In late May, Republicans, in need of an agenda to run on for the upcoming fall elections, turned to the general public of the Internet (can you guess where this is going?) and asked America to speak out.
"America deserves a Congress that respects the priorities of the people. Unfortunately, Washington hasn't been listening. Let's change that. America Speaking Out is your opportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda."
A short visit to America Speaking Out and any social media pro can quickly spot the social sharing best practices that are being put to use. Features such as thumbs-up/thumbs-down voting, points and yes, badges too, make this site an achievement for the political world. And, as hard as it is for me to applaud anything the Republicans do these days, I really must give the powers-that-be a nod for their technological prowess in understanding the basic application of social sharing and social news. That said, they fell short in a few key areas.
Good feedback first. America Speaking Out is rewarding community members for joining the conversation, engaging and sticking around. As proven by the growing popularity of location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, the badge and point system is a proven method of enforcing positive behavior on all of these fronts. Also, the simple voting system, as made popular by social sharing sites such as Digg, allows people to not only express their opinions with a simple click, but also filters the most popular submissions to the top. Additionally, and as a nod to the general idea of the site itself, giving a broad community on the Internet a platform for participating in the discussion through a dashboard that is relevant to current social media norms is a winning move.
But, good points aside, there are certainly improvements to be had. First, the badges could use for a little injection of creativity. Rewarding users for the very basic actions of a community, such as "submitting all information in user profile," is a fair starting point. But, that's all it is, a starting point. Badge reward models, like the one that Foursquare employs, are scalable and support ongoing participation in the community. To top, Foursquare's badges are creative and inspire word-of-mouth buzz. Take the douchebag badge, for instance. I have no idea how to get it, but I want to keep playing the game until I figure out how. Coincidentally, this badge would also be extremely relevant to the America Speaking Out community.
Which brings me to my next point. Dear Republicans, the Internet is filled with trolls and douchebags.
Take a few minutes to peruse through recent submissions in any of the categories on America Speaking Out and you'll quickly find that the site is littered with brilliant remarks from America's finest.
The vast majority of these submissions are fueling the fire of a biased, prejudiced and split America.
Others are just silly. Such as, "I am sick of my child not getting presents at Christmas. I suggest making Santa Claus mandatory to go to all houses except those owned by the Jewish community."
Dana Milbank called out a few other winners in his piece for the Washington Post.
But, let's get back to the proposition at hand. The Republicans can't come up with their own agenda, so they are turning to America's best and brightest to pave the way. And, as many of us know from reading through the comment section of websites like Digg and Reddit, America's best and brightest are not going to lead a serious discussion on a Republican agenda. At least, not without a fight.
So, as much as I want to pat the Republicans on the back for a job well done, I must stop short and question the actual feasibility of a community like this providing any kind of serious dialogue. Which leads me to my final point. Either the Republicans are as closed off from reality as I believed them to be (and they really don't know about trolls and douchebags), or this is simply another political move to get tech-savvy Americans to think that the Republicans are forward thinking and are in line with the world in which we live.