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Posted at 01:24 PM ET, 08/18/2011

The gamification of the presidential election


Then-candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., checks his BlackBerry in St. Louis, Mo. on July 7, 2008. (Jae C. Hong - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The White House, which includes staff from the 2008 campaign that pioneered the grassroots use of social media for presidential elections, signed up for the geo-location social network Foursquare. Participation on this network, which has attracted millions of users and is usually held up as the poster child for the "Gamification" trend, is being presented as a way for Obama to become more accountable to the electorate. But will it work?

The President will check-in to the places he visits and leave “tips” about what he’s doing. While well intentioned, this latest experiment with Foursquare is further proof that the challenges facing the nation have become so complex that conveying information via traditional means no longer suffices. So why not turn it into a game?

When the concept of “gamification” entered the mainstream last year via a hugely popular video, there was talk that this “Game Layer” would soon be applied to every facet of our lives. Since that time, game mechanics, which tap into our inner psychology and apply the right behavioral triggers at the right time to inspire action, have been embraced by brands, celebrities, TV shows and media companies, so it was only a matter of time before a political celebrity like President Obama would embrace this game concept as well.


Phones belonging to senior cabinet members are pictured just outside the Cabinet Room of the White House. (JASON REED - REUTERS)
The way to “win” Foursquare is to become the “mayor” of a particular location. You don’t really need to do anything exceptional — you just show up and check-in over and over again. If you check in to a certain place more than anyone else, you become the “mayor” — not a mayor in the sense of a Richard Daley, but a mayor in the sense of someone who has just been more active and persistent than anyone else. To keep you interested in the game, Foursquare provides all sorts of behavioral triggers, like badges, tips and lists.

The first Foursquare tip came early this week:

President Obama discussed ways to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class with a crowd of 500 people at Hannah’s Bend Park on the first stop of his economic bus tour across the Midwest.

If you click to “read more,” that takes you to a video of the President on the campaign trail, answering questions about the economy and jobs. In a best-case scenario, of course, the accumulated “tips” and wisdom President Obama gleans on the campaign trail will inform the tough decisions he makes in Washington. That’s the hope.

Get ready to see a lot more of this. Now that the presidential campaign season is in full swing, it’s no surprise that political candidates are looking for any advantage they can find to connect with voters on what needs to be done with the economy. Perhaps they, along with President Obama, will realize that the economy, for example, is really just a “game” played with its own unique set of behavioral triggers, where real jobs can be replaced with virtual badges.

Collect enough badges and leave enough tips, and you might just become The “Mayor” of the White House.

VIEW THE GALLERY: President Obama renews his push for high-tech innovation.

Read more on Innovations:

We need political hackers, not political hacks

A fix for the housing slump

The case against college

Faster Forward | The president joins Foursquare

By  |  01:24 PM ET, 08/18/2011

Categories:  Dominic Basulto, Technology

 
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