IdeaStorm (our coverage), Starbucks did it with My Starbucks Idea (our coverage), and Salesforce did it with IdeaExchange. The concept has now made the leap to politics with Oh Boy Obama, an unofficial "online think tank" in which supporters can vote on ideas that they think Barack Obama should pursue in his presidential campaign.Outsourcing research and development to customers via Digg-style voting is a hot trend for tech-savvy companies right now. Dell did it with
The concept behind these types of services is that by letting users suggest ideas and vet them via a community voting process, you'll be left with only the ideas that your most loyal customers really want - and that these are things that are most likely to succeed in the marketplace. It's too early to tell if the ideas that are winning on these sites will also win in the long run with consumers, but let's take a look at Oh Boy Obama.
The site, which says that it wants to give "the Obama grassroots a platform to submit and vote on ideas to better the 2008 primary and general election campaign of Barack Obama," works in generally the same way as the Dell, Starbucks, or Salesforce sites do. Users submit ideas, then vote and comment on their favorites. The top ideas right now are "Make transparency a central issue in the campaign" and "Keep the Obama logo and visual identity for the general [election]."
Josh Levy at TechPresident thinks that the site was "likely borne out of necessity," because the netroots has criticized Obama for not reaching out to online activists. With Obama's embrace of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and his dominance of those online forums (compared to other presidential candidates), it's hard to figure out what else he could be doing to engage the online audience, though.
Ben Smith over at Politico believes that Oh Boy Obama "doesn't quite fit the mold" for the Obama campaign, which he sees as wanting to maintain "tight strategic control" at the expense of "real community engagement." That also seems a little off the mark, though. We wrote in March about the Obama campaign's use of wikis in the Texas and California primaries to organize on the ground campaign efforts. Wikis were specifically appealing to Obama because they allowed volunteers to shape the messaging and quickly collaborate with each other without the need to go through a webmaster. Or in other words: Obama was willing to relinquish control in favor of organizational speed.
Regardless, Oh Boy Obama is making use of a good idea from the corporate world in a way that makes sense in the political world. The Obama campaign will likely be able to cull some good ideas from the site while they shape their general election campaign this fall (assuming Obama gets his party's nomination). Even though Oh Boy Obama users will be the most dedicated campaign supporters -- not representative of the country at large -- the site can be used as an early testing ground to guage reaction to new ideas. And at the very least, getting involved with sites like Oh Boy Obama will help the Obama campaign energize the grassroots.