Notice Anything Different? How the GOP's New Website Achieved Epic Fail

What the Republican National Committee debuted is slick, but it's years behind the times, hopelessly tone-deaf, and amazingly patronizing.
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If you haven't already visited the Republican National Committee's attempt to "relaunch" the GOP brand, go now. It's worth it for humor's sake alone, and it's probably not long for this world. In fact, you may not be able to access it right now--it's been crashing constantly.

My personal favorite part of the site? When Tiny Michael Steele comes strolling out from the right side of your browser window.

"Notice Anything Different?" he cries out, tiny hands pumping this way and that.

Why no, Mike, I didn't. Thanks for pointing it out.

Why doesn't every website have a little guy that comes walking out to SHOUT OUT ALL ITS GREAT FEATURES? Because it's really annoying. Really.

So what's Lil' Mike making such a fuss about anyway?

1) That the RNC has decided that maybe that social media thing all the kids are talking about isn't going away. I mean, he even mentions MySpace!
2) That they want to engage with Republican coders in helping to build on top of the GOP platform. Are there such people?
3) That they *get it* when it comes to hip new technologies, like making tiny versions of yourself wander around a webpage.

If you get the sense that I'm not impressed, it's because I'm not. What the Republican National Committee debuted today is slick, but it's years behind the times, hopelessly tone-deaf, and amazingly patronizing.

Of course they should be interacting with communities of interest around the web. That's a given nowadays. Social media is an effective and efficient distribution platform and you ignore it at your own peril. Even the most myopic of newspaper companies has figured that out by now. And, really, that's poor company to be following up behind. Yet, Steele stands up on the screen and talks social networking up like he coded Friendster himself. Come to think of it, he's probably their last member. And joined yesterday.

And of course you should build your site as a platform to try to get developers to code on top of it. After the Facebook developer's platform was introduced in 2007, this idea became second-nature to most. But even as Steele talks directly to "Republican coders," as far as I can tell there is no actual Application Programming Interface (API) to build from. Sure, there's a page that talks about an API--it even starts "Yes, we are serious (and, seriously geeky--so be warned)"--but it leads nowhere. And really, as a friend pointed out to me, what self-respecting Republican coder is going to donate her time? Those are billable hours!

This site is like a period piece from 2008--the Internet moves quickly guys, keep up.

And yet even with all this time to get it right, they didn't.

The site reflects the actual base of the Republican Party only in the most cynical possible ways. All those people of color that pop up as the O in GOP? Every single one of them is labeled "Beta"--a fitting tell if ever their was one. I wouldn't be surprised if they were cribbed off the same clip-art CD that John McCain used in his acceptance speech.

The site is filled with pages that lead nowhere, from its "Code for America" page that touts an API that doesn't exist to the now-famous blank page touting the "future of the GOP" (they later changed it to display "You," a cop-out one step more disappointing than "it was all a dream").

And the code itself is sloppy and full of holes, ready to exploit. Want your own Tiny Michael Steele? He's right here. You can lock down elements like that, but the "new" GOP didn't. I spent the morning sticking him onto friends websites and someone with better coding skills than I built a system so anyone can play along. Here he is shilling for the Huffington Post. It is endlessly amusing.

Don't get me wrong--the GOP should be thinking about these things. There's no denying that, if done right, these disparate technologies can be hugely transformative. These are, after all, the same building blocks that helped to get Obama elected and is assisting in pushing the Green Revolution forward in Iran.

But seriously Mike, you need to come correct if you're going to come at all.

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