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RNC & DNC Mobilization Websites

Over at Personal Democracy Forum, Micah Sifry and Joshua Levy have an in-depth study of the recent upgrades to the RNC and DNC websites. Both national parties are testing new grassroots mobilization tools during this 2006 cycle.

It's an excellent review, worth reading in full (and checking out the many screenshots) - but here's a few highlights:

Both parties have taken radically different approaches to online-offline organizing, with the Republicans seemingly trying to channel supporters narrowly into certain activities, like walking their precinct and talking to registered Republicans, while the Democrats appear to be encouraging a much-more freewheeling array of user-generated activity on their site, presumably in the hopes of drawing more supporters in and then turning them toward party-building work by Election Day.

On the Republican side, you can enter your address and find out..

...complete with a Google Map mashup with little elephant-shaped pointers, exactly who else in your neighborhood is a Republican activist.... [and] get a walk-list of nearby registered Republicans, along with suggested talking points.

Democrats haven't done this due to the oft-lamented failure of the party to get its voterfile act together.

Democrats could easily do the same thing, but first they would have to purchase and share fifty state voter files; apparently for all the years of talk from Democrats about building such a database, they have yet to implement a similar system for involving local volunteers. Thus (and we’re jumping ahead of ourselves here), the best the DNC site does with someone who wants to talk to other registered Democrats in their neighborhood is offer to collect their contact information and put them in touch with their state party. Which we can only imagine is hardly an effective action.

That said, the Democrats' new tool PartyBuilder is a fairly powerful organizing tool.

Partybuilder takes features from our favorite social-networking applications and rolls them into one package. On the home page of the site, called the "Dashboard," logged-in users see their profile, events they've created, are attending, or are nearby, their blog, messages from their friend network, groups, fundraising news, and a link to a letter-writing tool.

Amazingly enough, both parties get it. It? The idea that if you empower your grassroots and help them organize - the money will follow.

The point of both of these sites is not to simply fundraise but to create a larger party base. As Michael Turk wrote about MyGOP a few months back, "this is not about seeing our supporters as an online ATM machine, but rather as recruiters to grow, strengthen and deepen the party (which includes financial strength, but is not limited to that)."

In a comment, though, Michael Turk expresses some skepticism:

Both platforms have some very powerful features either from a pure technology perspective or from a human capital perspective. The trouble is both suffer from the perception of activists that they are a cog in an otherwise lumbering machine.

Part of the reason for the success of sites like DailyKos, RedState, or even Townhall is the separation of the person from the machinery. Nobody wants to feel used, but everyone wants to feel involved. How do you accomplish that if you are an organization as homogenous, timid and staid as the DNC or RNC?

Fascinating conversation.