CATEGORY: Data Quality

REVIEWER: Shabbir Safdar, CTO and co- founder of Mindshare Internet Campaigns, LLC.

BACKGROUND: Based in Washington, D.C., Mindshare Internet Campaigns is a communications firm providing innovative and effective online strategies and solutions, with a strong emphasis on public affairs. Since 1997, we have worked closely with clients to implement online programs to activate, educate and engage key constituencies. Mindshare's clients deal with a wide variety of challenges: an embassy interested in harnessing an audience for its country's diplomatic spin on current world affairs; a Fortune 500 company that needs to build support for a future shareholder vote and wants to use online techniques to reach the investing public; and a public interest organization recruiting supporters to derail Senate confirmation of a controversial high-level administration official.

PLATFORMS: Integrated into Web applications with Perl on Solaris and FreeBSD.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Working with our clients to help them recruit and activate constituents, we discovered that many of our clients had inadequate constituent management systems. In public affairs, clients need to manage their records to easily and effectively reach and activate their supporters. Many of our clients have limited technical resources; and as we scoured the marketplace, we could not find an affordable, easy-to-use platform that fulfilled and managed their relationships and kept their data clean. Because we want our clients to have it all, we set out to build a system that met their needs. The result is Mindshare RBase, an easy-to-implement Web-based platform for grassroots communications and fundraising. Mindshare RBase allows communicators to easily store, access and update critical information and it provides personalized outreach and activation of supporters, all with the click of a mouse.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Of course, we knew RBase needed quality data hygiene, which is a crucial concern in public affairs. Without accurate constituent contact information, clients don't know where their base of support is located or how best to contact them. We set out to find an affordable data cleaning solution. Techniques for cleaning addresses are available to those who have the luxury of time or money to host giant databases from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Postal Service. We knew we didn't want to run another database to hold Census information, the complete set of U.S. postal addresses or even the algorithms to clean those addresses. Fortunately, Melissa Data's Data Quality Web Service frees us from all that hassle.

STRENGTHS: Unlike most of the Web service coverage I have researched, the Data Quality Web Service is not hype; it's the real deal. Melissa Data's inclusive service fee covers updates of their data from the USPS and others in addition to all hardware and software license fees.

WEAKNESSES: We really need state legislative data included, but Melissa Data doesn't currently provide it. They have been adding new data to the system, and we hope this will be included.

SELECTION CRITERIA: XML parsers are ubiquitous, so implementation was simple. Our clients "re-clean" data on a periodic basis through Mindshare RBase's Web interface; but, most importantly, they spend their time focusing on their campaigns. This freedom allows our clients and the Mindshare team to devote the bulk of our time to carefully targeting messages to supporters based on additional information we have about the legislator's history. Melissa Data is very reliable. We've monitored the Web service for months with a regular, unannounced address cleaning every 15 minutes. While we have noticed their backup servers and bandwidth taking over for the primaries on occasion, we don't see outages. Most of our vendors can't make similar claims.

DELIVERABLES: Implementation is easy: break one or more addresses into their component parts, place them in a simple XML structure, and send to Melissa Data over HTTP. In return, we receive another XML structure with the address cleaned and enhanced. Not only do we get bulk-rate hygienic addresses, but we also find out the county, Congressional district, Census block, and longitude and latitude.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Melissa Data is constantly adding new types of information to the returned data. During implementation, whenever we had questions, they had a fairly knowledgeable staff ready to help.

DOCUMENTATION: The manual and sample code available on Melissa Data's Web site is all very straightforward and provided up-front. You can see how it will integrate before you buy it.

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