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Lib Dems InACT

November 25, 2009

The party’s new online tool, ACT, has gone online – and I think it’s a complete waste of time.

It’s designed to be a social networking tool, like Facebook, for people “sympathetic” to the Lib Dems whether or not they’re party members. It has groups and events and profiles and 140-character status updates. I spent a few days playing with it, creating comments and making friends, before deciding to leave.

I’m struggling to work out why people thought this would be a good idea, compared to Facebook. It’s another walled garden which requires people to sign up to get any benefit. The user interface is nowhere near as slick. The e-mail notifications are annoying, containing just links rather than the content, meaning you have to go to extra hassle just to find out whether you’re interested in what’s being said.

Now, I’m certainly no fan of Facebook, but the fact remains that most people I know are on it, whether they’re committed party members or just mates of mine who like to help me out every now and again. I can create events for members of my ward campaigning group, and invite a few people who aren’t comfortable being associated with the party but are happy to help me out. There’s no way I’ll be able to get all of my friends on Facebook to sign up to ACT.

Worse than that, this doubles my workload. If the Official Word from the party is that ACT is the tool to use rather than Facebook, I’m required to create events and invite people on ACT and Facebook (as well as Flock Together, the other Lib Dem events tool). I have to maintain supporters’ groups on both networks and spend time cultivating contacts on both. I’m entirely uncertain as to what ACT is supposed to be for. It’s an inferior Facebook clone which is inward-looking. When I posited the question on my ACT status, I was told “It’s good because it’s entirely dedicated to the Liberal Democrats” – precisely why I think it’s redundant and regressive.

The party seems to be focusing on e-campaigning at the moment, and it’s a very popular move – who’d want to be out in the cold delivering Focus leaflets when they could be sat in front of their computer with a cup of tea, clicking for victory? I’m not convinced of the benefits though; it’s not the case that if you blog or tweet or Facebook something about the party, then the unconverted will come to it and be inspired. Sure, you can build up a good online profile with thousands of constituents getting your message, but the best way to do that is through traditional means like Focus leaflets, using real-world contacts to direct people to your online presence.

However, I feel that the focus of the party should be on the many broken local parties, the parts of the country where there is no effective Lib Dem local presence. The places where people who join the party are ignored rather than welcomed, not invited to contribute or to benefit from their membership. Until we have a strategy to match the US Democrats’ “50 state strategy”, to make sure that we can help people help the party wherever they are in the country, then using the Internet to reach out to people we’re not already reaching locally will be largely pointless.

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  1. November 25, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I think you’re being a little unfair on what is a new system.

    You say why use a new Ning system rather than Facebook? Well, lots of other organisations have gone down the Ning route because it offers, amongst other things, better data management options and more ability to integrate with the non-Facebook world.

    If it’s working well for others, it seems to me to be quite a leap to take one look at a new system and straight away be sure that it can’t work for us. Having your own social network has also worked well for other political campaigns, most notably Barack Obama. I’m sceptical about some of the simplistic “Obama did it so we must too” rhetoric, but on this one I think it’s fair to say we can learn from his campaign.

    I agree about the problem of proliferating systems, but on that surely the judge is whether over time the new one is expanded and either integrates or replaces other systems, rather than judging it just by what it does on day one?

    • jazzhandsseriousbusiness
      November 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

      I’ve not taken “one look” at ACT. I was one of the people who was signed up before it launched, testing its functionality and providing feedback. I don’t see why or how I should judge it on its future potential – it’s been presented as a ready-for-use tool, now officially launched by the party, and that’s how I’ve appraised it. If it changes in future, I may well revisit it, though that won’t solve the insularity and ubiquity problems that I’ve compared to Facebook above.

      I also haven’t said that it “can’t work for us”. I’ve said that I don’t see the point in it right now, and I’ve made constructive suggestions about what we could be doing instead. I’m sure that part of the reason that launching their own social network worked for the Obama campaign was that it tied in to the boots-on-the-ground 50 state strategy – and we’re missing that real-world half. If we had it, I’d be a lot more confident in ACT.

      • November 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

        Fair point about the beta testing, though I do disagree with judging a system too much on its launch day features and performance.

        Take the example of MyConservatives.com, which crashed on day one. That’s a bit embarrassing for them but doesn’t really tell us anything about its long term prospects or stability.

        In the case of ACT, it’s been positioned both as part of a wider strategy – not all of which has so far been rolled-out – and as using a system that is open and flexible for future developments – and so almost by definition is not intended to doing just what it can currently do.

        I think your comment “I’m struggling to work out why people thought this would be a good idea” was pretty negative about ACT’s future prospects! But good to know you’re more optimistic than that.

  2. Andrew Hickey
    November 26, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Agreed with pretty much all of that. Signed up to that Act thing to see what it was about and not at all impressed…

  1. November 26, 2009 at 11:38 pm
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