Today is Super Tuesday for the Midterm primaries, which means that for the next six months the Internet will be filled with cyber equivalent of political bumph. Anyone with less than a passing interest in the art of psephology runs the risk of being bored into submission by the political drivel emanating from the social networking feeds of their more politically-aware friends. And so, politicos, allow me to introduce you to VoteiQ, in the hope that it might save Facebook for the more superficial things in life.
Before you envisage it as a social media site for wonks, let me explain a little further. VoteiQ's creators are aiming the website at four different sectors: voters, the politicians themselves, organizations and the media —although there is something a little condescending about Rick Shenkman's statement that Americans don't know enough about politics or the candidates who represent them. (Another point worth noting is that, while Shenkman doesn't think Facebook is the right place to debate either politics or religion, VoteiQ has got its own page in the big blue book.)
VoteiQ's basic aims are these. First of all, to simplify politics for the man or woman on the street and match them to the right candidate. For politicians, it's a question of simplifying social media and allowing them to target the right audiences and engage with citizens—shades of Google's Campaign Toolkit here. Finally, it hopes to keep an organization—mainly political parties or issue-based groups—communicado and motivated (they can even win Foursquare-esque points for fundraising, signing up new members and organizing events). On HuffPo, Mike Smith calls it "a new voter empowerment paradigm."
There are rich pickings to be had in social media for politicians—and, it has to be said, rich pickings in politics for the social media firms. Witness Facebook, which has been flexing its political muscle recently, recruiting Timothy Muris as its Washington lobbyist, and upping its political content pages. Google's political lobbying habit is well established. And now Twitter's posted a job search for a Government Liaison, who can help pols use the platform more effectively.
But can a stand-alone platform aimed at "digital natives" be expected to motivate, re-engage and un-disenfranchise the voting population when sites such as Twitter and Facebook have a stranglehold over the online population? The Vote iQ site, which is still in beta, has a pretty impressive advisory board. Frank Luntz, James Carville and Richard Dreyfus are all signed up. Its CEO, James A. Tisch has had "20 years of experience" in the tech world, and its management team has been pulled from all of the right places, including a whole host of Fortune 500 companies, as well as Washington itself.
But there's something a little whiffy about it.
Perhaps it's missing a gimmick. Potential rival Visible Vote has a mobile voting platform that turns every voter into a Roman Emperor, and politicians into gladiators fighting for their lives. Now that's empowerment.
The whiff is this: social media is not a young person's game—the fact that most people's parents and grandparents are now signed up to Facebook is the perfect illustration of this. Creating a successful social networking platform, however, is solely a domain for the young: Look at Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, and how young their founders were when they had the vision. And then look at MySpace, once News Corp. got its hands on it.