Friday, August 12, 2011

At-Large Council Sites Good Enough

Sure, local elections tend to be won by shoe leather and maybe the good fortune of having opponents who are verbally clumsy. Yet both social media and internet presentation seem to be big and getting bigger.

After comparing the social-media use of the seven at-large Boston City Council candidates, I clicked around their campaign sites. Rather than produce a huge, honking table — even more than the SM one, I'll comment and break down components.

With no September primary, just the final in November, we won't have those debates and debate-like fora anytime soon. Get your political fixes at campaign stops and their sites.
CandidateURLTypo riskEponymous
Ayanna Pressleyayannapressley.comlowyes
Felix Arroyofelixarroyo.comlowyes
John Connollyconnollyforboston.comlow/mod.would go to realtor
Michael Flahertymichaelflaherty.comlowyes
Sean Ryanseanryanforcitycouncil.commoderateparked for someone
Steve Murphystephenjmurphy.commoderategoes to spammer
Will Dorcenawilldorcena.comlowyes

First, all seven have working sites before the campaigns start in earnest. These are fairly easy to find, although none has the great advantages of simple, noun name (think apple.com or very simple names like Bill Smith or even Mike Ball) and even the Irish-American names have numerous possible spelling variations (how many n, l or e's?). Five went to eponymous URLs, although Murphy had to go with his formal name, which no one short of his mother when she's angry might call him. Likewise Connolly and Ryan had to go for longer, more typo-susceptible URLs.


Overall site


The standout site is decidedly John Connolly's. Among its features are:

  • Magazine-style template that makes choosing features easy
  • Enough animation in slides to keep your interest without overpowering you
  • Constituents as obvious in his pix as himself
  • Attractive custom logo/head
  • Seven sensible tabs up top with full content behind them
  • Key volunteer, donate and email update choices big and in prime real estate (top right)
  • Clear pull-down menu choices that open to manageable sub-sites
It is the most usable of the seven. The only front-page niggle is that the events area lists a single, his community office hours. Other candidates tend to provide more choices of meeting and greeting.

Over the seven, there is a bifurcation with a single siding. That is, the four incumbents have the luxury of beefier sites because they can pitch visible, palpable Council accomplishments. Briefly, President Murphy is the numbers and financial expert; all of City Hall knows that and it's his job to make sure the voters grok that. Connolly is the schools guru and champion, a hero to parents. Pressley is both a reality and symbol; she leads on neglected big issues, like women and girls' advancement and protection. Arroyo is the housing and union guy, and as such a true people's advocate.

Ryan and Dorcena are at a serious disadvantage here, as their sites reflect. They are in that limbo of coulda, shoulda, woulda, or rather I shall do wonderful things, if only you let me. That's a tougher sell.

Solo is Flaherty. He was an at-large Councilor, President of the body, and candidate for Mayor. He has to give a compelling reason to suggest he can do better than one of the four with nameplates in the chamber. A perception among many I speak to is that he wants a place where he can run for Mayor again, particularly should MFL Thomas Menino step back from the office. So far, he has not openly run against any of the four incumbents, even the first termers, Arroyo and Pressley. That won't last. Right now his website is long on futures and short on the past, which also won't last.

For amusement sake, take the candidates by given name first.

Pressley

First termer Pressley has a pretty good site. She also has a pretty good marketing angle.

I'll try to make this my last self-flagellation. I was wrong before the last election when I feared that she might not be able to make the transition from the nationally-oriented John Kerry staff to the plebeian, parochial Boston Council slot. She has in fact integrated her big issues into the fifth floor chamber.

Her site expects voters to dig for info. It is particularly strong on appearances and other events. Otherwise, it links on the home page and the news/media tab to her many articles and similar coverage. For example, the News & Media tab has four pages of about a dozen or so article with the lead couple of paragraphs and links to the originals. Here and on the home page, the assumption is that folk will click through and tunnel down to the good stuff — not too realistic. However, many will get a flavor in the displayed info.

The Meet Ayanna tab is equivalent to an About one. It's fine and functional, written clearly and a manageable size. It works.

The Work page is a cognate to Issues. I hope she fleshes this out soon. As it starts, it lists a few major accomplishments or works in process. What's missing is a set of goals and a platform with steps to build it.

She also has limited media. There are no videos. Her pictures are half a year old, with no current images of her with constituents, staff or peers. She's been to many functions and those images must exist.

