Hey, Facebook users: Put down those virtual hamburgers. It's time to talk politics.
The New York Times reported Monday that Facebook and ABC News are close to announcing an agreement to collaborate on political coverage. The two will co-sponsor debates for both parties in New Hampshire shortly before the presidential primaries, and Facebook members will be able to "follow" ABC reporters and interact with news content in a special "U.S. Politics" category.
The Times article fails to mention that ABC is actually a bit late to the game here. CNN has co-sponsored debates with Google's YouTube, and Facebook rival MySpace has an ongoing series of "dialogues" with candidates that it has organized in conjunction with MTV.
What makes the ABC deal different is that it's with Facebook; not only is it the hottest name in social networking these days, but the young company has a history of inking few formal partnerships (the Microsoft equity stake aside), instead relying on its third-party developer platform and advertiser-sponsored pages for "content."
The Times article notes that the ABC-Facebook deal apparently was money-free.
But ABC News doesn't seem to have caught onto the fact that Facebook's user base sees the site as a platform for social recreation, not information consumption. None of the front-runners in the list of most popular third-party applications on the site deal with politics or news--instead, they include Flixster's movie rating application, Slide's "Top Friends," iLike's music app, and the woefully addicting Scrabulous.
And while the Times article pointed out that a "One Million Strong for Barack Obama" group has gathered over 164,000 members on Facebook, it left out the fact that a similar group devoted to the fleeting candidacy of comedian Stephen Colbert actually did pull in over a million members--in a week's time.
Facebook might have 56 million users, many of whom are gleefully hooked on the site, but when some of the most popular pastimes include turning your friends into virtual zombies and rallying around a gag presidential candidate, a news organization might be slightly skeptical about just how much attention it'll snag. (Hey, Facebook addicts: When was the last time you actually watched ABC News?)
That's not to say that Facebook users are apathetic. Many applications devoted to charity and environmental awareness have become extremely popular; maybe not as popular as SuperPoke, but noticeable nonetheless. And the Events and Groups features have made it a whole lot easier to spread the word among the site's young user base. Presidential politics, unfortunately, doesn't fit the viral-time-waster mold quite as well. I can't see my friends reacting positively to a notification that reads, "poke"-style, "Caroline McCarthy has filibustered you."
Maybe ABC News can pull it off--who knows, anyway?--but I'm skeptical.