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Blue Blogging Soapbox
...rambling rants, thoughts and musings on mostly political topics - from your late night blogger.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Liberal Leadership Candidates Website Review 
(en francais)

As a political and web junkie, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the various Liberal Leadership sites. It never hurts to see what the competition is doing and most often you can learn a new trick or two.

I'm not a designer or programmer in any sense of the word, rather more of a power user. I like to learn as much as possible from the best on the web and try and apply it in the most cost effective ways to my own efforts.

Considering someone went to a great deal of expense to bring Joe Trippi to Toronto, it looks like they didn't get a lot of value for their money. I think most of the candidates must have been sleeping. Some sites show potential and as a wiser gentleman than me said, they will probably not start hitting their stride until a month or so into the campaign.

Regardless, if I was working on any of these campaigns I would run as fast as possible to Belinda Stronach and find out if someone is available from her previous web team. Her site from the CPC Leadership campaign would leave all of these in the dust.

Carolyn Bennett
Nice entry page with French/English choice. But then everything goes crazy! What the hell is a photo blog doing in a Leadership race? While this may be appealing for artistic purposes, it's functionality is useless, especially as the default choice. There is an option to use a "more traditional or accessible website", but the link is buried in small text at the bottom of the page. That's about all I'll say about the photo site.

Once you finally find the "traditional" website, things improve somewhat. The site has a left hand menu but many of the terms are confusing and much clicking will ensue until you figure everything out. The whole site is crammed into the upper half with a newsroom sidebar on the right hand side.

If you want to donate, you'll need to be persistent and maybe a bit of a detective. Donating online is not possible, but a form is available for submission.

You'll need to drill down a level in order to volunteer (form) or join (form). No link to the new Liberal online membership page.

The navigation leaves much to be desired.

No RSS feeds. There is a blog, but not comments are possible. Carolyn states that she will be alternating blog posts between french and english. The closest thing to an interactive feature is more form filling and the opportunity to email using the "Tell a Friend" tool.

If you want to find Carolyn's policy ideas or positions, they're there, just not where you might think. (Personally, I tried the Policy link first - go figure. )

The site has a Privacy Policy, but again it's certainly not where you think it might be and is not labelled as such.

Newest content - Monday, April 24th

Overall a fairly confusing experience. Some of the basics are there but a great deal of organization and housecleaning is required to get things in order.


Google Link Search - 34 (33 2006 election or Parliament related)

Google Web Search - # 1

Maurizio Bevilacqua
Entry page with English/French option. Header area and menu is clean and simple if a little over "Maurizio'ed". (all Maurizio, all the time). I'm not sure if I care for the main page layout. 3 equal columns. In my mind the left and right sidebars take up too much space, distracting from the main, centre real estate, and limiting what can be done in that space. The menu bar looks good but the traditional 'Home' location is replaced by 'Maurizio Links'. The link page itself is of dubious value, so it's placement here is strange. The header is clickable to the home page, but I'm not sure how many people recognize this as a standard. The links would be better off in one of the sidebars, replaced by a 'Home' page. The 'Media' link could go to the sidebar as well. The three things that campaigns need to do is get people to Join, Volunteer and Donate. These three make such a nice combo together. Maurizio Fans? Not sure if this is just a place filler or if there will be some purpose to this section later.

Online donations not available. Phone number and a promise of a link to the National donation page later.

Volunteer is easily found on the top menu, sidebar and bottom of page. Good duplication

Become a member takes you directly to the Liberal Party's online form.

Media Centre - lots of 'click here's' and external links. No RSS here or anywhere else on the site. Great photo gallery with lots of pictures, you just don't know what the pictures are. Always try to caption pictures by identifying people and places and event. People like seeing their name on a candidate's site. Enhances the value of being on the team.

There is a so called 'blog', but no comments enabled, no trackbacks, has sort of a permalink on the side. Is it a blog or isn't it? There are certainly differing opinions on this. Personally I think these are more like static pages than a blog.

Policy (MaurizioViews) - easy to find on main menu. I would take the fourth paragraph, bullet it and move it up. Check out Brison's site for an example. Would make the page more readable and get the policy highlights across quickly.

No Privacy Policy

Overall a good start. Some tweaks will improve navigation and usability. As with many others though, the site falls down on the interactive part. None.


Google Link Search - 0

Google Search - unable to find maurizio.ca with just a first name

Scott Brison
The most polished and professional looking of all the candidates sites so far. I don't care much for flash entry pages, but it does look nice. English/French entry choice. Site navigation is simple and easy to use. The "Get Involved" icon follows as you travel the site.

No online donations available, but there is a link to the Liberal Party's online membership form if you hunt a little.

Volunteering is front and centre on the main page and follows via the "Get involved" page.

There are 3 different RSS feeds available, although not on the front page and there is no overall feed. Feeds do not autodetect from the frontpage.

Unfortunately, this is the closest the site gets to any sort of interactivity. There is no blog, volunteer tools, downloads, videos, podcasts, volunteer back end, discussion opportunities etc. This is where the site falls down and leaves it as nothing more than an internet postcard, albeit a very professional one.

Policy (Vision) is easy to find and readable.

Site Privacy Policy is present, although very brief. (I hope Scott's volunteers don't have to pay too much for your information that might be sold to them!)

Newest content - Sunday, April 23rd.

Overall, very sharp and professional looking, just not very engaging. All sizzle but no steak.


Google Link Search - 0

Google Web Search
- #1 (entry # 5 - CTV.ca item - Brison defects to Liberals)

Stephane Dion
Simple entry page with English/French choice. The whole site screams retro 1990s. Site navigation is simple because there isn't much of it.

No online donations or link to Liberal Party online membership. Joining, donating and volunteering are all lumped under one "Get Involved" form.

No RSS feeds or any hint of interactivity for visitors.

Policy is sort of available on the front page and spread throughout the site in various speeches and papers. One redeeming point is some excellent quality videos found in the newsroom.

No Privacy Policy

Newest content - Saturday, April 8th

Overall a very simple and functional site, but it's certainly not going to cut it in 2006.


2nd Website
Dion becomes the latest leadership candidate to bring his website in for a complete overhaul. The difference is profound. The new site is a Joomla Content Management System (CMS) install, utilizing what looks to be a heavily customized Rhuk Solar Flare II template. Entry page with English/French choices as well as English and French direct links to items on the site such as 'Why I'm running' and 'Get Involved'. Works well, but that picture ? !

The new site represents a leap forward for Mr. Dion. The header looks professional. Included is a search feature. If you want to see the power of CMS, try entering something like 'environment' in the search box (one of the themes of Dion's campaign). Top right of the header contains a 'Quote of the Day' feature. Nice touch, as long as it's kept current. This shouldn't be hard in Joomla as there are numerous 'Quote of the Day' plugin modules that will automatically rotate the quote based on a database that you load.

The menu is straight forward, easy to use and understand. The only thing missing is a 'Join' and 'Donate' option. The 'Get Involved' menu item takes you to a page with a catch-all form for volunteering, joining and donating.

The main page is clean, crisp and well organized.

The 'Highlights' section features 'Upcoming Events' and 'Latest News'.

The right hand side of the page is setup as a sort of action centre. The 'Get Involved' works here, but again, the site could use a Join and Donate link. Still no link to the Liberal Party's online membership form. Some graphics to highlight the section would also help. Approach the front page as if you only have 10 seconds to get a user to do something.

RSS - no RSS feeds present. As with all the other Joomla installs of candidates, this is puzzling. Joomla installs with RSS turned on by default, and is quite simple to manage for various site categories. RSS is an effective content distribution tool. No blogs or other interactive features.

Policy: I guess the 'Why I'm Running' section qualifies as the Policy section. After spending over half an hour on the site, I couldn't really point to any set of issues that define Stephane's campaign. It's there, just not presented in a way that I would remember it when I left the site.

Privacy Policy - no privacy policy

Overall a much needed improvement. The site now has a much more professional look and feel. The content presentation is greatly improved. The only thing remaining now is to take that final step to turn the site into an active tool instead of an internet postcard.


Google Link Search
- 0

Google Web Search - #6 (Stephen Harper gets #1)

Ken Dryden
Big Red enters the race, and I do mean BIG.
No entry page, French offered, although it might be a little hard to find at first. Another Joomla Open Source Content Management System(CMS) installation with a custom template. Professional look and feel. The front page contains Ken's slogan "A Big Canada" with a link to his vision. One problem though, is many people won't find that link. With the very red front page and the small little arrow underneath, it kind of blends in.

Menus are straight forward, broken up into two sections - Get Informed and Get Involved. The Get Informed section works well. It also includes an actual real live blog. A Wordpress Joomla mod complete with permalinks, moderated comments and trackbacks. You must register with the site in order to comment. News Centre is very well done. If you register with the site, you can comment on the posted news stories using a Joomla component called AKOcomment. Almost like a blog.

The Get Involved section starts off with Join Team Dryden. Filling out this form also registers you with the website, providing a Username and Password. You will receive an email shortly after registering with links to donate, info on how to be a delegate, and a (insert link here) link to the Liberal party join page.

Join the Liberal Party is a confusing page. Info on why to join and what the process for delegate selection is, just no info or links on exactly how to join the Liberal party. The very bottom of the page provides a link to the Become a Delegate page, where if you are very diligent, you can find a link to the Liberal Party online membership form. There is a "Join Now" bar on the front page, but it kind of blends in with everything else red.

Two big 'Get Informed' and 'Get Involved' sections on the front page with nice pictures but what do they do other than take up space? Considering their prominent placement, I tried mousing over them, expecting a link to take me some where.

When you surf to other pages, the big header is replaced with a smaller one. In the top right there is a small form for Email, name and a subscribe button, but what are you subscribing for? The site, emails, newsletters, 12 issues of Liberal Life magazine?

Donating is impossible unless you register with the site. I could find no link or menu item to a donation page other than the link I received in the registration email. Not sure if this is by design or by omission..

Volunteering - Join Team Dryden, register for the site. Lots of opportunities to do so. Makes for good email/name collection.

No RSS feeds - should be a no brainer for both the Blog and the site. Joomla itself is feed enabled by default.

Policy (Issues) - easy to find and lots of it.

Privacy Policy - extensive policy available, although it opens a new instance of the site in a window in order to view it.

Overall a good start. Obviously the site's goal is to inform and engage with it's users.


Google Link Search - 0

Google Search
- #2 (Stephen Harper gets top spot again.)

Martha Hall Findlay
No entry page. French is available on a small tab on the side of the site. Site navigation is simple and straight forward. Martha wins the award for the quickest direct link to a membership form - on the front right side of the page. The problem is, it's not very prominent and it's placed with an unmarked .pdf link to some sort of strategy document.

The front page is not very readable. There is an action centre, but it's only partially visible on the bottom right. I actually thought I'd found my first online donation form, but in actual fact discovered a very dangerous little item. First clue that something is wrong is the supposed online donation form is not a secure page. Second clue is hitting the submit button launches your email program with all that nifty Credit Card information ready to send. A VERY BAD IDEA!

Volunteering, joining etc, is easy through either the menu or the action centre.

No RSS feeds, blog, discussion....

Policy is easy to find (Issues) but not very readable. The bolding, italics and colour send your eyes all over the place.

No Privacy Policy Correction - a Privacy Policy exists. It's actually both detailed and bilingual.

Newest content - Friday, April 21st

Overall another internet postcard with slim possibilities. The Credit Card problem is an immediate problem and must be rectified. I'm sending an email to the campaign to inform them.

0/10 (until the CC card page is fixed)

Google Link Search - 5

Google Web Search - #1

Michael Ignatieff
No entry page. French is available via link in the top right corner. At first glance the site holds promise. This is the first Content Management System (CMS) site that I've seen so far. The site is a Joomla Open Source installation with a custom CSS template. I may be prejudiced towards Joomla, but CMS's should be a no brainer in Canadian political campaigns today, especially with so many good Open Source candidates available. (Mambo, Joomla, Drupal etc).

Navigation is front and centre although a little confusing. "Run to Leadership"? "Jump in"? JOIN, VOLUNTEER, DONATE usually work pretty well. The front page contains a blog of sorts with Michael and various team members posting. No direct commenting is available but their is a link after each post to another area. (I'll cover this later)

Eureka! Someone in the Liberal Party has discovered e-commerce! Online donations can be made on the site through a secure e-commerce system. (VirtueMart) This is one of the strengths of CMS sites. Numerous features can be added to the site as a simple component or module plug-in.

After finding an actual online donation form, I was surprised not to find even a link to the Liberal membership page. The Joomla site even has the capability of placing the page in a "wrapper" the same way they implement another feature I'll discuss later. Doing it this way allows you to signup using the parent Liberal site without leaving the candidate site.

Volunteering is available once you "Jump In". The action centre on the front page is far too wordy and denies the opportunity to volunteer directly from the front page.

