As President Barack Obama officially launched his reelection campaign, his Web team also shook the dust off the barackobama.com website, ditching or burying many of the social media tools used to organize his 2008 victory.
Instead of trying to recreate Facebook, the campaign seems to have decided to embrace it with even more gusto than it did last time around. Prominently featured on the home page is an invitation to Obama supporters to rope in their friends with a Facebook application called "Are You In?" -- also available from a tab on the page. When a supporter signs up, the app posts a status update labeled "I'm In" to the individual's profile, encouraging friends to "like" or comment on the status, in addition to signing up themselves.
Joe Trippi, the Democratic campaign consultant known for his work on digital strategy for the Howard Dean and John Edwards presidential campaigns, said in an interview that he sees this as a more focused design that makes sense at this stage of Obama's reelection campaign.
"Why try to create Facebook, when you can say to people, 'Hey, you have friends, why don't you use Facebook to invite them in,'" Trippi said. The site seems to be focused on two simple goals: Getting lots of people to give at least a small amount of money and getting them to count themselves in as a part of the 2012 campaign. "I don't think they want a whole lot of conversation going on. It's very streamlined -- give money, and go out and do something."
Now, I'm writing this as a column rather than a straight news story because of my past and probably future involvement with the Obama campaign as an online and local neighborhood organizer. (Yes, I clicked the "I'm In" button). Back in 2008, I wrote about the power of Obama's online tools at the point where he was sewing up his primary victory over Hillary Clinton.
I have no particular insight into the thinking behind the redesign, and the campaign did not respond to my inquiries. I thought at first that the blog post announcing the changes, which was signed by "Christopher" might mean that Chris Hughes was back in the mix. Hughes is the Facebook co-founder who worked on the my.barackobama.com social media design, working with political new media specialists like Joe Rospars. I haven't been able to get any fact checking feedback on that, one way or the other, but it may be unlikely given that Hughes typically identifies himself as "Chris."
Whoever this Christopher is, he writes: "One thing that may strike you is that there's just not as much here as there used to be. As this campaign gets off the ground, we want to start small -- online and off -- and develop something new in the coming weeks and months.
"The idea is to improve upon what's worked for the past four years, scrap what hasn't, and build a campaign that reflects the thoughts and experiences of the supporters who've powered this movement," according to the post.
After Obama's 2008 victory, the my.barackobama.com website lived on as the home page for Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee that was supposed to keep the volunteer community engaged and mobilize it in support of initiatives like the passage of healthcare reform. However, it's fair to say the site was due for an overhaul.
Member profile pages and blogs are a couple of the things that seem to have been lost in translation. Past bloggers for my.barackobama.com got a message last week from Betsy Hoover, New Media Organizing Director for OFA, reassuring them that their blogs were still available -- just at a URL that no longer seems to be tied into the site's navigation framework.
"My own view is that the Organizing for America site had basically evaporated," Trippi said. "In terms of being useful as a site, it really wasn't that all engaging, and hadn't grown -- probably shrunk -- since the last election." The maturation of other social media websites have also obviated the need for the Obama campaign to have its own, Trippi said. "It really says more about the evolution of the net than it does about them."