton campaign); and Stuart Trevelyan, the CEO of NGP VAN, did their best to project a unified and optimistic view of the Democratic national operation and to disparage the efforts of their Republican opponents on the same playing field. Nor did they have much to say about the latest hacking scandal other than promising that campaigns, which are heavily dependent on collecting and analyzing voter data, would do all they could to protect that data from electronic thieves.

That said, Lowenstein offered one very telling anecdote about how the Clinton campaign is responding to Donald Trump’s use of technology, or rather, his use of social media. “Someone said that their favorite thing about the Trump-Clinton Twitter war is that he’s obsessed with it and she has no idea it’s happening,” she half-joked, adding, “He’s a serious threat.”

But Lowenstein let on that her digital colleagues were enjoying the opportunity to disrupt the focus on the Trump campaign’s biggest asset, that being the attention of the candidate himself. “I think if we can distract him for 15 minutes a day, I take that as a win. A video that we took an hour putting together he’ll be thinking about for 36 hours. It appears easy to get under his skin.”