The technologists behind the Lincoln Network want to disrupt the market for political software with a new website that provides unbiased reviews of companies’ offerings.
Getting a nuanced view on poli-tech products can be difficult for campaigns and consultants, who often get a murky picture of a product from sales pitches or recommendations that may be based on hidden motivations.
Consider the situation faced by Republican campaigns in 2016 who had the fundraising app Revv pushed on them by Gerrit Lansing, who was then head of the RNC’s digital operations. Lansing made those recommendations while holding a financial stake in the company that was revealed after the cycle wrapped.
Lincoln Network’s Aaron Ginn said the App Marketplace, a review section of the group’s educational website that launched Wednesday, was borne from a demand for unbiased reviews from practitioners who reached out seeking their opinion. He likens the reviews, which are written or screened by a 16-member editorial board, to Consumer Reports articles for the campaign industry.
“We want it to be fair, but we also want people to know there are bad things and good things about each app,” he said. “This is not necessarily a world of meritocracy.”
The group plans to review offerings from companies ranging from Cambridge Analytica and i360 to NationBuilder and even NGP VAN. “It’s going to be all apps, as many as we can get people who have experience on,” Ginn said, noting it plans to be nonpartisan.
Reviews cover things like an app’s effectiveness and cost, or whether there’s customer support. Ginn said he heard from numerous operatives who complained that they couldn’t get an unbiased view on the products available to them, or in some cases didn’t know the full range of offerings in the market.
“This information is locked up and people aren’t making good decisions,” Ginn said.
While outsiders can review the products, Ginn said they don’t want the site to become a Yelp for the political world. That’s partly because some practitioners are willing to offer opinions on products they may not have tested extensively. “What we found is that a lot of critiques are from people who don’t know what the app is supposed to do,” he said. “We want to appreciate technology for what it brings to the table.”
There’s also a concern that a consultant in bed with a company’s rival would sock puppet a negative review. Ginn said the editorial board is meant to guard against trolling. “It has to be really substantial critiques” that are submitted for publication, he said. “We try to give people a fair shake, but companies themselves can’t improve if they don’t get feedback.”