Mitt Romney's campaign released a mobile app, named "Mitt's VP," early Tuesday morning. On its surface, the app has a single purpose: Users who register by giving their personal information to the campaign will get a push notification the moment Romney announces his long-awaited choice for vice presidential candidate and will be encouraged to share the news with their social networks.
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Immediately upon the app's release, political reporters across the country downloaded the app -- guaranteeing the rest of the country will find out about the choice more or less immediately, whether they've installed the app or not.
The registration process reveals the true purpose of the app: It's a way for the Romney campaign to collect data about its supporters. That's not a nefarious or evil thing -- data is the key to winning elections and it's worth its weight in gold to every campaign. The Romney campaign can use the data collected by the app to send targeted email messages to, say, anyone that lives in a battleground state -- a powerful communications ability.
However, promising hot information to supporters in exchange for information is not innovative in the realm of digital politics. Barack Obama's campaign did the same thing four years ago when it made its own vice presidential announcement via Twitter and the web, though the selection of Joe Biden was leaked by the press before the campaign made its formal announcement.
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The lack of real innovation in the new Romney app is highlighted by an unfortunate bit of timing: The Obama campaign launched a new app Tuesday morning that represents a real game changer in field organizing. Admittedly, when the Obama campaign got wind of Romney's new app, it may have rushed its own app out the door in an effort to steal the show. The press was notified of Obama's app in the wee hours of the morning.
Whereas Romney's app is useful mostly to the campaign, Obama's app empowers that side's supporters to be more effective at reaching their goals. Obama campaign staff and volunteers no longer have to print hundreds of sheets of addresses and turf maps when going door-to-door, only to spend hours digitizing their work later that evening. Instead, they can receive and transmit their day's work via the new app.
Obama's app also uses a supporter's location data to show how Obama's policies have affected the user's immediate area, and it takes a page from digitally-savvy NGOs (non-government organizations) by providing voters with a mechanism to report potential voting abuses on Election Day, which could become an issue this year as several states are adopting stricter voting laws.
The apps were, of course, designed for different purposes, but the Obama app is clearly a more innovative product. If the two campaigns were competing solely on the basis of their digital development, Obama would likely win in a landslide.
What do you think of the two candidates' digital efforts? Have you downloaded the apps? Share your reactions in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.