Last month, I posted on a few online tools that people can use to get involved politically. One tool I didn’t review in depth, but could have, was the official Facebook US Politics application, co-sponsored by Facebook and ABC News.
The application has become about as ubiquitous as any Facebook app not installed by default can hope to be – more than a quarter of my friends have it, and during the weeks leading up to the New Hampshire primary, I saw more updates by it than any other module.
While the module had a lot of promise, and showed off some cool features early, in my opinion it failed to live up to its potential for a simple reason: on the most politically engaged social network in history, the US Politics application is neither social nor network-y.
Why do I say this? Follow me below the fold…
When the module debuted, the coolest part was the debate groups, which let you quickly weigh in on an issue. Sure, the groups weren’t perfect…
- The questions showed a definite slant – what kind of outrageous question is "Based on the debate, do you think a Democratic President could keep America safe from foreign threats?" That’s like asking "Do you think a Republican President could understand the internet better than George Bush or Ted Stevens?"
- The format was somewhat strange – what kind of poll shows you the results before asking for your vote?
- The content came from up above, rather than being user-generated. Why not let people come up with their own questions and rate the questions as well as answering them? Even Flixster can do that!
But despite these flaws, it had moving parts, and something for everyone – you got to weigh in, your friends got to see who was where on various issues, and ABC got to run coverage of what Facebook users think. And it was cool to be able to compare your answers to those of your connections.
Unfortunately, the debate groups are about all that’s social about the module, and since the NH primary, they’ve been getting updated less frequently and bumped down the page in favor of the least appealing part of the page: the "ABC News Political Reporter Mini-Feed," which is largely just a collection of links to ABC stories and dull status updates from their reporters (and while we’re on the subject, how did they pick which campaigns to have Facebook correspondents for? Thompson gets a front-page correspondent, but not Huckabee? Minor GOPers like Duncan Hunter, but not minor dems like Chris Dodd? And I’d imagine that Gravel and Paul have got to be entertaining enough to merit dedicated reporters).
A majority of the rest of the page follows this same thread: content from ABC that’s pushed to us, rather than being user-generated. Do we really need this many blocks of content copy-pasted from ABCnews.com? We all have address bars on our browsers (I’m assuming for Safari users, here), if we wanted to get ABC News stories, we’d go there. Instead, we’re at Facebook because we want to network with our friends – every other Facebook app works off this theory, so why can’t this one?
Some of the page’s blocks have potential – they use Rock the Vote’s excellent Voter Registration module, and the "Soundboard" seems to have been intended to be a copy of your regular Facebook status, except that
- It updates you about what people you don’t know are thinking, and you can’t find updates about your friends
- All the updates have been pre-screened, providing an appropriate amount of blandness
- For a network where a pretty vast majority of users are progressive, a disproportionate percentage of "thoughts" that appear are conservative
- They cycle every 4 seconds or so, making the right column unreadable and making the page impossible to leave up in the background (seriously – while writing this post, I couldn’t keep my browser open in my second monitor for reference).
Other than that, the soundboard is just like status updates…
But the biggest thing about Facebook’s Politics App is that it was a missed opportunity. ABC doesn’t seem to have really brought any value add to the application, and instead, plastered their content all over it in an attempt to become relevant to young people. Instead of rehashed news stories, I’d like to have seen API hooks that let campaigns integrate more closely with Facebook. Imagine seeing a big note above your news feed, asking you to make 5 calls with your candidate’s online phone bank tool. And what if it noted that three of your friends were going to be volunteering in your local office – how would you like to go with them?
Or what if we could get some more detailed analysis out of the debate groups? The pulse polls give us crosstabs by gender, age, and political views, which is a start, but given the massive amount of data Facebook has, what about along us to do our own punditry to see whether people who read Harry Potter are more likely to support Mike Huckabee’s tax changes? Or if the Washington, DC network is more favorable toward Hillary’s Health Care plan than the Los Angeles network is (it would certainly be more useful than another fluff stories about what people are reading)? Or if Obama supporters have better Scrabulous records than Mitt supporters. The level of data here is immense and fascinating, and because there are so many users, it shouldn’t cause privacy concerns.
And with some candidates holding rallies of record size, drawing crowds particularly of young voters, Facebook could have created a module that featured impressions and photos from debate goers, as well as an integration with their events application that made it easy to find campaign stops in your area and RSVP.
The point I’m trying to make is that there’s a lot of potential here, and I’m hoping that Facebook will see this, dump the ABC content, and add more functionality going into the general election. This promises to be one of the highest turnout elections for college students and recent grads since we lowered the voting age, and Facebook is a powerful tool that’s nearly ubiquitous among this demographic. To reach their potential, though, Facebook needs to just go back to being what it was made to be: a social network.