LibDems' Ning-based social network

When the new LibDems website was launched a week or so ago, there was also mention of ‘a new social action network site called ACT’, which promised the ability to ‘join groups, organise events, watch videos, talk politics and join in campaigns… to mobilize an online community that reaches beyond the boundaries of formal party membership’.
It didn’t take a lot of guesswork to find the site, at and it turns out, it’s just a Ning site with paid-for options to use your own domain name, remove any mention of Ning, and hide third-party adverts.
Here’s the video intro to what it can do:
It’s certainly a cost-effective solution: those ‘pro’ options are costing them £33/month at a guess, and make for a pretty rich social network. Ning also implements the OpenSocial protocols, so in theory there are ways to access and play with the underlying data – although they don’t make it easy, at first glance. So although it’s the cheap option, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad one.
But they may hit problems due to the inability to really customise the platform. Where you’d love to offer dropdown lists, for example a list of Westminster constituencies for event locations, all you get is a free text field for location: and searching isn’t all that clever, so you’ll need a lot of discipline to ensure consistent tagging.
Of course, it looks like what it is: a generic Ning site with a few LibDem logos stuck on it. So in that sense, it doesn’t measure up to the Tories’ custom-built But if the site connects people, and those people go out and do things, it will have served its purpose, for a tiny amount of money.

Thoughts on MyConservatives

A bit pushed for time just now, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts regarding the launch of the Conservatives’ new community platform, I hope they make sense.

  • It’s built on an open-source platform – specifically Drupal. Almost certainly the right choice: after all, Drupal describes itself as ‘community plumbing’. For those who have never used it, Drupal is a startlingly powerful platform for all things social and online; but to me, that’s its downfall – I’ve always found it overwhelming.
  • It fell over on day one. Happens to us all.
  • Opening the system to allcomers, not just party members, is a brave move – but the right one, I think. (And is something I suggested Labour might do with Labourspace, back in March 2008.)
  • Having said that, the heavy Conservative branding – including the use of an Eric Pickles video on the homepage – will put a lot of people off. I don’t see people registering for this unless they’re at least passively Tory.
  • The ‘campaigns’ page – currently the heart of the site – has two key elements: ‘local campaigns’ and an events calendar. Neither are working well. When I put my postcode into the local search – even though I live in a Tory-LD marginal, high on the LDs’ list of target seats – it comes back: ‘Your local candidate doesn’t have a campaign team yet.‘ I’d have thought they’d pre-organise some of these key areas prior to launch. And there’s no encouragement for me to sign up to be notified if/when they do finally organise locally. The events listing is rather curious, initially showing me events from 2 to 10 Oct – not great when today’s the 13th.
  • I really like the way they’ve illustrated what a donation pays for:
    MyCon donate constituency
    It demonstrates that even a token donation can have a material effect…
  • … but I still think it’s an uphill struggle to get people to donate. We’re looking at a massive cultural change, at a time when public trust in politics really couldn’t be lower. I just can’t see it.
  • The sign-up form isn’t too intrusive, but it doesn’t tell me what my details will get used for. Inevitably I’m assuming it’ll go straight into their junk-mailing database – which is why I haven’t signed up myself, incidentally.
  • And whilst it may not be unique functionality – both Labour and the LibDems can rightly claim to have had a lot of the same tools for some considerable time – presentation and high-level commitment goes a long, long way. Even if it doesn’t really raise the bar, the perception is that it does.
  • I wonder what will happen to it after the election?