Did Facebook Give Obama Inside Edge on New App?

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Joshua Levy and Micah L. Sifry have a June 4 article at techPresident noting that among the major presidential candidates, only Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has taken advantage of new software on the Facebook social networking site to broaden his Web presence. (Portions in bold are my emphasis):

TechPresident’s Alan Rosenblatt took an early look at the new feature
and the Obama application, which allows Facebook members to see new
videos and messages from the campaign and share them with their
Facebook friends, on the day it went public, and he was impressed. As
Rick Klau of Feedburner pointed out in a contemporaneous post, the app
adds a significant amount of value to the Obama campaign. “If you’re
interested in exposing your network of friends to info about Barack,
the campaign is making it a one-click affair that greatly simplifies
the redistribution of campaign info,” he wrote.

But when
Platform launched, Obama was the only candidate with an application.
Why didn’t John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Ron Paul, or
anyone else get in on the possibility of reaching 20 million or more
Facebook users and potential voters? [...]

The other campaigns found
out about Platform’s with the rest of us, on Friday, May 25. If
Facebook let the Obama campaign in but kept all of the other campaigns
out, this was a serious breach of trust. Tim Tagaris, who is part of
the Internet team for Chris Dodd, said he found out about Platform from
TechPresident. “They never reached out to us,” he said. “Every
communication we’ve done with Facebook has been us reaching out to them
through regular contact forms on their site.” Christian Ferry,
eCampaign Director for McCain ‘08, told me that while they intend to
build an application, they “have not heard anything from Facebook”
either. From our conversations with other campaigns it’s become
apparent that this was the pattern across the board — Facebook did no
outreach to any campaigns but Obama’s.

Chris Kelly, the chief
privacy officer at Facebook, told us via email that “the developer API
has been available on the web since September 2006 (the f8 launch was
the full formal launch of Facebook Platform, not of the API itself),
and we’ve had a number of conversations with many campaigns over the
intervening months about how they can use the developer API and
Facebook Platform.” However, most developers weren’t informed about
Platform until it launched on Friday, May 25th, so they couldn’t have
developed applications for it beforehand; again, none of the campaigns
we talked to said they’d been contacted about Platform.

fact that Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, is working on the
Obama campaign might have something to do with it. In writing up
platform’s launch, Chris Wilson of USNews.com talked to Hughes last
week and wrote that “the Illinois senator had a major advantage on this
front in the form of staffer Chris Hughes, a cofounder of Facebook who
still serves as a consultant for the site.” And Amy Schatz, in her
recent profile of Hughes for the Wall Street Journal, listed the Obama
Facebook application as an example of the work Hughes and other Obama
staffers are doing.

The Obama campaign demurs when asked about
when Facebook gave it access to their API. “We are fortunate to have
Chris and the incredible skill set he brings to the campaign on our
team,” it said in a statement. “The Obama campaign produced the tools
ourselves, followed the guidelines set out by Facebook and look forward
to welcoming more friends to our network.”

There's a good back-and-forth among commenters for the article about whether there's something fishy going on or if Obama just has a savvier Web operation.

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Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.