November 09, 2003
Campaigning on the web

During the time that I was undecided about which candidates for City Council I should support, I spent some time looking at the various candidates' web pages. I came away very unimpressed with their efforts, and with a few simple ideas of how they could have vastly improved the experience for me. I offer those ideas now as a public service.

1. Every candidate should have a web page.

This is a total no-brainer. The cost is negligible - I've got a year of webhosting and 500 MB of disk space for $10 a month. The services of a competent webpage designer to get you started is a few hundred dollars. You'll need someone on your staff who can handle maintaining the site once it's been created, but you can probably get a volunteer to do it. Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that any candidate that doesn't have the money and wisdom to set up a website isn't a serious candidate for whichever office they're running.

2. Avoid animation

Maybe it's just me, but I've never come across an animated intro page where my first reaction was not to reach for the "Click here to skip" button. All these things ever do for me is make me feel that my time is being wasted and that the page I'm looking for must be lacking something if the designer felt the need to distract me like this. And I'm speaking from the perspective of someone with a high end PC and a cable modem. I really hated this crap when I was on an older PC and still had dialup. Just say No to animation on a campaign site.

3. Stick with the basics

On Peter Brown's page, the links to his list of supporters and endorsements both point to PDF files. The Quorum Report, a political albeit not campaign-related site, links press releases as Word docs. All these things ever are is formatted text with an occasional logo, and yet each of them forces a new program to run, which takes considerably longer and uses a lot more system resources than a link to another page would.

There's no good reason for this. Not everyone has Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word, meaning some people can't follow these links. Even if you assume everyone has these programs, why should your site visitors be forced to spawn another program when they've already got a perfectly good web browser running? People, this is why God gave us HTML. The only reason you should ever consider linking to something else is if you've got a long document that someone might want to download and print in order to read offline. Don't make me run another program if I don't want to.

4. How about some actual substance?

Presidential candidates have gotten a lot of press lately for their website innovations, which is great, but it obscures the fact that any one of these candidates, even the fringe ones, will get a lot more mainstream media coverage than all of the non-Mayoral candidates in Houston got combined. How much would you know right now about Ronald Green, or Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, or Bruce Tatro, if all you had to depend on was the Houston Chronicle and the local TV news?

There's a paradox involved when a local candidate gets on to a medium with international reach, but there's a simple fact that needs to be considered: Your campaign web page is the one place in the world where potential supporters can find out about you exactly what you want them to know. You are not at the mercy of a city desk editor or local news producer who's got more exciting stories to run. It's just you and the reasons why people should vote for you, unfiltered and unexpurged.

I was very disappointed to find that many candidates never got past bullet points on their web sites. Sue Lovell is a good example. Everything she lists here is great, but they're all goals, not means to them. I guarantee every one of her opponents would have said they support each one of these statements. It's in how they plan to achieve them that we can begin to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

I'm not saying that candidates should lay out detailed policy-wonk statements on their pages - doing so would likely provide oppo research more than anything. But I am saying that giving a link that says "Click here to learn more" about job creation/traffic management/deficit reduction/whatever from your page of bullet points is necessary. Consider your audience here: the kind of person who Googles you in order to learn about you is the kind of person that wants to see this information. Don't leave that person feeling unfulfilled.

5. Consider some form of blogging

You knew I'd get to this eventually, didn't you? Well, it's really an extension of #4. In Houston this year, there are a lot of big issues for people to decide - Metro, property tax limits, drainage fees, road construction management, etc. I'd have liked to know how a challenger would have voted on the Metro referendum, and how they would have voted in Council on the property tax and drainage fee issues. The easiest way to know is for the candidates themselves to say so openly, and blogging makes that easy to do.

A candidate who blogs can link to news stories that are related to whatever issues they want to talk about and say things like "This is what I support", or "This is exactly what I'll put a stop to". A candidate who blogs can link to news stories that feature them and say things like "Here's what I meant by that" or "Here's what else I said that they didn't print". A candidate who blogs can get his or her own words out there.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 09, 2003 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack

Animation may be cleverly done, but I have the exact same response as you. I want animation for amusement, not on a serious site.

Failing blogging, at least show the thought process behind the bullet points. Why/why not is the candidate supporting the position he/she has taken?

Posted by: Linkmeister on November 9, 2003 1:18 PM

You're saying everything I've been muttering at my monitor for quite a while.

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on November 9, 2003 4:40 PM