The tools available to political junkies are starting to evolve in some interesting ways. No longer content to just bark into the e-wind to get attention for a particular candidate, the Internet is now bubbling with tools to help you find candidates with whom you are aligned. Earlier this month, I used Change.org to confirm I favor Dennis Kucinich (). Dennis doesn’t make the Top 7 when I use Connect2Elect.
Although Kucinich is politically the closest alignment with me, some of the other dimensions—such as marital history—may have pushed him further away than the other Democrats. My closest match is 78-year-old Mike Gravel, who matched up well with my profile and holds many of the same beliefs as Kucinich. The recommendation prompted me to check out his site, where I learned the former Senator from Alaska has a presence in Second Life.
Overall, the site is a clean design and appears to go deeper than many of the similar political tools popping up as the countdown to electing a new President ticks closer to the one-year mark. Some criticize the inside-the-box use of public positions as the basis of matching candidates, but the information complexity and interactions involved with configuring one’s own profile is pretty impressive. The interactive features act like a card sort, allowing you to drag key issues in four broad categories into a spatial arrangement of relative importance. The configuration took a couple minutes to complete and produced a simple visualization showing the candidates of highest relevance.
Connect2Elect has a drag-n-drop tool to prioritize political issues.
Where the criticism holds up is in how Connect2Elect makes use of that data to generate the outcome and in the top-down nature of possible tags.
The push pin metaphor used in the main visualization works only as much as one can aggregate all of the issues into a single measure of distance from your position. I don’t think that is practical. While Connect2Elect does incorporate another dimension in the display—placing a pin in a particular quadrant to show where each candidate most aligned with one of the four sections of your issue tags—the algorithm seems to overly simplify all of the profile depth.
There are some inherent constraints on the candidate side about what can be compared. This is an information accessibility issue, most likely, and not necessarily a deliberate choice of Neighborhood America and introNetworks, the creators of the site. It would be interesting to be able to compile richer candidate profiles through their history of public service. This could include impact on constituents, performance in lower offices, and legislative history.
Perhaps there is a potential marriage with a site like Fantasy Congress, which looks a a wide range of metrics in measuring political success to power their online games. The issue tags, too, are merely a reflection of populist issues and not generated by grassroots and local interests. Open-ended folksonomies, older issues of concern (like flag burning amendments), and criteria such as consistency would enhance the match engine. The use of folksonomies, in particular, and local issues are important in facilitating discovery that crosses standard party lines. If the only options are binary tags associated with an abstracted party platform, then the visualized results will inherently reflect that division.
Dennis Kucinich isn’t my candidate of choice, according to Connect2Elect