Her site has no video or audio. Also, it does not include policy statements or PR releases. It has a very clear presentation of Pressley but very limited one of what she intends to do.

Arroyo

This is one site we need to check frequently, as an unfinished artwork. For example, of the seven it is the only one who promises a bilingual English/Spanish interface. A few days ago, it had next to nothing. As of 8/11, nearly everything except his policy statements, print media and contacts was in both languages. The policy/platform is an issue, but I expect it to be done soon.

While Arroyo is "just another" at-large candidate appealing to the spectrum of Boston voters, he is the Latino on Council. He has a natural constituency among Spanish-speaking voters, who get representation and presentation in his public appearances. They likely expect it on his site. They can't put him in office by themselves but as Latinos are the fastest growing population segment here, one would think all candidates would begin to incorporate Spanish on their sites. Not yet.

Geek-wise, Arroyo's site suffers from double click. It takes a pull-down choice and sometimes two clicks to get to where you want. That's not huge, but it's big enough. This, along with Sean Ryan's, are the sites that require choosing a topic area and then a subtopic to get to meaningful information. The younger browsing voters are, the less patience they have with this kind of indexing.

His issues area (Policy Statements in his lingo) are solid when you get to them. Each is a big one — Education and Youth; Housing and Development; Public Safety; Labor ad Workforce Development; Civic Engagement; Heath and Environment; and Basic City Services. On the plus side, he does a personal angle, coupled with how he acted as Councilor or community organizer. He tries to serve double duty here. He needs to duplicate this differently in a separate place to highlight his accomplishments as a Councilor. There is no single place a potential voter can go to for a list of how-I-spent-the-time-since-I-started info.

It's great that his policies are succinct and on a single page. Most candidates are too wordy. That would make sense for the sole candidate with a detailed platform, Connolly. Otherwise, Arroyo's site does it well. Unfortunately for me, his "solutions" appear vague — collaborate, compromise and so forth, without particulars. These generalizations may suit many voters, but not the subset of demanding ones. He stops short of risking ideas on his own.

For media, he's good and bad. His print articles are better than solid. There's lots of coverage, links to favorable articles, and fawning praise of him. Otherwise, he has a single video from a FOX story on the site and Youtube, no endorsements, no pix of him or him with supporters and no audio, even though there's a place holder for that.

His About section is inspired. His message-from-Felix page is terse, revealing and beautifully sincere. He introduces his supporting team with names, a group pic and many email addresses. This meet-Felix pic and message is strong and presents a powerful résumé for anyone, particularly someone so young. It's also likely lookist and a bit sexist, but he's very attractive and his wife is probably the most attractive spouse of any politician's here or maybe in the country. That doesn't win an election, but never hurts.

Connolly

Big John is an affable and accomplished guy. I can't deny that I like him and I admire his perseverance and courage in trying to wrangle the education herd. His website reflects his self-confidence and his deep analysis of big issues.

As the boomer-era cigarette commercial extolled the old Viceroy as "the thinking man's cigarette," we can suggest that Connolly is the thinking voter's candidate. His website is shockingly detailed in contrast to the other candidates. He proposes in-depth solutions after describing specific problems in all major issues — schools, environment, safety, government transparency. No at-large or district candidate even begins to compare with his insight and guts.

Interestingly enough from a design and content perspective, his four detailed platform pages are brilliantly presented. You can skim them for the gist and read them for specifics. They are superbly written, easy to understand, and make great use of fonts, white space and graphics. Connolly is plenty smart, apparently smart enough to hire the best web designers in the candidate field for this year's election.

More important, you'd have to go to back to Deval Patrick's first go to see this out-there strategy. Unlike his competitors and those in district races, Connolly details the big problems, and then provides his take on solutions. He opens himself up to potshots from the lesser minded and puts his neck or other body parts on the block, daring others to put up or shut up. It worked for Patrick and for Connolly in his first two goes. He know where he wants us to go and how he expects to get us there. A huge number of voters appreciate that by the returns.

Connolly's anomaly is is Go Green button and underlying emphasis. That is up top as a button and heavily woven throughout the site. It is truly important, but more to him than most voters. Long-term, environmental technologies and processes are key to the local economy as well as to our survival. He is, however, ahead of the curve on this. As much as he can advance his goals here along with the more stereotypical ones, such as a good school in every neighborhood, we'll all be grateful. That's not going to win the third term for him solo.

He has a solid media presence, with plenty of vids and pix of him with or speaking to constituents. He's a sincere family guy, who splashes images of his wife and kids along with those of voters. I personally saw him touch a prolific breeder friend of mine for good luck for his next one. He is at once, West Roxbury, and Boston, and Catholic, and husband, and dad, and oh, a politician.

His long bio page is gray and tedious, even with several pix. Few will read it. However, he's clever in including a Social Networking subsection in his About that iterates the SM buttons on the front. He's long been active in Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube. Duplication here is savvy and takes voters to places that match their interests.

Surprisingly, his News and Info section should be fabulous but is mostly lame. His news coverage is current and impressive. The rest stink and are one or two years old — press releases, newsletters, community info, endorsements, and events. Given the detail, depth and breadth of the rest of the site, browsers are going to be let down when they get here. Clearly as papers and even bloggers start endorsing, that section will skip two years ahead, but this is the neglected child in the attic on an otherwise splendid campaign vehicle. Likewise, his Flickr feed is way out of date.

By the bye, Connolly is the only candidate with custom and unique heading and logo for his site. A stylized outline of the city per se hangs beside his name — golf clap here.

In my 30-plus years in Boston, I can't recall even a mayoral candidate with anywhere near the specificity in platform or courage of presenting visions and details as Connolly does for Council. His site is gutsy and sets the standard for all the Council races, not just at-large.

Flaherty

This is a fairly spare site, particularly for such an experienced pol. In fairness, he just got the site up. He and Will Dorcena are playing catch-up here.

Very connected, in South Boston, as an attorney, as a successful pol from a political family, Flaherty comes in with very high name recognition for a non-incumbent. Perceived wisdom from the local dailies and weeklies see Flaherty knocking off one of the two first-termers, Arroyo or Pressley. I say he'll have a hard time doing that. Both have built solid records, are big on constituent services, and of course, like Flaherty have cultural, racial and in Pressley's case gender identities. The latter can help, but won't ensure an at-large win.

Almost certainly, Flaherty's web presence is the least important of the seven. He's well known and is a relentless campaigner. His speeches, interviews and site need to balance personality and proposals. He can't be seen as predatory, trying to do in the weakest of the herd. Yet, he has to provide a compelling set of reasons to in effect go back to him when there are four respected at-larges.

He fills a big bucket of platform planks in his Our City tab (good title and angle). There, he covers the big issues — safety, housing, schools, bureaucracy, crime, drugs, and the economy. Unfortunately, this are densely presented, his points are alternately vague or confusing, and he adds separate entries for green economy and energy/environment. It's an odd stew for a crime fighter who opens and closes this long section with anti-drug/gang messages.

He's not big on chunking and making the messages easy to access and memorable. I'll watch how he develops this new page. Yet among the seven he is the only other other than Connolly with proposals. Although from a different angle, Ryan has lots of economic and political points in his videos.

Flaherty's pages are very strong on interaction, with easy to see buttons for donations, volunteering, donating and his mailing list. He's only missing the refer-friends choice that just Murphy and Dorcena offer.

So far though, beyond his pretty basic bio, he is very short on listing accomplishments. That makes sense for non-electeds like Ryan and Dorcena, who don't have public-office histories. As Councilor and Prez, he should be able to present a more pertinent résumé.

This dovetails with the big missing pieces. His print media section is mostly ho-hum announcements for office. Right now there are no press releases, video (except FOX covering his race entry), photos or audio. He's a good enough looking guy, who doesn't have to wallpaper the world with his image, but showing public appearance and adoring supporters would be wise.

He may be able to fix that soon. He has a good calendar of events obvious on his home page. He'll certainly have still and video cameras recording him in the real world.

Finally, his own copy could use an edit. The Meet Michael bio section isn't all that long, but seems so on a web page. It is gray in appearance and content. There are no snappy outtakes and nothing in the writing or display compels us to read. As this is more or less the existing accomplishments statement, he needs to punch it up, or as my wife is wont to say, add snap. Then again, both she and I came out of newspapers. We believe in grabbing the reader.

Ryan

As with his platform planks, Ryan is terrifically sincere, intense and academic. He deals on a higher plane than the other candidates, with a world view of economics and government, which he makes plain need correction.

His site and its large set of linked Youtube videos are unlike the other candidates'. As noted in the SM post, he is the video leader. He also understands how to edit and group these, so they are terse, each deals with a narrow topic, and designed to encourage watching the entire couple of minutes. No one else's video strategy comes close.

