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GOP.com to Roll Out Points API

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, May 20 2010

Corrected

Scoring political points has taken on a whole new meaning.

The Republican National Committee is set to open up an API to its social network and web properties, RNC New Media Director Todd Herman told me Wednesday. The API, which will start out being open only to a close circle of developers, will allow third-party websites to send new users to the RNC's system and to communicate information about “points” users will earn for doing certain things online, Herman told me.

Both the API and the system it's supposed to allow access to — which doles out and tracks points accumulated by people with accounts on Our.GOP.com and the RNC's other web properties — aren't live yet, Herman says. The points system should come online next week, at about the same time the API does.

But the idea is to allow people at, say, RedState (who wrote about this last night, by the by) to set up widgets to reward users for taking GOP-friendly actions, such as sharing a blog post via Twitter or Facebook or getting friends to connect their Facebook accounts to GOP accounts. Third-party sites can also get the points values of users who visit — to build leaderboards showing the top-ranking conservatives who use their websites, say.

GOP.com's terms of service copy is already set up to accommodate tracking and disseminating information about a user's points, and there are Drupal and WordPress modules in development.

The incentives for earning points are also already described on Our.GOP.com, and include "a seat at The Chairman's Table, where you will enjoy special access to RNC Chairman Michael Steele."

I wonder what Michael Steele's points total will be by default? (By the way, he only has five GOP.com friends. You'd think he'd be their "Tom" from MySpace, who was automatically friends with everyone.)

On the conservative side of the online politics arena, points and leaderboards are popular. I wrote about the act.ivi.st platform, which uses the concept, as one of several recent innovations coming from the political right.

“I think people feel good about activism, and I think they feel good about competitions,” Herman said. “I think Republicans and conservatives are people who enjoy competing, and especially for a good cause.”

Sharing data about points is just the beginning, Herman told me. If all goes well, the RNC API will open up more of its data over time. He plans to launch a leaderboard showing the points levels of activists who use their GOP.com accounts, which can be linked to Facebook accounts.

But this is all still theoretical, and joins a slowly growing list of GOP technology initiatives let out of the gate perhaps before they were ready. The new GOP.com launched (to jeers) in October 2009, and, prior to that, the Code for America project — asking for Republicans to contribute their Internet skills to the conservative cause — raised eyebrows early last year.

It's easy to knock this stuff as half-baked when it first launches, but GOP.com — if still maybe a little blindingly colored — has matured over time. It ditched the animated Michael Steele overlay, for instance. And Herman hopes to tap a network of volunteer coders built through the Code for America initiative (their GOP Code for America, not this nonprofit one to make city governments more transparent) to put this new API to use.

Over the last few months we've seen creative use of technology coming from conservative America's activist wing — and we've seen that get results. How this API does will be a test of how closely the RNC is following the needs and desires of its increasingly tech-savvy online activists.

Corrected: In some places, this article had the URL wrong for our.gop.com, the social networking side of GOP.com. It also referred to our.gop.com as OurGOP.com, which isn't correct. Those links and references have been fixed.

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