Barack's Boring Website

The common wisdom is that BarackObama.com is not only better at wrangling donations from the faithful, but is categorically better than JohnMcCain.com because it embraces an interactive as opposed to a broadcast model. Time's Michael Scherer put it this way last April:

Even today, if you go to McCain's website, you are more likely than not to find a page that just asks for money and broadcasts the campaign's message, with issue papers, press releases and videos.

By contrast, Obama's website is engineered for engagement: prompts invite people to volunteer, make phone calls and find nearby events. "Don't just fill out this volunteer form and wait," it reads. "Get started on your own." The blog is maintained by a former journalist; the social-networking function is managed by a founder of Facebook.

I don't disagree as far as BarackObama.com's depth of content goes. But let's not kid ourselves. At its core, BarackObama.com is not truly interactive. It is transactional.

The first time you hit the Obama website, you'll get a splash page prompting you to sign up for the email list. This is good practice, as the sign up form can get lost in the message-of-the-day clutter of the homepage. This way, you can change the homepage at will while still focusing on the most important thing: getting new people to sign up.

But the difference on BarackObama.com is this: the homepage above the fold hardly ever changes.

The main graphic on BarackObama.com has been the same for the last three weeks: Join Barack at the "Open Convention," leading to a donation form. This is what they've had up ever since they announced Obama would be delivering his acceptance speech from Invesco Field in Denver.

http://www.barackobama.com/images/feature/08/07/01_opencon.jpg

And what about Obama's much-touted Berlin speech? The story about Obama's European trip is the second item in the homepage feature, and video of Obama's speech is three deep.

This is no different than what they did in the primary. The majority of the time -- from January through June -- the main homepage graphic was a toteboard of all the states leading to a contribution page. This should look awfully familiar to everyone by now:

 http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3125/2333896653_a214b6462d.jpg?v=0

Conventional wisdom holds that major websites should change daily. But Obama flouts this conventional wisdom by hitting every user 1) once with a signup splash page, and 2) with a constant ask for money as the prime feature on the homepage, even if there are more current or important stories to tell.

This is neither good nor bad, but suggestive of the fact that the Obama homepage is compulsively metrics-driven. The campaign would not use this graphic if it did not produce more money than the alternative -- even if the alternative was newer and made more sense intuitively.

As the frontrunners online, the best of the Democratic campaigns tend to be more boring and less innovative than their Republican counterparts. The transactional imperatives evident in the Obama homepage and email program suggest a well-honed machine run like IBM at its peak, not a hungry, innovative startup. We know that splash pages and static asks for money work. So why change?

The Kerry 2004 email list was all asks for money. The Obama list is mostly asks for money, albeit often creatively disguised, mixed in with some grassroots riffing off the BC'04 model. In both 2004 and 2008, Republican emails have tended to feature a broader range of action items drawing off the three M's -- message, money, and mobilization. Democratic emails are mostly about money.

The last McCain email I received wasn't about money, but the August 14th McCain Nation house parties. The RNC has been one innovation after the other: the Platform website, the GOP Toolbar, Can We Ask? The Obama camp or the DNC never tell me what's new without hitting me over the head for money, and hardly ever prominently launch a new feature without some ulterior motive (signups or money).

It's not that Obama doesn't do anything innovative beyond money. It's that they hide it. The Obama campaign has launched a cool Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool letting you go door to door to talk to voters, but it's buried in My.BarackObama.com, and hasn't been advertised in email (which would get a bigger response than a simple announcement in the MyBO dashboard). I didn't even get a targeted email promoting it as a resident of swing state Virginia or as a MyBO registered user.

The Democrats are locked into an email fundraising model because it's a massive cash cow -- in the same way Microsoft was locked into the Windows franchise or IBM was into the original PC. This works -- for a while. Until someone else, like Google or Apple, discover a new model.

In my experience, Republican campaigns tend to be hungrier because they aren't as wedded to the email cash cow. Most of the campaigns I see experimenting with user-generated policy, with next-generation campaign websites, with Twitter, or with money bombs are Republican. The current responsiveness of the Democratic base makes everyone on their side look like a genius, but in reality, it's easy to get lazy and complacent while forgetting what made stuff work in the first place. Online, Democrats may be the safe insiders and Republicans could be the outsiders poised to upset the apple cart.

Republicans online have had to work harder to find a unique angle that works. That discipline will serve them well once their base comes around to decent levels of responsiveness.

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Comments

Internet gimmicks are pointless

I see Patrick is still peddling internet gimmicks.  I guess his hope is that there is enough of a Republican Party left after the coming debacle in November that there are at least a few Republicans who will buy into his brand of snake oil.

When the Republicans have an ignorant, incompetent candidate who is running a campaign with maybe the most incompetent staff of all time, it is pointless to worry about web sites or e-mail lists.  Maybe the Republicans should worry about having a coherent set of policy proposals that does not contridict everything that the Republican nominee has ever said or that the Republicans Congress spent 2001-2006 doing.

Maybe if McCain was intelligent enough to put together a competent campaign staff, read a speech from a teleprompter, and understand basic economics, then it would be worthy getting excited about internet gimmicks and the form of e-mails sent.  Until the Republicans start caring about competence and coherent policy stances, the rest is pointless.

 

Out with the old...

In many respsects it does seem like a waste of time and money to focus on salvaging what's left of the party by infusing new media strategies and playing catch-up with the Dems.

I'd rather focus on getting rid of the tunnel vision leadership and place all energies into identifying, and recruiting GOOD candidates for every office.  Once we have candidates we can actually be passionate about, it will be worth pouring money into the tech strategies.  I just don't have the will or the way to support what we have now.

While properly implemented new media strategies is important, at this point, it's not what Senator McCain needs to win.  Cohesive policy plans, respected campaign staff, powerful surrogates, and effective GOTV efforts are what is needed.  Yes, Senator Obama has raised lots of money and excitement with his fancy websites...but come on people....that's not THE reason why he's doing so well! He's selling a product people want to buy, and Senator McCain is not.

It does seem that this website's chief purpose was to promote

internet traffic (communication & money), but it is a fact that before a medium like this can really take-off it needs a product that people want to buy.

Now, the more Barack Obama keeps popping his mouth off, the more likely I am to give McCain my support, and if I want to do so, I don't have to go looking up his campaign headquarters, which is good.  But  Obama (like Howard Dean before him) did well financially because he represents an ideal which the Democrats believe in.

In 2012, if the party can see its way past idolizing Mitt Romney or the admittedly charming but completely sectarian Mike Huckabee; you know, someone like Mark Sanford or Tom Coburn, then the internet will, "amazingly transform," their Presidential campaign as well.

In 2012, if Obama is president, the same perfect storm that seems to be serving the Dems this year will turn around and serve the GOP (2-1 Dems to GOP in the Senate and another decade of Republican growth in the burbs).  Now, would you rather enter that election as the incumbent party having to explain McCain's disastrous cap-and-trade system, or would you rather be challenging the malaise of Obama?  Seems to me, in that case, the Republican brand would sell itself.