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Political Experience

election center screenshot

The US presidential campaign is widely seen as one of the most interesting if not important contests in a long time (and—full disclosure—I have to admit that I’ve been taken in by all of the hype myself). But as an interaction designer, and just as someone who’s interested in how people engage with, influence, and are influenced by technology, I’m even more interested in what’s going on in the political arena south of the border. Here are some things we’re talking about at work:

Campaign websites

Now I wasn’t paying close attention back in 2004, but a quick trip to archive.org shows just how far campaign websites have come in the last four years. A PEJ study showed progress in key areas like fundraising (e.g. real time drives), dialogue (blogs and social networking) and rich media across the board.

At the office, we liked Democratic contender Barack Obama’s site the most. The highly polished aesthetic, while a little too rich for some, is nevertheless upbeat and fresh, and the underlying IA makes for a very compelling experience. For example, content from the blog, articles and video section can appear in multiple views (states, issues, people, etc.) Because of this bottom-up IA, the site can be used as a very nimble and responsive communications tool. Tactical content and utility for getting out the vote make the site a good practical resource for grass roots activists to organize themselves locally.

Barack’s site isn’t the only one leveraging new technologies to promote local support. Huckabee’s site is still up and features a simple but effective Google Maps widget.Home that allows users to drill down to find details on meetups in their area. Clinton’s site, like others, features tools like this one that automatically distributes call lists to supporters who can help get her message out in Pennsylvania.

Social networking

Some candidates have launched presences on both Myspace and Facebook social networks, but the Obama campaign has really invested in this area, enlisting one of the creators of Facebook, Chris Hughes, to help create my.barackobama.com.

my.barackobama.com screenshot

I signed up to get a sense of what MyBo was like and found it to be highly focused and flexible at the same time. For example, while some elements on your dashboard place you in the context of local opportunities for involvement, others allow for personal expression through blogging and user-generated fundraising campaigns. In this month’s Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson talks about the great lengths to which Obama’s campaign has gone to translate online enthusiasm into real-life, boots on the ground effort and organization to move the electorate and GOTV (they’ve apparently learned a lot from the mistaken assumptions Howard Dean’s campaign made about their net roots advantage back in 2004).

Coverage websites

Finally, we’ve been really impressed by how online coverage of the campaign has really progressed. CNN, which really lives and dies by meta events like these, launched their Election Center 2008 site, which is packed with data and analysis. It’s the ultimate tool for the political junkie—in fact, CNN personalities will often encourage viewers to log on to EC2008 simultaneously during major campaign events like primaries or debates to track along with their correspondents and feed into the process live. The highly usable, well-considered and fresh-looking design provide easy access to a very rich pool of data.

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis