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This article was published on April 30, 2010

UK parties iPhone apps. Who got it wrong, who got it right.

UK parties iPhone apps. Who got it wrong, who got it right.
David Reinhardt
Story by

David Reinhardt

David is a London based technologist working for BSG (UK). He likes to think about how people and organisations get the most out of emerging David is a London based technologist working for BSG (UK). He likes to think about how people and organisations get the most out of emerging technologies. You can find him on his blog and Twitter.

All the major parties have talked the talk about learning from Obama’s celebrated success at using technology to build a grassroots campaign which engaged voters and all the major parties have released iPhone apps. I got to wondering – have they blended what they’ve learnt from Obama with the power of the iPhone to engage its users?

In this post, I’ll look at each of the party’s election apps considering where they’ve done well and where they’ve got it all wrong. As a reasonable baseline, I’ll suggest that an app should at least have party news, party relevant tweets and policy information. The thing I’m most interested in is whether the apps provide a platform for interested people to get engaged in party activities. Do the apps allow Joe Public to get involved at a grassroots level?

The Labour Party – iCampaign
The Labour party’s app is very comprehensive. Over and above the campaign news section, there is an Inside the Campaign section which reads a bit like a campaign blog. Good reading for both the party faithful and just the politically interested.

The app also features local election events and info on Labour representatives relevant to your location. This is brilliant use of the iPhone’s geo-location features and offers an immediate route into Labour party activities for potential volunteers, including a form to sign up as a volunteer.

Policies are presented in text as well as a series of YouTube videos detailing the manifesto. Tweets are sourced from @uklabour.

Localisation and the use of the app to engage would-be-volunteers in local events mean this one’s a winner. One thing I wonder about – why does the word “Labour” not appear in the app’s title?

The Tories – Conservative
At the risk of sounding like a real newspaper rather than a tech blog, the Tories’ app is all gloss and no substance. Having to endure the naff title sequence every time I run the app put me off before I even got started. Policies are accessible through a clunky interface. News is presented in a reasonably straightforward fashion.

The only feature which encourages any sort of engagement with the party is “Call a friend” where the app encourages you to call friends in your addressbook and, in doing so, provide their details to the Tories for local campaigning.

A dynamic infographic, the Swingometer, allows the user to tilt the device to demonstrate how percentage swing translates into Conservative seats gained nationally. As someone who does not have a mental picture of the constituency map its not clear how tilting the phone numerically affects which specific constituencies so it came across as someone’s funky visual idea with very little meaning.

The app provides web links to the Tories’ Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages which, annoyingly, take you out of the app and into the browser.

A few flashy graphics neither entices nor facilitates users easily engaging with the party.

The Liberal Democrats – Lib Dems
The Lib Dems app puts Nick Clegg into your pocket, quite literally. By selecting three topics from six available,the app strings together a series of videos which are narrated by Nick Clegg. A few links allow you to join the mailing list, share the app with a friend and make donations. And that’s about it really.

The Lib Dems fail on my baseline of presenting, at a minimum, news, policy and twitter. There’s also no way to meaningfully engage as a potential volunteer.

Lib Dems

UK Independence Party – UKIP
Promisingly, the UKIP app is powered by Purple Forge, the team behind My Politics. Although it doesn’t look flashy, it doesn’t disappoint. In terms of the baseline, the app provides access to UKIP news, the UKIP manifesto and, amazingly, tweets sourced from a series of UKIP relevant Twitter accounts as well as on the search terms #UKIP, #ukelection, #uk, #election2010, #notaxes and #jobs. That’s pretty brave because it seems to show both positive and negative sentiment. It’s also inspired, it shows UKIP being open to hearing from all commentators and seemingly really engaged with social media.

The main app screen provides links to UKIP’s YouTube and flickr pages as well as a short shpiel on the party’s history and a place to donate. There’s an events section which apparently allows you to export events into your calendar but on the evening I looked there were no events showing on the schedule.

The app allows you to share news, events, tweets, pics and videos to your own Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. The Engage area of the app polls users on political issues and provides results of the polls to users in real time.

A real immersive app which allows you engage with party policy, party events and share party information with your own social networks. All functionality is embedded within the app. Functionally it’s a winner although it’s a pity the UI is a bit unpolished.

The Greens – Green Party Policy Matchmaker
The Greens have taken a totally different path with their Policy Matchmaker app. The app takes the user through a series of 10 questions designed to assess how the user’s views match Green Party policies, particularly those which are not driven by their environmental principles. After answering all questions, the user is given a score and some explanatory notes on the relevant policy points. If you close the app and want to read the policies again, you have to answer all the questions again – a bit of a usability disaster.

The only other feature allows you to share the app with friends via Facebook, text message or email.

The policy matchmaker is a great idea which is let down by it being the only idea expressed in the app. The baseline (news, policy and Twitter) is not achieved.

In summary, only Labour and UKIP have delivered apps which encourage and facilitate real engagement with the party. Astonishingly, UKIP’s app stands alone as the only app which encourages sharing on social networks. The Tories ply an unsual middle ground with a few basic features and an attempt at some innovation which is poorly executed. The Lib Dems seem to have built an unusual front-end to some You Tube content and little more. The Green Party app is built on an interesting idea but requires some basic features as well.

The exam question was “Have the parties blended what they’ve learnt from Obama with the power of the iPhone to engage its users?” and it seems that, in most cases, the parties came up woefully short.

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