First, the fact that it’s a remarkably unfriendly autofill should have been a big sign that this was a step in the wrong direction. When you’re largely based in the United States, and have put far more investment into your American political coverage (with admittedly mixed results), to have the party that most Facebookers are close to require no less than twelve keystrokes (though I’ll note that the GOP requires a mere three… no real conclusion to draw there, just interesting) is just bad user interface.
It could be improved fairly easily by making the assumption that if someone is in an American network, they’re probably a member of an American party. This doesn’t mean disallowing other selections for expatriates, just skipping them in the autofill for more likely suggestions.
The idea that candidates and parties are the ones demanding this seems strange. First, as a veteran of a Democratic campaign, I can say that Facebook ads are not a major media buy (unfortunately). While they’ll be a bigger part of the media mix this year, particularly with microtargeting, there won’t be enough money there to really make that much of a difference.19
Furthermore, if I’m advertising for political reasons, I’d rather have the liberal-conservative axis than a partisan one – a campaign is going to use different appeals to different groups, and I’d rather have more granularity. For example, I might target a “Make a donation” ad to self-identified progressives, a “Join the list” ad to moderates, and a “Who is [Candidate name]” to those with no affiliation. Instead, I’m stuck using just one metric – are they or are they not a Democrat.
That said, I will give them some credit: the ability to type in your own answer, such as “Independent” or “No party” is a step in the right direction. I never bothered filling in my political ideology because the generic term “liberal” was far too much of a simplification of a complex question. On the other hand, I’m a partisan Democrat so I was willing to indicate that. Allowing users to write in their own answer, as with the religion question, is a choice that will hurt marketing (because it’s more difficult to target people if they phrase the same answer different ways) but be good for users.
Hopefully, we’ll see Facebook unveil some reason for this change that makes sense, or roll it back, as they have with other poor choices. I’ll try to get some reactions from other users at South by Southwest.