Zipping Into Zaplets

FRAMINGHAM (04/21/2000) - The Republican National Committee wants to keep its finger on the pulse and purse of its membership as the campaign for the U.S. presidency heats up this summer. This year, however, the staff is adding to its usual mail and phone marketing efforts; it will deploy Web-based communications to initiate funding drives, test advertising campaigns, and get feedback on key political issues.

Even better, the RNC will be using FireDrop Inc.'s Zaplet communications platform to send out its e-mail missives, says Larry Purpuro, deputy chief of staff at the Washington, D.C.-based RNC. That's because Zaplets add interactive capabilities to e-mail.

"Static e-mail is dead on arrival," says Purpuro. "We hope that people will react to an e-mail, [but] there's very little way to judge the open rate and no way to measure the response in real time. Also, if we send someone a banner ad, are they going to type out a formal response and send it back, as opposed to using useful buttons and response devices [within the e-mail message] that make it an easier form of communication?"

Hybrid Message

A hybrid of e-mail, instant messaging, and Web-based collaborative tools, a Zaplet arrives via e-mail but allows recipients to interact directly with the content.

A polling Zaplet could allow the recipient to cast a vote on a particular issue from the e-mail and offer a real-time accounting of how other voters have responded to the query. It also could report back to the sender how many recipients have opened the e-mail message and allow recipients to forward the message to others, who would also be included in the poll.

David Roberts, the president of Zaplet creator FireDrop, says a Zaplet that aggregates all replies is ideal for corporate service departments in addressing customers' problems.

As opposed to "ping-ponging" blind messages between departments, one e-mail message would contain all the relevant replies. "Seven people could be talking to the same customer, but the customer only gets one message, and the company knows everything that's being said in the background," Roberts says.

Roberts and Brian Axe founded FireDrop last August. The company's Zaplet communications platform will be available this month.

Roberts says he began toying with the Zaplet concept to organize a weekend getaway. "Telephone and e-mail may not work well for collaborative kinds of problems, but we looked at the reality of the convergence of the Web, e-mail, and instant messaging and realized there were a lot bigger problems in the world to solve other than trying to create a way to schedule a weekend with friends," he says.

Put to Good Use

Seattle-based hopes to use Zaplets as part of its socially minded business. Retailers that sell products on the for-profit company's Web site donate 15 percent of the purchase price to nonprofit organizations such as the Special Olympics and Big Brother/Big Sister programs. also manages The Hunger Site, which donates money from sponsoring corporations to the United Nations World Food Program each time a consumer clicks on a button. FireDrop set up a Hunger Site Zaplet on its own Web site, enabling users to donate directly from an e-mail message and track the progress of donations made by friends.

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