Candidate Web sites – 6th District

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For about the last 5 months I've been wanting to write a review of the various candidate Web sites that are out there. Some of them are doing some pretty interesting things. But I haven't had time and I realize that I'll have to bite this off in chunks.

The most impressive thing I've seen all campaign season on any candidate site is, unfortunately, from a candidate who is no longer in the race. Kelly Doran has a novel approach to laying out the issues. He'd speak to them, and then he'd provide direct links to his opponents' Web pages that spoke to the same issues so people could compare. Of course, he's out of the race now, so maybe mentioning the other candidates wasn't such a hot idea. But I appreciated the honesty and effort anyway.

So let's look at the 6th District where, today, Patty Wetterling's revamped site has gone "live."

Patty Wetterling - The feature item is a video of Wetterling's life. It's Flash 8 and it should have navigation controls and sliders if there is audio. My bosses here always tell me when I build a Flash presentation to not have it play automatically. I think this is because otherwise folks at work who really shouldn't be watching and playing stuff they found online (they should be working, I hear) might get caught if all of a sudden stuff blares from their computer. The issues section is pretty robust, with short paragraphs (that don't reveal a lot), leading to individual pages on the issue that do. My main objection is there are only six of them -- Iraq, the 2nd Amendment, Health care (Medicaid etc), veterans, education, and Social Security.

I believe these are the same 6 that were on the old issues site.

There's also a "latest news" section that has only two items , neither of which can be classified as "latest," or even "news" for that matter. They're both from February. I'm guessing a few things have happened in the Wetterling campaign since February.

There's also a calendar area, but it doesn't tell me if the candidate is going to be at the events, or imply that the fact they're listed means she is. They're also not organized chronologically. C'mon, it's a calendar; how else can you organize it?

And there are two sign-up areas that seem pretty standard and efficient -- one to volunteer, another to contribute.

Points off for not having a schedule of the candidate's activities. A media section (with high-res photos etc.) probably wouldn't be a bad idea. But points added for being a pleasant design, easily navigable, and technically functional.

Michele Bachmann - Right off the bat the first thing I notice is that the color scheme is pretty much identical to the Wetterling site, although, I suppose it's impossible to run for Congress and not have some combination of red, white & blue.

One thing I liked was a search function. I searched "Wetterling," just for kicks. Nothing. Then I searched "legislature" and got a letter from the Bachmann kids, then I searched "marriage" and got a whole bunch of stuff. So I guess the search function works.

Her biography section is quite robust. But the issues section is weak, extremely weak. There are only 7 issues listed and only bullet points on each one. I'm looking for extensive white papers from the candidates at this point. There's a press room with some -- ready? -- press releases (put some high-res pix in there too) that the "press" would never run as is. There's no candidate schedule.

I like the idea of blogs on candidate pages because the candidates who "blog" get "it." "It" being that an Internet site is not a brochure that you hand out, it's an intimate method of communication that is different than any other medium. Unfortunately, the last entry in the blog is February 22. The previous one was December 8. Useless; completely useless.

I like the fact she has an "on the radio" section, but there are only three entries for it -- two in February and one in 2004 discussing defense of marriage with a radio station in Missouri. Missouri? Hmmm, I wonder if the candidate has ever been on the radio talking about the issue in, you know, Minnesota? In 2006.

All in all it's a functional site, easily navigable that appears as though someone with talent set it up one day, turned it over to the campaign, which then abandoned it.

John Binkowski -- The news here is that the color scheme is not red, white & blue but green & orange. I haven't visited the site for a month or so and it's changed -- and for the better. But there's still a way to go.

The best part about the site -- from my perspective anyway -- is a rootin' tootin' blog that the candidate actually posts to. I think. It appears to have only one entry, but at least it's from this month.

There aren't a lot of sections to the site and there aren't a lot of things in each section. The issues section is fairly spartan with a half dozen issues indicated, but the design of the site loads that section in a weird way and I haven't figured it out yet. Whatever, the server can't handle the demand (1) and on a "back" push, it loaded only 2 of the issues. A look at the source code shows what appears to be a flat file, but it may be a database. In any event, sometimes you can design non-functionality right into your page if you're not careful.

I did like the list of events because it indicates that the candidate is attending them.

The contribute site lists an address to which you can send a check. It appears to have no online submission capability.

I really think if you're a third party candidate -- and don't ask me to explain this -- you have access to a large group of Web-savvy volunteers that would probably be happy to push more content to the site and add in some features to reach and motivate a potential audience that looks favorably upon the Web.

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So that's it, in the order I visited. I really think most candidates aren't putting enough into their Web sites and then not taking advantage of what they can do for a candidacy. And I don't mean that idea that Kerry had of just saying "go to my Web site" and packing everything there (a very bad idea), but really using the site to have an actual campaign online.

Blogging, would be the first thing I'd do with any candidate site, once the framework of contributions, schedules, issues, and biography are taken care of.

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