THE BLOG
03/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GOP "Webification" Effort Could Backfire

It is not a bit surprising that Republicans -- seeing the powerful success of Obama's bottom-up campaign, with its historic fundraising power, its grassroots mobilization and the database of millions -- want to try to replicate the technology. It may not be that simple for newly elected RNC chair Michael Steele to "web up" his right wing minions.

First, the user demographics indicate that Democrats are significantly more likely to use the web, according to the book, Groundswell.

Second, whatever extent the GOP succeeds at incorporating web 2.0, social networking and other bottom-up technologies, they should expect some bite-back-- unintended consequences.

The problem is, Republicans tend to be more top-down oriented. They LIKE authoritarian, father figure leaders. They like the power of the church, of big corporations. They like to give them power. Their values include respecting those in power.

The internet doesn't work that way. WEB 2.0 doesn't work that way. They work almost the exact opposite. There are so many books that have been written on this-- Wisdom of the Crowds, Here Comes Everybody, Crowd Sourcing, Groundswell, The Starfish and the Spider, and What Would Google Do? -- it might be hard to imagine that the GOP wouldn't realize the risk they are taking. But my experience talking to senators has convinced me that they, for the most part don't get it. They might have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but they don't really understand that the web doesn't just do for you, it also does to you.

One of the reasons the Democrats have taken such a significant percentage of under 30's is the internet and what the internet has done to the neuropsychology of under 30's, also called Millennials. Between one too many emails, Google chat, Amazon, Linux, iTunes, DIGG, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Wikipedia and so much more -- the web has changed the way this generation that has grown up knowing the internet. The internet enables the bottom up, grass roots, democrat mind. This has changed everything. You can't use the web, especially WEB 2.0 social networking functions -- the kinds Obama's campaign used to beat Hillary's and McCain's campaigns -- without being affected. You start expecting you'll be able to participate, cooperate and have serious input.

The "Millennials" -- having had their brains marinated in WEB 2.0 and all the stuff the GOP wants to adopt -- since their early teens or more, have had all these web bottom up processes and ways of functioning deeply imprinted on their neurophysiology. They see, judge and operate with bottom up values which are far closer to the talk and walk of Democrats.

If the GOP truly attempts to start using these web tools and technologies, they may find the dwindling base they have shrinking, even departing faster than before, as users wake up to realize that the top-down, authoritarian, or screw-cooperation and helping each other libertarian, anti-government principles Republicans embrace just don't gibe with the new "feel" they have for the way things should be.

The Democrats need to be careful too. Obama, while waiting as president-elect, talked over and over again about taking a bottom up approach to dealing with the economic crisis. But he's done very little to really go the bottom up distance, and the members of congress simply think that generating jobs is doing bottom up full service. The truth is there is so much more potential for bottom up ways of dealing with the crisis. While the GOP is bumbling its way into WEB 2.0, risking accelerating the attrition of its base, the Dems should be tapping the wisdom of the web crowds who lean left -- Jeff Jarvis, Craig Newmark, Clay Shirky, Don Tapscott, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg -- not that Obama didn't already have Google and Facebook principals on his campaign team.

But we're focusing on right wingers here. The idea that using technology changes the user is nothing new. Missionaries have been using this idea for centuries as a way to win converts. It may be a first though, for a partisan organization to adopt a technology only to discover the adoption has a reverse effect, causing a loss of supporters. Unfortunately for the GOP, there is an inevitability to the need to adopt internet ways. They will, almost certainly, dive headlong into Facebook, Twitter, and all the technologies the digital, millennial generation lives with. It will be interesting to see if the GOP masters them or if the web technologies master the GOP.