Grading the new new

The RNC re-relaunched this week.  The last reboot, back in October, was a better site than they had before, but was met with scorn and derision from the tech world. So how is the new version any different?

Design: B-

The site is clean, simple, and open, and the red-white-and-blue motif isn’t terribly over the top.  It’s definitely pleasing to the eye, even if it is a bit boxy.  It moves much quicker than the old site, which was bogged down with technical problems from day one.

But use the site some more and there are a few things that are just out of place.  For instance, incorporates video into several blogs and other elements, but these videos are sometimes tough to find.  For instance, in the screen shot on the left, the video player is buried at the bottom.  That may be due to the fact that President Obama’s image is on the player, but that’s still too valuable to bury.  Further, other sections of the site miss out on drawing the eye with video – opting instead to post a link to the YouTube channel rather than a recent video.

Content: C-

The good news is that a section highlights Republican women running for office this year, which is something the party should be playing up.  Unfortunately, some of the cringe-inducing aspects of the old site remain – such as a Republican Hall of Fame featuring Jackie Robinson (who wasn’t a Republican) and Frederick Douglass in a bend-over-backward attempt to reclaim the black vote.

The Issues section has a nifty carousel of the big issues of the time, plus a brief blurb on each.  This is a missed opportunity; in 2008 Barack Obama used the issues section of his campaign website to dive deep into various policy proposals.  Obviously, a party is different from a candidate in that there are many different opinions and angles on any given issue.  The solution might be to have candidates and party VIPs weigh in with policy briefs.  The RNC could set overarching policy positions, but the site could act as a repository of opinions from Republican politicians. It’s the same principle both parties use in tapping a specific elected leader – rather than the party chairman – to deliver rebuttals to the State of the Union address or the party’s weekly address.

I also found it hard to find out who the Republican candidate is in my Congressional district and what I could do to help.  I ended up going through the state party’s website to do so.  Also missing on the main Action center was any obvious link to voter registration information, which is pretty basic.

The chairman still has a blog – mercifully not called “What up?” anymore – and the RNC seems intent to create most of the official content in-house.  This is a waste of effort down on South Capitol street – it seems like an aggregation of Tweets, blogs, and conservative media outlets would be a better way to go, and underscore that the party’s ideals permeate outside the beltway.

Now, the good news: the Blogs section, while having maybe one or two blogs more than they need, has a developers blog to discuss technological aspects of the party infrastructure.  That could be fun to watch.

Utility: A

This isn’t the most obvious part of the site – I had to click around a bit to stumble on it – but the community aspect has some promise.  Aside from the basics of allowing users to set up profiles and blogs, there’s this:

And this:

These two features allow Republican activists to define for themselves what it means to be a Republican activists.  That invites involvement, which makes it easier later on to ask those activists to participate in more defined campaign activities when the time comes.  It could also make activists better, not just by promoting great ideas but also by tapping into the wisdom of crowds to help fine-tune messages and materials.

The site also integrates user IDs from other online sources, so you can easily sign up with a Facebook, Aol, Google, etc. account.  Besides streamlining the process, that will help the GOP identify where and who the activists are, and target future communications accordingly.  It also translates actions taken on to social networks, and increases the likelihood of virality.

Overall: A-

I logged on to the new wanting to hate it, but even with plenty of room for improvement, is has the elements of a very good tool for activists.

I spent 16 years of school trying to convince teachers and professors that grading on potential rather than actual product.  They didn’t buy it, but I did, and that gets over the hump and into the A-range.  What it lacks in content can be made up for by the social elements of our.GOP.  For the rank and file voter, the lack of local information and voter registration details makes this site less helpful; hard core activists, however, should find it useful.

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