If Barack Obama were a software company, which one would he be?

As part of his European tour last month, Barack Obama met up with Gordon Brown (the British Prime Minister) and David Cameron (the Conservative leader). As is the custom, the two British politicians exchanged gifts with Obama. No elephants or guns changed hands, but the choice of gifts was interesting nonetheless.

Gordon Brown gave Barack Obama two books by Winston Churchill and a silver picture frame.

David Cameron handed over CDs by Radiohead, the Smiths and Gorillaz.

My first reaction was that Cameron’s move was pure spin. Cameron, after all, worked in PR at a TV company for 7 years before becoming a member of parliament.

My second reaction was that it was pure genius.

My third reaction is more nuanced.

Almost everything we do – the way we dress, how we cut our hair, the football teams we support, the cars we drive – sends off clues about who we are, what groups we belong to and what we believe in. Other people pick up on these clues and change the way they think about us and behave towards us. Even the gifts we give tell a story as much about us as about the people we give them to. Cameron recognised this and turned the boring formality of official gift-swapping into a newsworthy demonstration of who he is and what he stands for.

Do software companies emit clues that we pick up, often subliminally? I think they do. The words they use on their web sites (do they talk about products or solutions?), how they handle support (open forums or password-protected ticketing systems?), what prizes they give away at tradeshows (Wii or Xbox 360?) and their privacy policy (long or short?) all send messages about who they are.

Even their choice of technology – which should be a rational decision – tells a story, and if the story contradicts the substance then we get confused. The Register mocks Ten Downing Street’s website because it’s based on WordPress and has a YouTube channel and podcasts. Dammit, how dare they? It’s like watching your Dad dancing at a disco. They’ll be using Ruby on Rails next and that would just be, well, somehow wrong.

I think these clues tell us something about companies’ personalities. But do companies even have personalities? I think so. At least we assign them personalities and characteristics, just like we do to our pets, our computers and our cars. If this is true, then we can draw lump companies and people into the same buckets. If Gordon Brown were a software company he’d be Microsoft: a steamroller, slightly staid, often dissed but much underestimated. David Cameron would be Apple – image conscious, media savvy, hipper but hyped.

If Barack Obama were a software company, which one would he be? How about George Bush? Post here …

6 responses to “If Barack Obama were a software company, which one would he be?”

  1. jb says:

    Barack Obama: 37Sigals. Very good speaker, impressive and accomplished for his/its age. But feels a little too new and young to answer the red phone, or to manage credit card data.
    John McCain: IBM. Been there a long time. Reputable. Might be a little too old.
    George Bush: Microsoft. Does nothing right, but still very wealthy.

  2. Ok, I’ll bite : )
    Obama: Linux. Something once thought as impossible, battered as it rose, and now that it finally gets a shot at the top — hey there is actually a lot of decent code in there : ).
    McCain: Old, been through the mill, written off as not with the times, but when we are asked to take a close look — hey, there is actually a lot of decent code in there.
    Bush: George Bush is my Grade 9 assignment to generate the Fibonacci Sequence up to 100 (the first version, that wouldn’t compile).

  3. David Andersen says:

    Obama would be whatever company delivers high sounding but meaningless messages and promises a lot but has no experience delivering anything useful. Sounds like a lot of shuttered dot-coms.

  4. Andy Brice says:

    George Bush would be one of those huge contracting companies that makes a living gouging its customers while delivering nothing of any real value.

  5. David Bitter says:

    Bush: Microsoft. The option everyone buys into because the other option just can’t get the job done. Most people complain about it, but at the same time those people buy into it again next time they have a chance to choose something else. The other option is still just too scary.
    Obama: Linux. Good intentions. Great ideas. Looks good on paper. Perfect for certain specialized purposes. But realistically not ready to meet the needs of the masses.

  6. Propecia says:

    I would compare Obama to the Playstation 3. People are both excited and skeptical about it. Like the PS3, he is a fresh and new choice. However in the end, will people revert to the more familiar choice in a republic such as McCain (XBOX 360)