What do custom-designed T-shirts and presidential campaigns have in common? Harper Reed, chief technology officer for the Obama campaign, rose to prominence because he knew the answer: They both can benefit from websites that engage users and encourage community participation—and, in the process, gather valuable data. In a profile at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy describes how such potentially powerful and jealously guarded tech strategies—Obama’s go by codenames like “Narwhal” and “Dreamcatcher”—work.
Reed got his start at Threadless, a website that sells quirky T-shirts to hipsters. But as Murphy details, the site didn’t just make shirts and expect people to buy them; it was a social forum that asked for their input every step of the way: