Although many election campaigns and candidates are still rather old-fashioned in their approach to technology, the bundle of services that a cutting-edge campaign uses has rather settled down for the last few years, in particular since Twitter and Facebook have grown to dominate their niche and push their rivals into obscurity. What people do with these tools still sees plenty of innovation, but the range of tools has become rather standard.
However, that may be about to change as geo-location based tools spread. Once you get beyond doing clever things with Google Maps or postcode lookups, you quickly get into the “interesting but does anyone much in the UK really use it?” territory.
A good example is Foursquare, whose ability to let you bump into people you know who are in the same area as you has obvious attractions. But for many of its British users those are still all theoretical as it’s not got a big enough user-base for any such meetings to actually happen.
But the new tool Glympse provides not only the opportunity for a low-grade headline pun but also a hint of what the next round of political technology innovation might be like. The simple explanation of it is that it lets you decide who can track your movements and when.
Why might you want to let others track your every movement? Consider the political candidate out on the campaign trail and the campaign team needing to know where he or she is. I’ve spent more than enough time over the years trying to track down candidates to be attracted to a tool that helps cut out the headaches.
Candidate sets up tracking just for their campaign team, turns it on when they leave home for the campaign trail and off again at the end of the day. It’s easy to see how it can go wrong – who’ll be the first candidate who gets into trouble for leaving tracking on by mistake and being caught spending the night somewhere they shouldn’t be? – but also easy to see the benefits it could bring.
Or imagine a councillor doing a roving street surgery in an area and using the tool to make it easy for residents to find them. Or a candidate out canvassing and making it easy for people to see when they are round the corner from their street so they can pop out and talk to them.
Glympse itself won’t bring those benefits for a good while yet, if ever, for it is new, has a tiny userbase and is, so far, iPhone only (correction: it is iPhone and Android). But it gives a glimpse (sorry) of the sort of innovation that will go through the same cycle as before: starting with a few enthusiasts, then widely derided by people who are convinced that by some magic their personal level of technological use is the right one for everyone and for all time, then the cause of a few media scare stories and then … either obscurity or ubiquity.
UPDATE: As of 2017, it has managed neither of those: still going but still fairly niche. It’s scoring some potentially impressive partners, such as to track pizza delivery and Father Christmas. Perhaps its future will be one of back office obscurity, powering services embedded in the offerings of others.