Today, Farrin Anne ‘Crane’ Gustafson, the manager of the social media strategy for the Clayton Trotter (my father) congressional campaign became the first person in history to use Facebook Places to check-in to a new kind of application: a social election game. She earned the “At the Voting” badge by checking-in using Facebook Places as she early voted today on the first social election game that I have been frantically coding for the last few weeks. The game concept is simple: it rewards real-world political activity with points and badges. There have been a lot of discussion about how Foursquare et al. might be used politically. This is especially true of Gowalla, which has been targeting politicians. There are also people who have talked of using a facebook game to energize supporters. But as far as I know, my application is unprecedented for the following reasons:
- The application is the first to allow its users to specifically earn badges for checking-in at polling stations during voting. This is much different then using the application to mark political rallies etc etc. Obviously, you do not have to vote to get the badge, you do not even need to be of voting age, or registered to vote in the state. All you have to do add the application on facebook, check-in at a polling station during voting (even after hours) and you get credit for the badge. Of course -most- of the people who do this will be registered voters who want to essentially participate in -perfect- exit polling.
- The application is built directly into facebook. That means that a users “check-ins” are something they can share directly with their facebook friends. There is no longer any need for a third-party application, or the need to limit the reach of the application to the very very few users of the geo-game like foursquare. This is an app for everyone on the largest single social network.
- You can check your friends in when you vote, and that counts too. So one iphone+facebook application can support several different users.
- The game does not just support check-ins. You can sign up for vote reminders, get credit for volunteering, and most importantly, use the application to provide a structured endorsement on your wall.
- Because it is powered by the facebook social network, you get full credit when your friends score. When your friends show up at the polling station or sign up for a vote reminder, you get credit too. You “win” by cooperating to get the candidate elected. Because there is a powerful proxy for detecting real votes (polling station check-ins), it will be easy to tell who the “vote influencers” were.
- The design of the application allows for a deep integration with the ability for the crowd to communicate back to the candidate. If my father is elected, he will be able to use the application to mine the facebook social grid and engage with his constituents in a fundamentally new way.
I believe that all of these elements together (and not just GEO apps or just political games) are the foundations for a new class of facebook game: For now I am calling them social election games. I believe they are the future of politics.
Up until now political power in the United States came from essentially two places: sources of money and sources of fanatical single-issue voters. Democrats cater to different type of unions. Republicans appeal to evangelical Christians. Democrats appeal to environmentalists. Republicans appeal to big business. Each small group would either deliver either a small cache of extremely loyal voters, or expensive advertising, or both. People who were able to directly influence candidates and politicians were either donors, or the leaders of these extreme groups. In short, the people with political influence in this country have become those with agendas that are generally out of sync with anything remotely mainstream. I made it clear, in my endorsement of my father, that I do not agree with all of his extreme views. I support him primarily because I know he will be more careful with defense spending than his opponent has been, and that is a very important issue to me.
I feel out of sync with my fathers extremely conservative positions and I feel (slightly more) out of sync with his opponents extremely liberal policies. They have done well as candidates because they have appealed to the extremes. I know of no reasonable person who agrees with either candidate on all of their political stances. (I am aware, and intend, the implication that if I know you and you agree with my dad 100% that I think you are unreasonable; and that my father, in the sense that he obviously agrees with himself entirely, is also unreasonable. Given the Tea party energy, me saying that my father is unreasonably conservative, will do nothing but help him. I endorsed my father because he was -more- reasonable than his opponent, not because he was reasonable. Frankly, who thinks of their own parent as ‘reasonable’ in any case… I mean really…)
American politics as a whole suffers from the Myth of Polarization. We have turned politics into a kind of entertainment, something like pro-wrestling. Listen to any televised political commentator and tell me they do not sound like they are going to break out at any moment with “aaaarrree you ready to ruuuuuuuumble?” and then present the surprise cage fight…
Why do we have this kind of environment? Because that kind of low-brow drama gets people to vote. But what if we had a different way to get people to vote? What if we could have simple, polite conversations with our friends about who the next sheriff or Congressman should be? I think if those conversations were easy, if they were simple and if voting itself were a fun process, then we might see a trend back to center. A trend away from blood-sport politics. In this world, the wielders of influence would not be the arch-bishop, but the local priest, with 300 facebook friends who actually trusted him as a human being. Instead of caring about who the chief of police voted for, you would care about which candidate the policeman who lives down the street from you (with 354 facebook friends) endorsed. Instead of caring about who the national teachers unions endorsed for president, you would care more about your kids third-grade teacher (54 followers on Twitter). Instead of caring about some insane radio talk show host, you might care about the opinion of an intelligent college kid from South Dakota with a podcast followed by 300 people.
In this hopeful/hypothetical world, real-world trust relationships, enabled by virtual social networks, will become the new political currency. I want people like my father and his opponent to care much more about someone who has 1000 followers on facebook or twitter, and has shown that 730 of those followers take their endorsement seriously, than the person who can pay for a political ad for them for $100k.
The whole point of social media is that it is -not- a broadcast medium. It is an engagement medium. No matter who wins the election in the San Antonio ‘Alamo’ district in 2010, this application is a template for something much much bigger. The irony is that now that I have proven that it is possible, others will try to mine this for a profit. I will have none of that. After the election, I plan to Open Source the code. I plan to start a project to enable a whole slew of social election applications for different groups and for different interests. This open source project, (which is looking for a project manager) will keep the goal of bringing reasonableness back to politics as a central design goal.
P.S. Polls indicate that the election between my Clayton Trotter (my father) and Charlie Gonzalez will be very very close. I honestly think this application might tip the scales in my fathers favor. How cool is that?
(Update 11-22-2010) P.P.S Sadly, my father lost to Congressman Gonzalez… oh well..
Happily it does look like this game might be on to something. It was featured on some of the top tech blogs: