The Democrats Lose: Comparing the Convention Web Sites

Ian Lurie

I’ve been fighting this sinking feeling that we’re headed for another four years (or eight) of a Republican President. Not that I have anything against John McCain except that I’ll never vote for him. But I’m a pretty staunch Democrat, and it’d be nice to blame my own party for the world’s problems for a change.

In the last presidential election, I formulated a theory that the most social media-savvy party would win. John Kerry and the DNC pretty much screwed the pooch every chance they got. Bush, on the other hand, had some remarkably media-savvy folks doing everything from real-time blogging and spin of debates to carrying their Swift Boat campaign to YouTube.

Kerry, of course, went on to lose by 3 million popular votes and a lot more states.

Could John Kerry have reached another 3 million people online? Dunno. But surely a few smart moves online could’ve helped when his image started to crumble.

Fast forward. It’s 2008. The Democratic National Convention is going on now, and the Republicans start theirs in a week or so. So I decided to compare their respective convention sites based on simple stuff.

I may just have to change my party affiliation.

Broken Links: Democrats Lose

I checked the Republican National Convention site using Integrity. 1000 pages, no broken links. A few timeouts, but that was it.

I checked the Democratic Convention site. 2000 pages, 200+ broken links. Ouch.
Democrats lose.

Social Media Hooks

Then I checked each site for social media ‘hooks’: Ways to easily follow each party on Digg, Twitter, etc.

The Republicans seem to have their act together:

GOP social links

The Democrats don’t. They opted for ‘gavel to gavel’ hidef video. Which is neato, but not quite as helpful. Plus they made a totally unexplainable technology choice. But I’ll get there in a second.


The Democrats have billed their convention as open to all. Their home page, though, looks more like a Nike commercial:

DNC home

It’s pretty. It’s also utterly devoid of any updates, any text, or any call to action for me, a long-suffering Democrat. Oh, yeah, and given how many e-mails and phone calls I’ve gotten from the party asking for unity, don’t you think the home page should, I dunno, ask for unity?!

Oh, yeah, and the DNC home page still shows ‘one hour to go’ as one of the blog headlines, 24 hours later. Way to stay up to date, guys.

The Republicans’ home page, on the other hand, is kind of folksy, like you’re going to a county fair:

GOP home

Not my style, but I’m not their audience. And their page has several calls to action: Form a local ‘watch party’ (which somehow makes me think of the McCarthy era, but no one’s perfect) or sign up for e-mail updates. The DNC site has the e-mail signup too. But I could actually find it on the Republican site.

Video: PHAIL

I’m old, so I’m not sure I used ‘Phail’ right. But the Democratic National Convention site uses Silverlight for all video:

dnc silverlight phail


Why on earth wouldn’t you use YouTube, or another video streaming service, or at least use Flash on your own server?

So, playing video on the DNC site required that I download not one, but two plugins. Not a major hardship for me. But kind of dumb if you’re trying to spread the word to as many people as possible.

Oh, did I mention the dire warning message I got when I tried to install the plugins:

dnc video phail 2

In 2012, when you’re running to unseat John McCain, try using Flash, which has a ridiculously large user base. Or at least get up-to-date certificates for your plugins.

I know, Microsoft probably wrote them a big honking check to use Silverlight. But isn’t “we’re for sale” kind of the wrong message to send when you’re trying to elect a President? Even if it’s true?

To Be Fair

The Republican National Convention site has its problems, too: Two conflicting e-mail signup forms, a writing style that makes me cringe and a candidate that can’t remember how many houses he owns.

It’s About the Effort, Stupid

It cost about $15 million to prepare the Pepsi Center for the Democratic National Convention. Plus a whole lotta money for security.

I’d cheerfully have built their web site for, oh I dunno, $250,000. My therapy bills would probably top that by the time we were done.

For this tiny slice of the pie:

graph: me vs dnc

I would have cheerfully made the effort run a link checker on the damned site. I would’ve thrown in a few social media links for good measure, made sure their plugins worked properly, and hit them with furniture when they mentioned using Silverlight as their video platform.

I hope I’m wrong. At least a President from my party will take my money and give it to the poor, instead of taking it and giving it to Iraq. But if not, you guys know where to find me in 2012.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Any chance to find out how much the 2 spent on their online efforts? Do we know what they spent on their previous efforts at least?
    Terrible decisions on the DNC’s part.

  2. Great idea for a post – and spot on!
    “But I’m a pretty staunch Democrat, and it’d be nice to blame my own party for the world’s problems for a change.” Loved that line!!!

  3. Don’t worry Ian, you used Phail right, but I would have categorized all the plugins as an EPIC PHAIL. Nothing says “don’t trust this site” more than installing unknown plugins in my opinion.

  4. Well that’s the great thing about the Democratic Party – we love to make it hard on ourselves. It would be too easy to build a great website that was optimized for search and usability and was well-maintained. We love the struggle. It makes us tough! And yes, we do lose often as a result, but if you want to burn an omelette, you’ve got to break a few links (ok that was bad).

  5. @Ramin you mean the site that tries to force me to sign up (even though I already have) every time I visit it? Cough.
    Actually, Barack’s done a good job with his online campaign, for the most part. But the DNC site AND his campaign are STILL behind McCain, which just makes no sense to me. Hell, I’d VOLUNTEER MY TIME if someone would give me the time of day over there…

  6. Great post, Ian.
    Fortunately for us Democrats, a large portion of the Republican voting bloc is about as web-savvy as John McCain. Most of the people I know who will be voting McCain (see also: extended family) are still wrapping their heads around email – so the subtleties of who is succeeding in the social media realm are all but lost on them.
    That said, the Dems need to step up their online game considerably. The differences in home pages for the conventions is staggering.

  7. @Jennifer Jeffrey I sure hope you’re right. Of course, it only takes a day to totally revamp an internet marketing strategy, so the Dems might improve, too. First up: Remove that stupid signup form that interrupts me every time I go to the Obama campaign web site.

  8. This is exactly why I choose to be an independent voter, I can easily switch sides and nobody accuses me of being a “flip flopper”. Also, if I don’t say who I voted for, whatever mess is made is never my fault. Of course, I don’t get invited to any of the cool parties. Great post, Ian, witty as always!

  9. I’m watching the Dem convention now, and using Firefox on a Mac – only had to download one plugin and got no warning at all. The video is really flawless, absolutely perfect. Maybe things aren’t all that bad…

  10. Agreed about the DNC Video section. I just went tonight to check out some speeches that I missed and it was terrible. My computer specs are decent but it took Firefox and IE to a crawl (and wasted my time with stupid plugins).
    Thank god for YouTube.

  11. @Jill Yup the Silverlight video quality is amazing. It’s just the install and the errors that get me down. It’s… sloppy. It doesn’t need to be.

  12. @jennifer, since we all know those big ugly corporations are the Republican party, and since it takes alot of computing power to manage a corporation that would indicate that most Republicans are indeed tech savvy. Perhaps you are confusing the poor southern uneducated democrats with us rich republicans with all the latest tech toys..

  13. One thing that you neglected to mention is trying to view the convention after the fact. The DNCC site is much more thorough (maybe it’s just easier to navigate) when one wants to watch the convention after the events have transpired. It does not seem as if you can watch gavel to gavel coverage on the RNC Convention site. Is the GOP trying to hide something? I believe the DNCC has the web site design and usability won hands down. You are wrong on so many of your points.

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