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Building on Facebook, Dems Try Socializing GOTV

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 18 2010

This election, Democrats have put a fair number of their chips -- and, they say, some $50 million -- on the millions of first-time and occasional voters who came out in considerable numbers for Barack Obama in 2008, a strategy that has had its critics, as Slate's John Dickerson reports. To pull it off and justify that bet, Democrats are trying every way they know how to turning out new and newish voters as the days tick away towards November 2nd, and as such, yesterday Organizing for America rolled out a project that makes use of voters' online social networks to get supporters to help Democrats convince their friends to get out and vote.

The Commit to Vote Challenge is what Democrats are calling it, and it's built on the Facebook Connect platform. "Many of the people we're trying to reach, those first time voters and new voters, are already digital natives," DNC spokesperson Greg Greene told me. "They're already on Facebook." Hop on over to My.BarackObama.com/CommitChallenge, type in your reason for voting, and the app published your intentions to your Facebook Wall. But it also sets you up to tweak your Facebook friends, one by one, about similarly committing to vote this election (even if the whole tone of the effort is more dutiful performance of civic obligation than the electric fervor that powered things in 2008). For a dollop of competition, the site tracks how you rank compared to the number of commitments your Facebook friends have managed to pull in, awarding titles like "Committer" and "Grassroots Recruiter."

Will the thing work? We know that our offline social networks can make us happy, but can our online ones actually help make us vote? The truth is, there's little good reason not to try. First Lady Michelle Obama hit OFA's email list with a note yesterday explaining that, "We know from Barack's campaign that when you get someone to make a commitment, they're far more likely to follow through." But Greene points out that Facebook Connect wasn't much of a factor back in '08. The service soft launched in the winter 2008, but has only gained traction more recently, popping up now on sites like CNN.com and Yelp. Facebook Connect makes it so that anyone who builds a website can use the power of Facebook -- a single sign-on, user walls, a 500 million person user base -- while running their own customized apps on their own sites. Facebook opted towards openness with Connect, and it gives entrepreneurial political types a tantalizing base to play on, with little downsides. It's difficult to resist.

Hey, if those "I Voted" stickers can be the kick someone needs, having your entire Facebook news feed filled with stories about getting out the vote is probably of at least comparable effectiveness.