You probably hadn’t heard, but it’s an election year. It’s a very special time in which, every four years, we remember how tenuously we get along with our co-workers when we discuss anything more meaningful than lunch, and the media champions the uninformed as euphemistic “undecideds,” heralding these fidgety figures in mismatching socks as the omniscient beings who will ultimately dictate the future of health care, international policy, the economy, and marriage equality–because, as sad as it is, that’s completely what they are.
NBC Politics is a new iOS app designed by Method that filters the day’s news through a “does this matter for the election” lens. It hands you the same content you’ll read at MSNBC.com, but it limits the scope of the news to the politics section while offering some eye-pleasing typography to makes real-time news feel a bit more like stylized print.
“For this project, while we were considering how the election experience played into the app, we wanted to build a politics product that could live on and continue to evolve after the election cycle,” Method’s Interaction Designer Lead Jennifer Brook tells Co.Design. “We’re in love with this idea of the app facilitating, if not initiating, a two-way conversation between the viewer and broadcast. So we were asking questions like, could people create content in the app that they can not only share with their networks, but could be featured on air?”
NBC Politics certainly has a basic, readable news framework that could apply to any story feed–not just the election–but it’s this two-way, interactive angle that makes the app so intriguing. The standout feature by far of the NBC Politics app is its Battleground Map that breaks down each state by the candidate projected to land its electoral votes. But not only can you examine the red and blue states, you can swap them around.
Playing what the app calls “the ‘what if’ game,” you can turn Texas blue or California red. You can experiment with classically up-for-grabs states like Florida and paint scenarios on your own without the guidance of broadcasters. Method calls the map “absolutely tailored for an app experience,” and we’re inclined to agree, especially as users can share their imagined scenarios. And theoretically, this user content could enter MSNBC’s own news cycle, as the app includes a “share with NBC” button allowing you to lay out your argument for the future as you see it. It’s sort of like an NCAA bracket that actually matters.
The battleground map just scratches the surface of the crowdsourced news trend (that has historically fueled the election cycle, even before we had the words “Internet” and “crowdsourced”). As useful as the tool is, nobody is going to use it over and over to generate new, compelling content or insight for U.S. citizens.
But app-ified election feedback is the new tool that all media outlets have in 2012, as “apps” as we know them today were just beginning to exist in 2008. Developers have the briefest of windows to innovate now and really rock the way we experience democracy from our pockets. Because those who miss the opportunity will, like about half of the country, have a miserable next four years of waiting.