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Website review: ChuckSchumer.com

BY Michael Turk | Tuesday, May 26 2009

A friend passed along an e-mail from ChuckSchumer.com touting their new website. Since I always like to peruse new sites and see what they've done, I quickly clicked through. Since I used to do reviews for TP and PDF regularly, I may as well share my thoughts.

Before I get to the functionality, let me just ask two questions. First, did the left do some sort of study that says people trust their sites more if everyone has a halo? This site continues the "ethereal/otherworldly" trend of casting the glow. If this was the big plan to appeal to religious voters, I just don't get it.

Second, when do we hit the law of diminishing returns on making every site look like a BarackObama.com spinoff? I saw this with the Bush-Cheney '04 site when everyone up to and including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton knocked off the site. Let me state for the record, there's no magic in layouts. They may be clean and easy to use, but that's something you can accomplish many ways. The more important thing is what you do with what you have.

That brings me to the functionality of Schumer's site. With this review I'm going to start a new approach and do this Clint Eastwood style. I'll spell out the good (what it does well), the bad (where it falls flat) and the ugly (the one thing I, personally, absolutely hate). The ugly will always be the one thing I like the least about a particular site.

The Good

The site has the basics covered. It provides issue info, news, multimedia, candidate background, and a way to sign up give money. At this point that's about all it has, and I would not expect to see a lot more.

Chuck Schumer won in 2004 with 71% of the vote. That's an outcome typically reserved for third world despots. It's not likely that he will see stiff competition. As a result, I would not expect to see much in the way of innovation.

That's not necessarily a bad thing (despite the fact that "the bad" is actually predicated on it). If I had a candidate looking at a likely 40 point margin of victory, I don't know that I'd go out on the edge too much. Sometimes the risk-averse strategy is the right strategy. In Schumer's case, I think it probably is.

The Bad

As I said, the basics are covered. However, when you will have the money available that a New York Senate race will attract, and you have been raising money for 5 years, you could easily do better than "minimally acceptable". Whether or not he needs to is open for discussion.

Schumer has gone with the Wired for Change team and their "Salsa" product. It's a platform that offers more than what Schumer is providing - including events and blogs. They may roll those later, and they may well have more coming, but for a high profile member like Schumer, the initial offering falls short.

There is little interactivity beyond the "endorse Schumer" option. That gives them the ability to say they're inviting people to participate, but lets them screen it heavily.

The sign up process is about the most interactive element, but even that leaves me cold. I don't fully grasp the idea behind providing two options to sign up (volunteer and join). If you want a low threshold e-mail subscription option, that's fine. You can ask form minimal information (as was standard practice between 1995 and 2005) and get people in the door.

If you're going to ask for more depth on that sign up page, why not merge the volunteer options? It's only two more questions.

I've seen the studies that indicate the more fields you ask for the less likely you are to get a conversion. I get that. But most visitors to your site will be there one time. Why provide multiple sign up forms, and then give them names that sound interchangable?

The Ugly

Schumer's site triggers a pet peeve of mine of which many candidates on both sides of the aisle are guilty.

Why do people insist on providing an "En Espanol" option, but then do it badly? Your navigation? Still in English. Your volunteer sign up? Still in English. Your "Send to Friend" tool? Still in English. If you're going to provide Spanish language options, commit to it!

Overall Grade: C +

Normally, I would have given this a straight C. There really isn't much on the site to distinguish it. In the hardware world it's called a barebones system - nothing fancy, just enough to get you running.

I gave the site a C+ because "Less is Enough" may actually be a workable strategy for Schumer.

Schumer's team missed the higher grades because they will have the money and room for error to do a whole lot more, but aren't yet shooting any higher. They have sent a message that says, "I don't need to try terribly hard because you're going to elect me anyway."