What an exciting innovation: ABC pairs with Facebook for the biggest debate of the campaign! What a revolutionary union of old and new media! Never mind the CNN/YouTube debates, this should surely shake up the paradigm! Yes, surely — though it would have helped if Facebook had somehow been involved. As it turns out, it wasn't — or, was involved nominally — because as unorthodox as the debate may have been in terms of moderator Charlie Gibson's semi-circle candidate seating and semi-historic onstage meet-up between candidates on opposite sides of the aisle, it was otherwise a pretty traditional TV debate. Alas, no poking to be found.
Here's where Facebook was: Bianna Golodryga reported from "the ABC News/Facebook desk" with online poll results, and on the wall of last night's gymnasium-cum-pressroom (see photo), in pretty much the only reminder that Facebook was involved. (In the press room. Facebook, you wuz robbed!) Facebook did, however, host "Debate Groups" on the site. I know this from the press release, not from my own Facebook page, which I will admit is checked at least daily. I am fortunate to have "friended" many political and media types far wonkier than I, yet my Facebook awareness of the upcoming debates was limited to one or two ads that showed up in my newsfeed prior to the event. As far as I could tell, there was no application created to draw in users; surely someone could have figured out how to capitalize on Scrabulous.
The NYT's Caucus blog has a more positive take, agreeing that Facebook was all but invisible during the debate process on TV but noting that the activity online during the evening was hopping. There's no question that it was: Facebook had numerous poll questions, and most of them look to have been answered by anywhere from 15 - 40 thousand respondents. Not too shabby — but then again, perhaps not the most reliable sample in the world, considering that the answer to "Which Republican candidate appeared the most "Presidential" during the debate?" was a resounding Ron Paul, with 14,390 votes, or 41% of the vote.
For my part, I conducted the very unscientific process of checking to see which of my friends had participated in the debates (which for these purposes means responding to one of the many poll questions). Survey says: 11. Not to brag or anything, but I have 431 friends (some of whom I actually know!). So that's a percentage of 2.5% — and see above re: wonkitude of this particular sample. Glynnis just checked her Facebook: 2 of her friends participated (she has 110 friends — loser).*
It's great that Facebook was hopping — online. The polls are a great idea and I love the debate-specific version of the Facebook status update that the Caucus describes ("[Name] is thinking..." —). But here's the thing: It would have been really, really interesting to have seen more of a bridge between the two platforms — to have had Facebook-submitted questions (sans snowmen, of course), or even to have a poll beforehand on what the general public as measured by Facebook wanted to see covered in the debate (according to post-debate polls, for both Dems and the GOP, the clear winner is "the economy"). Even finding creative ways to advertise the debate to users, beyond the generic wall-post ad that is used by, say, Gossip Girl — it would have been cool, for example, to take the status-message tweak a step further and brand it on everyone's main page for the day of the debate. The whole exciting thing about bringing in Facebook was the potential of what could be done between the two platforms, old-school and new-fangled. What they ended up doing kept the two platforms pretty much apart, which is about as traditional as the old media/new media divide gets. Not that ABC necessarily needed ratings help (though who knows for 3 hours on a Saturday night), but it was more about the missed opportunity of taking these two distinct platforms and merging them in some way beyond the official title of the debate.
*Glynnis responds by saying that she's "selective." She's got me there.