There is 1 RSS feed on the site, but you have to search very hard to find it. Again this is surprising as Joomla comes RSS enabled and is very simple to implement. (It's actually turned on by default)

"Mi Community" - an actual dyed-in-the-wool, real, live discussion board. (Simple Machine Forums). Congratulations to Mr. Iganatieff for being the only candidate to include a live, interactive feature on his site. While many may debate the virtues of discussion boards or blogs, they can be a powerful tool, and at the very least a continuing draw for the site. (for example, Mr. Ignatieff wins for freshest content with the latest post being 6:49 this morning. ) The only problem with the forum is that it is implemented in a wrapper and the narrow template really squishes things. Even those familiar with boards may find it a little off when they first start using it. The forum contains an RSS feed, but the only way you will find it is if you search the source code or try auto-detecting feeds with a reader. Signup for the forum is simple, but the login takes you to the French side of the site. The forum is still English, just the menus change to French.

Policy is not really evident on the site. Another one of those click the Policy links but find something else. I left the site without really knowing what policy or vision Ignatieff wants to project.

Site has a Privacy Policy but be prepared to scroll. It's worth it as you'll also find another handy little link hidden away - A site map! The only one found so far. This is such a handy thing for so many people - why hide it?

Newest content - 8:57 am, Tuesday, April 25th. (interactive works. )

Overall a good first effort. I'd spend a few bucks on a professional template. Scott Brison's site looks flashier, but this one has the engagement and the capability to easily add other features.


2nd Website:
Ignatieff's webteam has done a complete overhaul of the site. Gone is the Joomla install in favour of Active Server Page (.asp)

Clean, professional looking and appealing. The menu is straight forward and simple. French/English available. About the only page that seems to be still under development is the 'Get Involved' page and this isn't a big issue at this stage as the well designed site offers numerous other opportunities to 'Get Involved'.

Mi Community is still there, but greatly revamped. The Mi Community Home Page is the Union Station of the campaign, connecting users to features. Based on Community Server 2.0 , the section will keep users active and engaged. MI Blogs, Forums, Photo Gallery, Multimedia Centre and Upcoming Events. Every feature execpt the calendar allow comments in one form or another. The blogs have permalinks and comments, no trackbacks. The new forums feature focused policy debates, an opportunity to debate on subjects of the users choosing and a breakdown by Province. (What about the Territories?). Emails went out to all the users from the previous site with a new password and login. There were 412 users when I first looked, 414 when I just checked the site again.

RSS is available for all of the sites content. No autodiscover on the home page, the RSS icon is in the bottom right corner. Clicking on it will take you to a page listing three feeds. The forums also offers feeds for topics and comments and I found another feed, 'Speeches' tucked away on the site. I think this one has the possibility of being a podcast.

Donations, Joining and Volunteering are easy to do. With the exception of the MI Community section, the options to donate, volunteer and join are easily available on every page. The Ignatieff campaign remains the only one with their own eCommerce section allowing for online donations. The reworked donations page is easy to understand and use. Pre-set donation amounts, user entered and monthly contributions are available. Standard phone, fax and mail donations are also available along with a form.

As with the previous site, policy is not really evident. This seems to be more a campaign decision/strategy than any function of the website.

Privacy Statement opens in a javascript window.

Significant improvement over the last site. Ignatieff's site now represents the gold standard for others to reach for. There are still many features that can and may be added to the site but in it's current for Ignatieff's site is head and shoulders above the rest.


Google Link Search - 5 (4 2006 election related)

Google Web Search - #3

Gerard Kennedy
No entry page. French option available in the top right corner. Professional looking and quick loading. Best 'Action Centre' I've seen of all the sites. Volunteer, Donate and Join all there along with a yet to be ready "Share the message" feature. The icon row in the top right corner seems to be a strange placement to me. This eats up about 1 inch of valuable front page real estate for questionable value. The Menu bar initially looks easy to use, but the tabbed format is confusing because the tabs do not change colour as you navigate. You're never really sure which tab you're on. For some reason I didn't even notice the sub-menus until my third or fourth time through the menu bar. I think I was so focused on trying to figure out where I was on the tabs, that the sub-menus escaped notice. I'm assuming that as the campaign goes on he'll have more than one speech and one media release so we'll be able to do away with each of those opening a .pdf unexpectedly.

Breaking News - this isn't CTV Newsnet or CNN Headline news. Unless the Candidate falls down and breaks something, there really isn't a lot of "breaking" news on a leadership campaign. Takes up more valuable front page real estate. Usually these end up being nothing more than stale distractions.

