Raz Schwartz Ph.D.

Senior Insights Manager
Innovation Product Area Lead @ Spotify

Mid Term Elections Meet Location Based Services

The US mid term elections are already over. Now, when almost all media attention is gone, I think it is a good time to review the role taken by location based services in this round of elections. Since LBSs were only at their very early phase of deployment during the last elections, it is interesting to see the part they played now.

The idea of harnessing social media to increase civil participation is not new. As you may recall, during the 2009 elections Facebook, youtube, twitter and many other platforms played a key part in the process of raising awareness to the importance of voting.

Sara Inés Calderón recently wrote about how Facebook is an important part of elections around the world and noted that some politicians use Facebook pages to makes enough noise to get their supporters friends to join. She also carefully pointed out to a cause-effect relationship between social media and votes as can be seen in the cases of Obama and Brown campaigns. But how will location based services compete with the task at hand? will they promote and encourage people to go out and vote in similar ways as Facebook and twitter? or will they use the intrinsic geo-location characteristics of their technology to offer a different way to encourage voters?

And indeed, new ideas and methods were introduced during this elections round. Foursquare, for example, released a special “I Voted” badge and a website that was a joint effort with Rock the Vote, the Pew Center, and Google. The project was more a demonstration of power, so to speak, than an actual example of  how location based services can influence elections but that’s probably because it was primarily intended to be regarded as a test run for the 2012 presidential race. The ideas was to encourage users to check in at their voting location and receive the special limited edition badge.

All in all, the project had a total of 50,416 check-ins made from 23,560 different venues and as it seems, the foursquare badge got at least one person out to vote. In a tweet that was sent to Dennis Crowley, Foursquare founder, Mike Leotta writes:

Sad as it may be, my biggest incentive to vote is to get the @foursquare badge. Well played, @dens, well played.[1]

Gowalla, another location based service, was also getting political with a special set of campaign and election stamps. The service called its users to Check in at a political rallys, town halls or any other political event and  get a special passport stamp to their profile. Charlie Crist, Rick Perry and Jim Ward were among the first candidates to use this options in their campaign.

And even the newly launched Facebook places was already used to engage users to vote. The special application that was developed by Fred Trotter, for his father’s campaign, allows users to earn badges for checking-in at polling stations during voting. The application is built directly into Facebook which mean users “check-ins” are shared automatically with all their facebook friends.

Of course, one can criticize the fact that these services are only available to certain parts of the population and that turning the elections into a game with goals to win badges and stamps shallows the political level of discussion, but I think that when using these service properly, they can actually affect people’s habits. In the same way foursquare makes people go on a special Pizza crawl organized especially just to get the Pizzaiolo pizza badge, so can the limited edition “I voted” badge make people go out and cast their vote. And maybe after that go for the pizza badge.

What do you think? would a limited edition badge will get you out to vote?

[1] http://twitter.com/#!/mikeleotta/status/29496855118