Points for Voting: Facebook Places Becomes Part of an Elections Game

In the first time we’ve seen Facebook Places used for political marketing, the location-sharing feature has become part of an elections game.

Fred Trotter, the son of Clayton Trotter, a candidate up for a Congressional seat in Texas, developed a game that lets voters level up depending on how involved they are in a campaign.

Users get past the first level by writing a personal endorsement that’s posted to their wall. Then they can get additional points by checking in at campaign events or headquarters, setting up a telephone voting reminder for themselves or even checking-in at a polling station on election day. They can also boost their points by two or threefold if they set up a team with other voters.

Trotter set up the app as an experiment to test whether online friendships could pressure people into being more active and engaged as citizens. Facebook users could decide who to vote for by using the endorsements of their real friends, community members, local teachers and police officers instead of distant institutions like unions or lobbying groups.

Trotter works in health information technology and hopes other developers will push the idea further after he open sources it. Other developers could build apps that track the political leanings of a users’ friends and help them reach out to voters that are on the fence.

“Trust-based relationships have become a new form of currency,” he said in an interview. “It may take a few cycles before it fully felt with Facebook Places, but I hope that social networking will allows elections to stop being just entertainment.”

With Places and Facebook’s database of real identities, Trotter said that the social network could someday be used to accurately predict political outcomes.

“One day we might be able to use Facebook Places to essentially do perfect exit polling,” Trotter said in an interview. It’s a use case Facebook’s fast-growing Washington D.C. is capitalizing on too. The company has been issuing daily tip sheets, highlighting close races by Facebook fans.

On top of that, political apps could be used to keep voters interested long after a candidate wins office, Trotter says.

The app comes at a time of renewed interest from investors in companies that marry technology with politics. Votizen, a social lobbying service, raised $1.5 million in funding from investors including Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Another San Francisco startup from a leading Obama campaign organizer Brent Messenger, Empower Campaigns, has attracted technical talent from struggling social bookmarking service Digg.