Check messages, update status, register to vote

Almost two years ago, I wrote about how voting should catch up to today’s technology — why can’t we vote on our iPhones or Droids? That hasn’t happened yet, but an announcement earlier this week gave me hope that maybe some people are finally getting it.

Washington just became the first state to let people register to vote using Facebook. The article shows that Washington, already leading the way in online registration, is aiming to reach young voters with this initiative. The app would “fill in” a lot of information pulled from the Facebook profile, minimizing the legwork the registrant would have to do.

I think that’s pretty brilliant.

My interest in social media has three basic prongs: travel, journalism and political engagement. Anything that can encourage people, especially those in the fickle 18-34 demographic, to register to vote should be applauded. I hope that the app is a success and other states follow Washington’s example.

It isn’t so much that this is groundbreaking, even though it is. I wonder why no one has implemented this before now. Roughly 70% of Internet users in the U.S. use Facebook (and that’s data from a year ago; the number could have increased). It’s a vast, relatively untapped source of constituents.

Obviously this registration doesn’t guarantee that people follow through by actually voting, but it’s a start. I’m sure there are ways — alerts, messages or ads — to remind people to vote, even giving them some notice a few days beforehand.

Technological archaism, especially where young adults are concerned, is a legitimate complaint about America’s voting system. If America wants its young people to be engaged voters, it should show a willingness to engage them as well. Facebook touches all aspects of our personal and professional lives (for good or ill), so why not our civic lives? Good for Washington for taking the first step.

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What’s Google+ waiting on?

Google+ is working on developing business/brand accounts, and asking businesses not to join the network yet. It seems reasonable on the surface, but it could easily backfire.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Google+. I liked it a lot then, and I like it now. I’m noticing, though, that there’s an unhappy trend in posts from people in my Circles. There’s a prevailing attitude of, “Well now what do we do?”

Some brands have managed to slip through. Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a personal Google+ profile that he’s now “winding down” in preparation for a Google+ branded account for Mashable. This is after Mashable’s original personal-esque account went on hiatus. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if Google wouldn’t have been wiser to beta test branded accounts first, or in conjunction with the very first personal accounts. Waiting until the site has 20 million users before actively discussing branded accounts (and suspending many branded accounts masquerading as personal ones) is like opening a shopping mall with no stores.

A site like Facebook, which started out as personal and casual and only gradually migrated to a more business-friendly approach, is a different animal. The main draw of Google+, near as I can tell, was always the networking/professional aspect. Some people I follow or who follow me use it casually, but the vast majority of them post about technology, journalism and politics. Even the personal is professional.

We can always discuss such things on personal accounts, but if we can’t engage with “official” newspaper, TV station, magazine, business and news site accounts, what can that accomplish?

Google+ needs to present a clear and compelling reason for its existence and open up the personal-to-business channels, or it’ll be drowning in cat GIFs in six months for lack of anything else for people to do.