He neglects the standard functions of web presence to concentrate on making his sweeping and specific statements. He cleverly groups his candidacy issues into three huge ones — safety, schools, and services (efficient government). Of course, a click on any of those brings up Ryan in a video offering his problem definition/solutions.

Otherwise, his page does have a donation button, but none of the other interaction ones. He offers SM links to Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, he has no media links beyond video, no print, press releases or photos for example.

His one-paragraph bio is just the basics and vague promise to "work hard to make government work hard for us." It's not surprising that he was the only candidate who could not find a day and time to chat with us at Left Ahead. In May and June, we spoke with the other six and invited him repeatedly.

Ryan is very focused on his leading-edge video strategy. As such, his site is unlike the others. It is a video experience with a small visual word component. Click around, particularly on the Youtube area, and you'll learn a tremendous amount about what he thinks, but far less about what he might do as a Councilor.

Murphy

The Council Prez came on sudden and strong with his site. It is a complete package that does a good but not yet great job of overcoming his problem. He is the financial expert in the body. He's pivotal to much of the work there, but not as obviously as other at-large and district Councilors in the main. He doesn't have the provocative proposals others advance. Thus, he has to let voters know he does a lot and is the essential numbers guy, without boring them.

His site has nearly everything, with lots of functionality. It's easy to know him through his bio, images and Vision, which is what he calls his platform. It opens with all of the SM and interaction buttons. While he doesn't have a mailing list per se, he offers this in an RSS feed; that may overwhelm some nontechnical voters, but is a good way to go.

An obvious design niggle is that his Flickr feed of images still shows the long URL instead of a button. Otherwise, he should chop the out-of-date events off his list. Folk would have to page down through about 10 to get to something current. Those who want to see and hear him aren't likely to do so.

At the moment, he has to play catch-up in media. He has lots of impressive press coverage, but no release, video or audio. His Flickr pix are likely the envy of some candidates, with lots of cheering voters and volunteers evident. As a big plus though, the News section links to many places where his actions and influence appear. He's everywhere and doing important stuff.

His vision area is good and smart, but a bit turgid. Of course the fact is that his strength is the economy, which is harder to jazz up without rolling in figures and concepts. It's far easier to slam drug dealers and make a schools proposal. Yet, his platform page does list some impressive accomplishments and goals. He'll certainly talk those up when the campaign gets hot. He may even rework this page so the good stuff stands out.

In contrast, his bio in the Meet Steve section is well written and easy to digest. It is clearly different from the platform copy, which is smart. It's very humanizing and sketches his background quickly and clearly.

This site is well designed and I suspect will only improve as the appearances and forum/debate events start.

Dorcena

This first-time office seeker has that double problem of no elected-position résumé and a late start. He recently brought is site up. It is the prettiest of the bunch. He's also clearly attending to the site. Navigating now brings up what you expect from the pull-down (Arroyo could take a hint) and has solid content. I'll check back on this site and see what else appears.

As when he spoke with us at Left Ahead, Dorcena jumps right into his lack of elected office experience, countering with the double of personal and professional. He is a Boston Catholic schools product and lives in HP with wife and daughter. He runs his own successful business, from which he says he has lessons to apply to Council.

His issues treatments are pretty good. He picks the big ones — schools, safety, jobs, transparency, and constituent services. Note there are no distrations like green jobs or international issues. He's about things he figures voters are too.

His issues/solutions pages are a bit wordy and like several other sites rely on browsing voters plowing through the page and page down. He could use some font/space/graphics and try to make his big points on each pop up, again like several other sites.

His solutions vary by topic:
  • Schools have three vague proposals (like shifting BPS focus to students)
  • Safety has more specificity but is still a bit spongy (like providing safe after-school programs)
  • Jobs offers a more comprehensive set of goals (like going after more DOT money and squeezing banks for more small biz loans)
  • Open government has four solid points (think online city checkbook) that together would create a program for which he and the Council could be held account for implementing
  • Services is a vague place holder (open office policy and acting timely and efficiently)
For media, he is also mixed. Video is only a piece of the sole forum so far and pix are one candid and three posed. The lonely press release is of the site launch. Events are to come. For press, he runs two, in their entirety. He needs more content in all categories, to create some video (at least him speaking to the camera or in speeches), as well as repackaging the press pieces into a head and one or two paragraphs with a link. Those are surely in the works.

He has the key buttons for donations, volunteering and soliciting friends. He's managing to tweet regularly and keeps an active FB posting routine.

He has a good fast start. This is another site to monitor.


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