Election Day 2010 – another failed opportunity for mobile

Today is the Super Bowl of politics — in a way. Election Day 2010. Every major event like this presents brilliant minds with an opportunity to come up with something truly awesome that takes mobile to the next level. And I always come away wanting more. The only interesting thing I found this time around, albeit more fun (perhaps pointless?) than meaningful, is Foursquare’s “I Voted” badge. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: any one of Foursquare’s 4 million users that votes (or fake votes via check-in) today can get the badge.

While I am impressed by the team that Foursquare put together for the effort — Rock the Vote, Pew Center on the States, Google Inc., Voting Information Project, Engage, Twitter Inc. and JESS3 — the experience didn’t do much of anything for me. Check it out. I just “unlocked” my very own I Voted badge. Fascinating, right? I think not. I understand and appreciate the get-out-the-vote nature of this, but I doubt this is driving many people to vote that weren’t already planning on voting. Perhaps it is, and I guess every vote counts, but I’m far too cynical to be pleased by that alone. The project does get slightly cooler, but only if you like numbers that don’t reflect much reality. After compiling a database of 107,000 polling stations, the group is providing live updates of check-ins at those polling stations with a total state-by-state count. The numbers are broken down by nothing more than gender and an interactive map shows how many Foursquare users have voted or maybe didn’t vote, but checked-in like they did. As of late afternoon, the total check-in count was around 42,000 out of barely more than 21,000 venues. As expected, New York and California comprise the largest number of check-ins across the board. Both states are adorned with a nearly full pin that appears to fill up around 5,000 votes, I mean check-ins. Facebook Inc. has a similar project going on with Involver and Voting Information Project that helps people find their polling place. As an added bonus, Facebook users can stick an “I Voted” button on their walls and news feeds. Yawn… Millions more will virtually represent their act of voting this way on Facebook. But as far as I can tell a user only needs to click a button, which would in all likelihood make it more of a sedentary (read: not mobile) act than a location-based one. Mobile or not, truthful or not, voting and then telling the world about it just feels way too old school. Is that all we got? How did voting become more of a curse than a right? Education and empowerment are noble causes, but it’s not like we should regularly have to psych up our friends, family and complete strangers to go to work or school. I like to think that we deserve more from this instantly gratifying/depressing world. Always-on connectivity should find new and exciting ways to get us out of our house or office. Foursquare’s effort is a good start, but I’m certain that someone in the mobile space can do more with such a communal act as voting if given the proper resources. I look forward to mobile projects that encourage us with new ideas or expose us to our communities and our world with greater impact. Don’t just tell me to go out and vote, where to vote or even how to vote. That’s not cutting it for me anymore.

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