How will ACT and Facebook sit together?

As we covered earlier this week, the Liberal Democrats now have a new social network – ACT. Unsurprisingly one of the most common comments made since its launch has been, “how does this fit with Facebook?”. The party’s previous decision to have a heavy emphasis on using Facebook, both for its centrally inspired social networking activities and also as the tool recommended and supported for widespread use at the local level, was one largely made by myself when working there, so it’s a question that interests me too.

I’m glad to say that the move to set up ACT using Ning looks to me so far to be very much the right one.

First, the party’s heavy focus on Facebook was partly the result of necessity. If you’re short of resources to set up your own tools, get people using the best ones provided by others instead. However, with the party’s recent significant increase in staffing for online campaigning there is now room to be more ambitious.

Second, for all Facebook’s strengths, it is also limiting. Data is hard to get out and many external systems don’t integrate well or at all with it. Ning is more flexible and opens up the possibility for more integration – and even replacement of other systems. (I think this will be the real long-term test for ACT: can the next steps in its development result in it integrating with or replacing enough other tools to make it the essential and convenient place to go? Personally, I’d also love to see the site integrate with the Liberal Democrats Account system so it’s one username and password for all your main Liberal Democrat services.)

Third, Ning itself has developed in many ways that makes it a more potent challenger to Facebook.

As for how you make good use of Ning and Facebook side by side? The success of MyBO for Barack Obama shows it is possible to have both your own social network and make good use of existing external one. But his success is by no means a solitary example and this article gives a good flavour of the ways others have successful used Ning and Facebook together.

Sam Lockwood, who is the key technical person in party HQ working on ACT, explained in an email that,

The network is built on Ning, a Californian based social platform founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini, which currently serves over 37 million registered users worldwide. When assessing different platforms we were particularly impressed by Ning’s commitment to usability and consistent product innovation.

The recent launch of Ning Apps enables us to rapidly deploy new functionality and tools to our users in the run up to the General Election. Ning Apps use OpenSocial as a framework, a set of common application programming interfaces for social applications developed by Google together with a number of large social networks. We plan to release some exciting custom campaigning and fundraising Apps over the coming months to enhance the network and extend its capability.

Chatting to Sam a couple of weeks ago, I’m impressed with the plans that are in place (and slightly envious of the much increased resources the new team now have to work with!). Good luck to them.

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This entry was posted in Online politics.


  • Chris Keating 27th Nov '09 - 1:06pm

    Alex – don’t really know what you mean by saying “keeps happening that things get censored”. Part of the point of Act is to have debate and discussion and we are certainly not going around deleting anything we think is off-message.

    However, we do need to make sure that Act provides a good experience for everyone using it, in the same way as any online community does. Act’s community guidelines are here:

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