Huge flash area for such a small page template. The calendar is well done. Most of the other features are still 'under development', but certainly show a lot of promise. The online community looks to be a chat feature. Share the Message has some interesting potential. There is a placeholder for a blog in the multimedia centre, but it's not active yet. One video and one .mp3 there. Hint - it's not a podcast unless you're actually casting it. Requires RSS of which there is none.

National Networks - I thought I was actually going to find something interesting here, but alas, no. Some good ideas but the site doesn't give people the tools to follow through. "Organize a coffee party or a pub night to raise funds for Gerard. Follow the instructions on this website on how to donate." Give your volunteers the tools to do this through your site. Integrate social networking tools into your site and the people will really help build a national network.

Policy - link is on the menu, but it opens up another one of those surprise .pdf files. I'll assume that this too is still under development.

Privacy Policy - link is there, but not the page. Mailto link for Contact the Webmaster is broken. (missing the l in mail)

Overall a good professional looking site, with tons of potential if all the features are developed.


Google Link Search - 0

Google Search - #1 spot

Bob Rae
Splash entry page with French/English choices. I guess waiting to launch paid off for Bob. This is my pick for best of the bunch so far. Simple, clean, fast and easy to use. The only issue I have with the front page is with no 'Home' button, the entire header needs to link back to the home page. Currently only the far right panel does (at least in Firefox - haven't tested in IE yet)

All the right elements are there (Policy, Join, Donate, Volunteer etc) . The media centre is kind of thin and the font rather small leading to readability issues on pages like the Issues, but these are minor points.

Killer Feature - phase one of the campaign is all about signing up members. Click on Bob's join page and you get a form, but it's not just any type of form. I was beginning to wonder if anyone would figure this out. The form requires at least a name and email for contact purposes before sending you directly to the Liberal Party's online signup page. They now have a name and contact method to see if you actually joined the party. Someone had their thinking cap on here and it's the little things like this that will pay off in the long run.

Bob's Virtual Community is still under development, but I'm assuming this is going to be some sort of board or messaging feature.

Donation link is there, but not active yet. Join, Donate and Get Involved are always front and centre.

No RSS or other interactive features

No Privacy Policy

Overall a very good job. As mentioned above, the leader of the pack so far, but not by much.


Google Link Search
- 0

Google Search - site not listed. (Google Adwords would probably help here) You can find it on the #1 Wikipedia entry for Bob if you scroll way down.

Joe Volpe
No entry page. Another Joomla install, using a stock template, modified. (rhuk solarflare II) French is available in the top right corner.

Navigation is simple and easy, although the Action Centre is probably too small. This is a common fault of many stock Joomla templates. The rotating image banner will interest some, but others will not care for it. I don't mind one way or another, but one problem is where's my city? I think Windsor has a Liberal or two left.

The front page isn't there. The page is overwhelmed by the photo on it, forcing the visitor to scroll down to find the content. This is a common problem throughout the site. The size of the photos makes it difficult to find content, links etc.

The Volunteer link in the Action Centre takes you directly to the signup form, but the Get Involved link takes you to another one of those gigantic photos. No online donations, just another form.

No RSS feed, no blog, etc....

Policy is there (Joe's views) and easy to find but not very readable.

The site contains one of the best uses of Google Translate that I've ever seen, it's just a shame most people will probably never find it. For campaigns reaching out to ethnic communities this can be a powerful feature. Although Google translations leave something to be desired, they will at least convey the general idea and may bring the person to your campaign looking for further info.

No Privacy Policy

Newest content - Sunday, April 23rd.

Overall a shaky start, but in Joomla the site has a strong platform that is easily modified and built on. As with Ignatieff's site, invest in a professional template and go interactive.


Google Link Search - 0

Google Web Search
- #1 (3rd Entry actually registers as 'LPOC Leadership Candidate Home")

Final ranking for the first round.
  1. Bob Rae 7/10
  2. Scott Brison 6.5/10
  3. Ken Dryden 6.5/10
  4. Gerard Kennedy 6.5/10
  5. Michael Ignatieff 6.5/10
  6. Maurizio Bevilacqua 6/10
  7. Joe Volpe 5/10
  8. Stephane Dion 4/10
  9. Carolyn Bennett 3/10
  10. Martha Hall Findlay 0/10 - Donation Page still not fixed.

If you've actually struggled through my ramblings and are interested in someone else's review, check out Rob Cottingham's site.

For what it's worth - that's my opinion. Like it, hate it -who cares. That's what blogging's for.

WE Speak at 11:00 a.m.    | en francais | Go to Top|

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