AZ Central asked me to provide an analysis of the presidential campaign web sites. Here is the unedited analysis I provided to them. It's a bit off-the-cuff because they had a tight deadline, but it's still thorough, engaging and oh-so insightful. (Please note, this analysis and this blog do not represent the viewpoints of my employer, and are not reviewed nor endorsed by my employer.)
JOHN MCCAIN (R) - A striking, dramatic black-and-white. The only color on the homepage is McCain's face. Video on the homepage is a positive. Video is the BIG thing thing online right now, and we'll continue to be as the PC and TV slowly but steadily merge. What's more, the videos on McCain's site can be saved to Digg and/or del.icio.us - 2 of the largest social bookmarking site - that's a good thing, but I doubt the "canned" videos are compelling enough to get a significant amount of attention from those sites. You can build "your own" McCain page/site with relevant issues and other semi-customized information. That's fine - Gore did it 7 years ago and this approach doesn't seem that much different. The main content area on McCain's homepage features a "Why McCain" link, a Donate link and a selection of videos. A search feature is hidden in the lower-right hand corner - the web equivalent of "Baltic Avenue." Translation: the campaign wants to control your interaction with the site and their candidate. After a few minutes on McCain's site, the black-and-white started making me depressed - probably not how the campaign wants site visitors to feel, yet it is an inevitability. The world isn't black-and-white anymore, and neither should your website be. Is the b-n-w reflect McCain's world view? Also, where is the RSS feed?
HILLARY CLINTON (D) - Ahh, color. That alone made me feel better upon visiting Clinton's site. The main content area of the homepage features videos, contribution links and an "Action Center." And, the Action Center allows you to view events within X miles of your zip code. One point for Hillary. Why do I care about events in Montana? Let me instantly and easily customize my experience at your site and you're making points with me. There's a link where I can organize my own event for Hillary - more personalization, more localization...more voters. Hillary's site also contains an RSS feed - a must in the 2008 campaign. Hillary and her team also have an active blog with comments allowed - that is huge.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R) - Rudy's homepage features the obligatory contribution links but also allows folks to sign-up their support right from the homepage - a smart strategy that will definitely yield lots of sign-ups (read 'names & addresses'). Rudy News is also upfront on the homepage and features an RSS feed - nice. The campaign is clearly banking on some of Rudy's inherit like-ability in the wake of his deft handling of the 9/11 attacks in NYC. Rudy's site is an "exploratory committee" site so the content isn't as deep or well-developed, but early signs from this campaign show that they are web-savvy and will use the medium to effectively promote their candidate, connect supporters and sway undecideds.
BARACK OBAMA (D) - BarackTV, MyBarackObama and other issue-related content is feature on Obama's homepage. The links are large, the color is tasteful and the presentation is exceptionally well-done. The MyBarack section definitely is one of the best attempts at customization and usage of the "social web" among the presidential candidates. The Donate button is prominent but it doesn't hog-up prime real-estate or take away from more useful content, a nice change. Barack's team is also blogging and an RSS feed is offered, although it is hard-to-find. Comments are allowed - a good sign that the Obama team "gets it" when it comes to the web.
MITT ROMNEY (R) - Romney presents way too many choices on his homepage. There's so much there, where do I start? That being said, MittTV, the Featured Stories section and TeamMitt are all easily accessible, engaging and very well done. Also, Romney's site is the only site with an En Espanol link prominently displayed - good call. RSS is available from the homepage. Contribution's are obviously accepted but the links aren't nearly as in-your-face as the other candidates - a welcome reprieve. But, where's the blog?
JOHN EDWARDS (D) - The darling of the "web2.0" crowd, Edwards site is very well done and is the only candidate using a "landing page" that allows you to quickly and easily sign-up to stay informed of campaign activities before moving on to the full Edwards site. This is a proven web technique that businesses use every day, and it is a very effective way to get people signed-up. Edwards main content area on the home page features video (seeing a theme here?), a strong Action Center and additional links to other stories and issue information. The Edwards blog is the best of the bunch with feeds, comments and user-submitted posts - finally, someone understanding the concept of "You" being named Time's Person of the Year. The blog section is a true community and good sign of what the Edwards campaign is focusing on. Yes, they did recently get in a spot of trouble for a few "rogue bloggers" but the Edwards team completely gets it, is openly involving the community and is attracting lots of visitors, online attention and buzz. Edwards is even in Second Life - could these guys be too web-savvy?
Edwards' site is definitely the most innovative and contains the most substance, community and deep content.
Surprisingly, I think McCain's site may be the worst due it's lack of true customization and depressing black-and-white template. Black-and-white can (and should) be used effectively - McCain's team has overdone it.
Rudy's is the most boring, but that's probably due to its Exploratory Committee nature. I suspect it will be built up much more in the coming months.
I do tip my hat (but certainly not my support!) to Romney for the En Espanol feature. Where the heck are the other candidates on this?
Interesting but possbily irrelevant sidenote: Clinton, McCain and Edwards all use a favicon on their site. Rudy, Barack and Mitt do not. Does a favicon indicate a top-contender whereas a "no favicon site" indicates a lesser candidate? I doubt it, but if McCain, Clinton or Edwards is our next president, well, you heard it here first.