Did Facebook Give Obama Inside Edge on New App?

Facebook logo 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.

The 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 the Managing Editor for NewsBusters