Today, while watching the NBA All-Star game, at halftime, President Obama announced the launch of USAService.org, a site where Americans can get together to plan and join campaigns for public service. It’s kind of like Meetup meets Causes meets ThePoint. Several minutes ago, I saw a commercial featuring Obama, requesting people to join the site, join the movement, sign up and get involved. I haven’t been old enough to witness many United States presidents, but this is unprecedented in my mind. One of the interesting things, and whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you see that Obama is taking a very personal approach to attempt to engage and empathize with the American people. Whether it’s working, remains to be seen, but this is another extension of his plan to ensure that he maintains his grassroots appeal and continue to push the Obama movement.
There are several effective areas of the site that are quite interesting:
1) When you first sign up to the site, they prompt you to enter in your contact information. You have an opportunity to skip entering in your contact info, but it is slightly hidden in the user interface. This is consistent with all of his online properties. The Obama campaign’s major strength were their ability to create a massive database of people, and the ability to reach out to those individuals, when actions were necessary. They are a highly organized, well-oiled online machine. Being opt-in, I’d imagine that they have lower than normal “unsubscribed” rates, and with this self-selection, many people can’t get enough Obama information, so they read much of the information being disseminated.
2) Minimalistic: Simple and easy to use. They request the minimal amount of information possible to get involved.
3) The ability to search. Works quite well, and filtered the right way.
4) There seems to be a good amount of activity on the site, which is important for first-time visitors.
Despite all of the good things here, there are a couple things lacking:
1) Facebook Connect: Would be a perfect opportunity to leverage the Facebook powerhouse. It would be great if I knew if my Facebook friends would be participating
2) Twitter mashup to aggregate all of the Twitter posts of the people within the group, or using a Twitter-like format to highlight the successes of the event, for future events to learn from.
3) Forward this event to a friend. Especially if this was integrated with Facebook Connect, this could be powerful.
4) Recommendations based on events that you RSVP to. It would be great if I could subscribe to a feed of events similar to the one I signed up for
All in all, this is a great implementation and it will be interesting to see how this goes moving forward. The great thing about this is that I am sure that Obama will continue the commercials in support of the site, and media coverage will get this site to become mainstream in a short amount of time. This is the wonderful thing about web apps.
The problem with most entrepreneurs, myself included, is that it’s tough to get people to use your site. I’ve heard several times that getting the first 100,000 users is the hardest thing about getting something off the ground. The dreaded chicken and egg problem. The site is only as valuable as the number of users using it. There are tons of great ideas and companies trying to get off the ground, and trying to market to both sides is deadly for a startup because you effectively have two completely different customers and resources to reach only one, if you’re lucky.
With Obama’s platform, he only has one side of the equation to figure out, and with this initial launch, it looks like we’ll see the power of what open collaboration can do. This will be powerful. Hopefully other organizations and causes can use this platform to advertise their initiatives, galvanizing more support for their initiatives. I think this will grow the market for many tech entrepreneurs, because everyone will see that people are the killer application, not the webtools themselves. Therefore, if you’re a large company, you have the resources to provide one side of the equation. Leverage the tech start-ups, and some interesting projects like USAService can happen.