September 13th, 2012
Hmmm, let’s see what Catalist, Aristotle, NGPVAN et al have to say about this latest move from NationBuilder:
Today we are introducing the NationBuilder Election Center – a free nationwide voter file that also includes an API designed for developers. It’s available for political use by everyone and anyone. Campaigns without heaps of money or party endorsements can access it. Voters can claim their records and express their contact preferences. Developers can build applications to engage more people in the political process. And the data will become more and more accurate over time.
Information wants to be free! Particularly if someone’s willing to put a lot of work into MAKING it free. Of course, the usual caveats apply — how often will the data be updated? How will its accuracy be ensured? How easy will it be to work with in practice?
Also note that companies like Catalist and NGPVAN don’t just sell the voter file; they typically add additional data, for instance by cross-referencing voter information with consumer databases to build up demographic profiles of individual citizens. Plus, they offer technology to help campaigns leverage the voter file, such as NGPVAN’s Social Organizing tool.
Still, this is another example of NationBuilder trying to shake up an industry, just as its initial launch helped push political CRM providers to innovate. It’s also an example of the natural progression of a data-driven market niche, one that I’ve seen many times in many spheres over the years — at first, companies can thrive simply by aggregating and providing publicly available information. Later, though, the data itself typically becomes a commodity, and businesses have to provide real value on TOP of it to survive, typically by appending information to the original data set or by creating and selling tools that help customers put it to use. It’s all part of the cycle of life…or in this case, of an information-driven industry.
One other consideration — with an API available, outside developers can use the voter data for their own purposes. What kind of creative ideas will result? Will be interesting to see….