Beyond cutting edge

BEYOND CUTTING EDGE…. Back in February, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said he intended improve his party’s image by taking advantage of technological opportunities. Explaining his vision, Steele said, “It will be avant garde, technically. It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone — off the hook.”

Asked if he imagined a cutting-edge approach, Steele replied, “I don’t do ‘cutting-edge.’ That’s what Democrats are doing. We’re going beyond cutting edge.”

Easier said than done. The rollout of the new RNC website didn’t go well a couple of months ago. This week, the RNC unveiled a new link-shortening tool — called GOP.am — that also caused some trouble for the party. (thanks to reader H.H. for the tip)

Possibly the first branded URL shortener, GOP.am was designed by the RNC’s new media consultants, Political Media, to work somewhat like bit.ly, in that it shortens URLs so that they can be more easily exchanged through short messaging services like Twitter. Google launched its own URL shortener Monday afternoon, and Facebook now has one, too.

But unlike bit.ly, GOP.am includes a toolbar at the top of the screen that follows users as they click through to see whatever pages the links go to. It also sports an animation of RNC chairman Michael Steele walking around on the lower right as if he’s showing off the website — particularly awkward when that website is the alt.com bondage site.

Yes, it wasn’t long after the Republican National Committee launched its link-shortening tool before the fairly obvious misuse of the tool became common. As Wired noted, “Pranksters almost immediately began using the service to link to controversial or ironically intended websites, such as the official site of the American Communist Party, a bondage website and a webpage advertising a sex toy in the likeness of Barack Obama. GOP.am apparently started blocking such links at some point Tuesday morning, and the GOP.am homepage was taken offline.”

It’s back, and the party and its design company are working on filtering out problematic sites “on an hourly basis.”