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While one can appreciate a political party trying to reach out younger and tech-savvy potential voters through a mobile application, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) initiative of launching an Android application falls flat once you begin using it. I doubt that the two people who gave the application a 5 star (gasp!) rating even tried it before rating it. On the whole, not only is the application buggy and badly designed, it is also fairly limited in its approach. This doesn’t mean that the application can’t be improved upon. But before I review the application, just a quick take on how I think the approach of the political parties needs to change when using digital tools to reach out to users:

A political party trying to garner support online probably needs to establish an online media outreach team – essentially an editorial team that will select, segment and surface information through the application to users. They can also look to link out to external content, instead just publishing their own statements and releases.

While what is relevant to a particular user varies, the updates on the position that a party is taking, or events that the party is organizing, need to be segmented according to compelling national issues as well as in case of state specific updates.  Currently, there is no state specific segmentation, and even the national updates don’t really convey much. For example, for a video, the title is “BJP Press: Meeting With Election Commission on Salman Khurshid: Sh. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi: 10.01.2012”. That almost appears to be labeling done for archival, rather than as an update for supporters.

As local events and issues aren’t adequately highlighted – as explained below, they’re scans of letters in Hindi, when those using this Android application are likely to be familiar with English. Also, alerts don’t appear to have been integrated into the application either, and there isn’t much that will make a user revisit the application after downloading it.

An overview of the issues with the application:

– Homepage: It’s interesting that the BJP chose the videos page for their homepage, rather than text based news and views. The videos load just fine, hosted on YouTube, they seek out a browser or the YouTube app on Android to load. The BJP was extremely proactive in uploading its speeches and press statements towards the end of the year, during the LokPal debates in Parliament, and then sharing the links on Twitter. However, instead of a video feed as a homepage, perhaps the BJP would be better off publishing a timeline of its updates instead of picking a single page. It would make discovery easier.

– The design is tacky: if you look at the screenshot above, the navigation icons are stretched. Secondly, despite have been designed for the touch interface, clicking on the BJP logo doesn’t take you to the homepage. It’s redundant, but from a usability perspective, both the home button and the header should lead to the homepage. The back button is a permanent fixture, and if you click on it immediately after the app loads, the app closes.

– Formatting and text related issues: Some of the pages in the media segment have formatting issues; the first screenshot below is for an embedded Youtube Video in the media section that doesn’t show up. Next to it is a speech with formatting issues.

– BJP In Pictures: did not load for quite a while, despite us using a 1mbps WiFi connection, possibly downloading the images. Even when the images were downloaded, there was hardly any information as to the identity of the politicians whose photographs were there.

  

– Indic Text: This isn’t an app specific problem, but an Android problem – Indic language text just doesn’t display properly on Android, so the BJP has uploaded PDF files (it appears). Unfortunately, these pages don’t resize, and become rather difficult to read on the app. So this detailed note on events, on scrolling, looks like this:

This review is based on testing the application on a Samsung Galaxy S2, and the experience might vary across Android based devices, but on the whole, this is rather poor first version to roll out.