Comparing the Candidate’s Sites

Jared Spool

September 25th, 2008

Steve Heller from the New York Times asked me to give a short review of the Barack Obama and John McCain campaign sites.

I haven’t had a chance to watch voters use either site, so I chose four scenarios that I thought would be common tasks for a voter visiting each site. I rated each site on a scale of one (very frustrating) to five (easy and delightful) scale. (Because I was interested in the design of the site, I didn’t take any points off about the candidate’s positions or message.)

Current News task: What has the candidate said or done about the debates and dealing with the economy in the last 24 hours?

For this task, I looked for any details about what I’ve been hearing in the news. Will the candidate show up for the debates? What is the candidate proposing to solve the economic strife we’re dealing with? 4
There’s an article on the home page that leads to the information. It has a ton of information on both issues in a 16 minute video, but it’s not transcribed, so you have to watch the entire thing.

Current News on 5
There’s an article on the home page that leads to his statements. The site provides a detailed transcript of his statement (which is a good thing, because the audio for the statement is not very coherent).

Current News on

Specific Issue task: What is the candidate’s position on stem cell research?

For this task, I tried to locate what each candidate feels about stem cell research. 2
The categories in the Issues menu make no mention of this issue. Not found in Ethics, Family, Technology. There is no search function on the site. The Issues page doesn’t mention it. External search found it under Women’s issues.

The categories of Issues on 3
The categories in the Issues menu make no mention of this issue. I found it in theHuman Dignity and The Sanctity of Life category. (Sometimes listed as “Values”.) The Search function returns a large number of links, 2 of the first three have no mention of stem cell research. You have to go the seventh result to get to the Human Dignity page (labeled “Values”), but the blurb talks about McCain’s POW experience.

The categories of issues at

General Issue Task: What differentiates the candidate from his opponent?

I tried to see if there’s any easy way to tell what makes this candidate different. Guess what? There isn’t. 2
They have a 33-page report available for download. The report’s pages don’t print on standard printer without chopping of edge text. Elements of the report are dispersed around the web site, but there’s no summary of positions without bouncing through pages.

You can download a 33-page book from Can't easily be printed though. 3
I couldn’t find any summary of entire position. Multiple levels of detail (good!) spread across many pages (not good!) with no way to see the entire story.

On, you have to pogostick between pages to see the entire position.

Make Donation Task: How do I contribute to the campaign? 4
Easy to find the donation page. URL is for the same site. Instructions at the bottom on how to mail in a check (instead of paying by mail). Error messages tell you where problems are. First time small donors still need to put in employer info (not clear). Very little small print. Page design is simple. Contributor page 3
Easy to find the donation page, but it opens in a different window and the URL is for site not associated with the campaign (will people be concerned about phishing?). No instructions for mailing in a donation. Error messages don’t say where entry issues are. It’s clear you always need to put in employer info. Tons of small print. Page design is more convoluted and feels like an eBay order form.

The small print from the Contributor Page


If you want to average the scores, came in with a solid 3. JohnMcCain came in with a 3.5. Both sites have a ways to go to get perfect 5s, or even a solid 4.

The big problem, I think, is the sites don’t do great at letting the meat of what the candidate stands for come to the surface. If someone wants to do some solid research on what these guys are really about, it’s hard to get that from either site.

They may be running for President, but content is king!

8 Responses to “Comparing the Candidate’s Sites”

  1. Chris Says:

    While websites are still an important tool, I would like to see you measure what each candidate is doing via social media. There, I think you will find a different story. True, content is king, but it is now found in a variety of places (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr, etc.) besides a website.

  2. Eric Says:

    When will the story about your review appear in the Times?

  3. Jared Spool Says:

    @Chris: I agree about the social media. It would be interesting to see what they’ve each done there.

    @Eric: My understanding is my assessment will be part of a bigger piece on the New York Times’ CampaignStop Blog. I’ll link to it when they’ve posted it.

  4. Kristina Halvorson Says:

    Excellent read – thank you.

    Of course, anything that ends with “Content is king!” is bound to put a smile on my face.

  5. Lacey Says:

    this is a great analysis – thanks! we’ve been keeping a Presidential Hopefuls Scorecard over at our blog if you’re interested in checking out another perspective. we’ve looked at accessibility, engagement pathways and navigation thus far and the current score is: Obama 2 / McCain 1.

  6. tedd Says:

    I realize that there are larger issues here, because they have to get their word out immediately and they really don’t have time for the finer issues. But, isn’t that always the case?

    If you run both sites through the W3C validator, you’ll see that clearly both sites fail miserably (McCain wins for number of errors). I don’t even want to look at how badly these sites do with respect to accessibility, best practices, or any of the many other aspects that us web developers hold as important.

    To me, this is just another example of government not getting it right. Yes, I realize that these sites are NOT government sites, but they do represent the next President of the United States and he did approve the message and medium.



  7. Adam Says:

    If content is the king, accessibility must be the queen.

    Even with broadband internet, I find Obama’s website too slow to load. The Website looks like a beautiful poster, but it maybe too fancy and to cumbersome for non-techies.

  8. La campagne d’Obama et l’utilisation du Web par les partis politiques du Québec. — Michael Says:

    […] Comparing the Candidate’s Sites » UIE Brain Sparks […]

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