Describing the online world as the new venue for political campaigns, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes explained how he left the social-networking website to work for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in a discussion with Dartmouth students in Rockefeller Center Wednesday evening.
The 23-year-old Harvard graduate began the site with his friends Mike Zuckerberg and Dustin Moscovitz while they were sophomores in college. They found themselves discussing how difficult it was to keep in touch with friends while in school, even with telephone calls and dinner dates, Hughes said.
As a result, they created an early version of Facebook for the Harvard community. It included a profile, but there was no wall, messaging or applications of any kind. Even with this "barebones technology," Hughes said, the company took off and became popular at Harvard.
"We soon saw that we held the potential to change the way people were interacting," Hughes said.
The co-founders soon extended their site to universities, high schools, businesses and eventually to anyone with an e-mail address. The site now boasts 54 million users worldwide, receives 250,000 new users a day, has 60 billion page views per month and is the number one photo sharing application on the web, according to the website's press page. Despite its large size, Hughes said users are limited to interacting with people within their own "networks," just like they would in real life.
"It's a virtual community that mirrors one's real community," Hughes said.
Hughes took a leave from the company in February. Originally interested in political science, Hughes said he joined Obama's campaign because he found the politician to be "genuine."
"The more I learn about Barack, the more I am sure that he is a once-in-a-generation candidate," Hughes said.
Hughes called Obama's judgment "impeccable" and praised him for "having the strength and courage to say what he believes," specifically in the case of the war in Iraq.
As a demonstration of the work he has done for the campaign, Hughes took the audience on a tour of Facebook's Obama-centric pages, urging audience members to join the One Million Strong for Barack Obama group. Hughes also showcased the "Obama application," which displays all the latest news and videos on Obama and allows users to vote for whether or not they want the article to show on their profile. Hughes said that the Obama campaign recognizes the importance of peer-to-peer engagement, which he said is more effective than direct marketing.
Nationally, Hughes is the head of online organizing for the campaign, a position that allows him to employ many of the same skills he used for Facebook. He said his position is based on enabling supporters to take charge of the campaign in their own communities.
It's not enough, he asserted, to just have a website stating the position of the politician. The sites should allow people to see something about Obama and be able to share it with friends, Hughes said.
When asked if he would return to Facebook, Hughes said, "Right now, I'm just lazer-focused on getting Barack in office."
Hughes, who grew up in a conservative area of North Carolina, said he supports Obama because he said he believes that Obama is not a traditional candidate.
"[Obama] really will change the tone of politics," Hughes said.
© 2007 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE