The GOP.com RFP: lessons for everybody?

The recent RFP released by the GOP for redevelopment of its primary site was a disappointment - insufficient detail combined with insufficient time to suggest that the thing's a sham covering a decision to hire a friend - and, worst of all, there's no consideration of the human element: the things that make the difference between success and failure.
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor

When Cyrus Krohn resigned as the chief technology strategist for the RNC last week, he described some of his earlier accomplishments in a way that suggests the scale of the gop.com operation:

The RNC made some notable gains during the past election cycle. I soon realized our online network was fragmented, our list of e-mail addresses was minimal and we lacked innovation. Today, we host 31 state parties on our website platform, and our e-mail universe has grown from 1.8 million to 12 million addresses. Based on our voter file matches with major web publishers' databases, we can advertise online directly to 40 million-plus voters. We outperformed the DNC in several areas, accruing twice as many Facebook friends and producing our 2008 Party Platform using the internet. There is a lot more work to do, but the foundation has been laid for new faces to build upon.

The day after his resignation became public, his former deputy, Todd Van Etten, released an RFP on redeveloping gop.com that's so bad it led to this comment by Red State's Erick Erickson:

Friends, either the RNC has no freakin clue what the hell it is doing or else all the rumors about certain consultants having an inside track at RNC contracts is true.

Why? Because there is no way any competent person would put together an RFP like this. It's crap. It is not legitimate. It is unprofessional. It is illusory.

Either they don't know what they are doing, or they've already picked their consultant and are going through the motions. If it is the former, well, the RNC is screwed. If it is the latter, Michael Steele's claims about bidding out work was B.S.

And I suspect it is all B.S.

The guts of the thing:

IV. Objectives

Complete a total redesign of GOP.com.

Integrate outside products through common API's, widgets, or iframes (examples: Kimbia fundraising, Voter Vault, Widgetbox, Ning).

Re-engineer MyGOP, our in-house social network, and the entire user process from signup to profile creation.

=""> Formulate an easy sharing system that will allow select users of both the state party and the national organization to tap into collected data, as well as have it feed back to our inhouse voter files.

Create a donation platform for the RNC and state parties that maximizes fundraising potential, and allows for seamless data management.


Project Details

An aesthetically pleasing site that is intuitive and fun to use should be the overall goal. To this end, we would like a designer with an intimate knowledge of successful campaign websites that is overly concerned with the user-experience.

Experience in building social networks from the ground-up is a must, with the understanding that this will be a fluid process and elements will need to be added/subtracted frequently.

Flash interfaces can often make mundane tasks exciting, and having Flash developers who understand user behavior will make the site more user-friendly.

Many of the existing capabilities will have to be rebuilt including Phone from Home, Call/Write Your Elected Officials, and Write a Letter to the Editor. Experience importing this data from national databases will be key.

An ideal client will have a CMS that is already built out and ready to plug into the system, so the only programming time will be building the outward facing presence.

VI. Constraints on Budget, Schedule, and Design

Would like to begin building the site, after brainstorming, design, and analysis in less than one month.

GOP.com will be rolled out within 45 days of completed contract.

State party redesigns will immediately follow, with design and building taking no more than a further 45 days.

No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure everything is to our exact specifications.

All costs of the project will be delivered with proposal.

VII. Resources Provided

The vendor will have access to RNC staff at any and all times for our input and guidance. Existing vendors for fundraising, hosting, and data management will be fully cooperative in ensuring the redesign process is as seamless as possible. Additionally, in-person meetings will be held weekly to assess progress.

VIII. Terms and Conditions

All RFP's will be due no later than 12pm on Wednesday, March 18 to webrfp@gop.com.

I've been talking with some people about getting a proposal in front of these guys - but with Krohn gone and this kind of professionalism on display, we're just going to call doing the background work a learning experience and move on.

That's sad, but there's more to it - Erick went on to write a second piece: one in which he announces that Red State will sponsor some innovation on it's own. Here's his summary (from a comment)

My intention is to generate a list of competent developers based on a few micro-projects. From there, we will have demonstrable competence for larger projects that right of center funders will be able to fund with the knowledge that their money is not going into a sink hole of crap.

We'll start small and both tag team on small projects and explore larger ones for which funding is needed. I'm just a sherpa. I am not a tech guy myself. I want to find the real tech guys, many of whom are not plugged in.

Erickson's work drew a number of comments, including one by "eaglewatcher" asking "what effort is being made to analyze the human element to determine what the problem is?" -and that question drew this response from Steph C:

The human element is crucial and the least considered. A web site can look like crap, act like crap, and still be a hit if it's what the people want to see and learn. I've seen it happen, time and again.

A good looking site and good functionality help a lot but they're only a part of the success. When you add in entities like Google, Alexa rankings, and others which have become so biased, the problem is compounded.

Unfortunately, for conservative sites, the old adage: "If you build it, they will come" doesn't work.

I've done shopping carts, forums, blogs, newsletters, and more but none of them work for success of a site if the owners don't do the other work necessary to get traffic there. Once you get the traffic, there has to be a reason for them to stay, look around, bookmark, and eventually return.

Technologically speaking, the odds are against us. Before the technology, there needs to be a plan to beat the odds. There isn't one.

My first thought on reading this was that the human context issue is the critical one for this website, because the people running democrat sites use them the way sports teams use stadiums: as places to fleece the innocent in exchange for letting them scream in illiterate unison - and that doesn't work for Republicans who all want to get down on the field and play.

My second thought, however, was that his first sentence " "The human element is crucial and the least considered", not only applies to the overwhelming majority of the stuff we do, but implies the measure on which Unix and open source differ most from data processing.

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