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Will Budget Internet Organizing Save the GOP?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Are you a Republican running for office? Do you have $50? Then you can put your campaign online via a new tool called Netboots, designed to get everyone and their mother a cheap, accessible platform with minimal expense.

Netboots is certainly looking for its chunk of Republican campaign cash, but like many politically-focused firms, they have a larger goal: improving the GOP’s standing on the internet. The bigger question facing Netboots and other bottom-dollar political tech firms is how far they go towards accomplishing that goal.

“The ambitions for Netboots are to get more people online,” said Abigail Alger, a new media strategist at Terra Eclipse, which owns Netboots. “It would be fantastic to get every town council candidate on Netboots. It’s perfectly priced to do exactly what they need to do.”

Their system is especially friendly to those with limited web experience. Candidates can design a site with minimal effort, and users can be almost technically-illiterate while still being able to view photos, join social networking sites to connect with the candidate, and donate money to a campaign.

“They’re a technology company, and they know that they’re not going to be able to service the 50,000 elections that are out there every year. So they want a way to expand their product and their market in the sense that it offers good effective tools that are easy for them to maintain without too much work,” said David All, president of the David All Group, a new media strategies company.

But All said the problem with such a cheap, universal approach to using the technology is that it provides candidates with the correct tools, without necessarily providing them with a correct platform.

“At the end of the day, Rome wasn’t built with Craftsmen tools,” said All. “I can’t emphasize enough how important strategy is. So many people don’t even understand…what the goals are.”

As president of a company who provides advice as to how to pursue that strategy, All is in a particularly good position to advocate for such an all-encompassing tech strategy, rather than an specific tech platform like Netboots.

But Alger thinks Netboots might be a low-budget answer to the strategy All is talking about, because Netboots enables users to see so many features in one place. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, email databases, calendars, and campaign contributions are all included in the site's standard layout.

If not a highly-strategic way of looking at things, it's at least a way to know you've covered all your bases. Given the longstanding assumption of GOP-inferiority in the online world, perhaps an accumulation of platforms isn't a bad place to start for those with limited budgets or knowedge.

"Our goal is to put all of the info together in one place, to not only create a website. but create a web platform," said Alger.

Eric Odom, president of Internet Strategies, eActivism, and Community Development at the American Liberty Alliance, seems to think that more tools won't necessarily make for better politics.

“I think we understand the technology. We get social media and we understand the online realm. Where we miss the boat is on the collaboration side,” said Odom. “The Left collaborates and works as a unified effort while we compete against each other regardless of the shared end goal.”

Netboots may play into that competition, luring candidates away from more mainstream, pricier firms with their dirt-cheap access and ease of use. Several campaigns are trying it out, from Adam Kokesh for Congress to Pet Exemption, which advocates for tax deductions for pet care. Alger says the ultimate goal for Netboots goal is "to provide a web solution for as many conservative organizations, candidates, and grassroots activists as we can." Right now, they're 10 candidates close to meeting that goal. The site is in beta and an outreach campaign won’t launch until 2010. But after that happens, Alger is certain it will catch fire.

Whether or not that fire is a good thing or not is up for debate. All is concerned that the conservative movement may simply latch on to a fun tool without considering the ramifications. Candidates think they can have the world at their fingertips with a few clicks of the mouse, and that’s simply not accurate.

“People want home runs instead of just singles and doubles,” he said. “So we spend a lot of time in batting practice with them. Just training them up, thinking about it.”

Robert Bluey, director of online strategy at the Heritage Foundation, thinks there is probably room for improvement across the spectrum.

"The party in power is always going to be credited with success. For the past two election cycles, Democrats dominated at the ballot box, and because the Internet played an important role in raising money and organizing volunteers, they generally got all the credit. That doesn't mean conservatives are lost in the wilderness," he said.

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