Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Last month I wrote about voter survey websites that promise to match voters to the best candidate based on their answers to online quizzes that rank and respond to issues that have been prominent in the election and national life. The problem with many of these websites, I argued is that the black-box mechanism that determines who you should be matched with may be weighted in ways not immediately apparent to the user. These surveys were often designed to proffer political entertainment as well and used forms of online interactivity borrowed from online dating sites or political whack-a-mole games.

Yesterday, I learned that CalIT2 is supporting a university-centered site of its own, Although the final chart could use an information-design overall, in that the more compatible candidates aren't in a logical descending order, mousing over the score brought up the policy statement and a reminder about whether the voter said he or she agreed or disagreed.

A position paper from Robert J. Beck of Lawrence University explains the site's rationale and its intention to target "college students." Although Beck cites research that shows a "synthesis of entertaining games and substantive information is necessary for election handbooks to influence the development of civic attitudes among youth," I'd have to give the website relatively low points as an interactive experience that is either "entertaining" or game-like. This press release describes the system's debut at a town hall meeting on my campus.

(CalIT2 did, however, offer t-shirts at their booth, which were actually available in women's sizes. Yipee! I'm actually wearing my t-shirt as I write this, unlike the drawers of unwearable tech shirts that I never don. For more on "what conference t-shirts can tell you," go to this much forwarded link here.)

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