Obama's Text: Message Received, With a Few Garbles
By Jose Antonio Vargas
It was the text message read 'round the country.
But many had to wait minutes, and some for hours, to receive the announcement of Sen. Joseph Biden as Sen. Barack Obama's running mate. This was most likely a scaling issue, mobile experts said, with carriers' messaging systems overwhelmed by the number of people receiving the text.
"It was one message that had to reach any number of devices," said Stephanie Vinge-Walsh of Sprint Nextel. She added that traffic on Sprint's short code for the Obama campaign -- 62262, which spells O-B-A-M-A on cell phone keypads -- rose more than 250 percent within an hour of the announcement.
The Obama campaign, which declined to say how many texts it sent around 3 a.m. today, said everything went according to plan.
Regardless, the number of people who received the text through various mobile carriers was certainly unprecedented in the political realm.
In a campaign season of many innovations, this marked the full arrival of texting to politics. About 48 billion texts were sent each month in the country as of December 2007, according to CTIA, the international association for the wireless telecommunications industry. Just this year, Sprint says, more than 70 million texts were sent over its network.
For more than a year, Obama's online operations has aggressively marketed their text program -- which comes with its own ringtones and wallpapers, standard fare in the mobile commercial industry -- to collect names, e-mail addresses and Zip codes. Scott Goodstein, who overlooks the program, spent three weeks in South Carolina before the Palmetto State's primary to test the new medium's use in campaigning. Nearly two weeks ago, Obama sent a message saying he would notify supporters of his vice presidential choice via text, promising supporters that they'd be "the first to know."
That promise was undercut when news organizations confirmed around 1 a.m. today that Obama had settled on Biden. The announcement was sent about two hours later -- apparently with no glitches, said Kevin Bertman of Distributive Networks, the District-based mobile company hired by the campaign to send its texts.
Yet some awaiting word were complaining on various blogs and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. "What happened to the text message?" wrote Hunter Woods on the wall of Obama's official Facebook page.
As of 3 p.m. Saturday, nearly 12 hours after it was originally sent, Micah Sifry still hadn't gotten the text.
"I didn't really mind not getting it, but I do know people who got it at 3 a.m. An older friend of mine e-mailed me at 4 a.m., saying he couldn't sleep and asking, 'Why wasn't this thing sent at 5 p.m.?' " said Sifry, co-founder of TechPresident, a group blog covering the intersection of politics and technology. "Whatever you think of when it was sent, you have to admit this was a really smart way for the campaign to get thousands, if not millions, of numbers. Texting is a huge new tool."
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