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Why Aren't the Presidential Campaigns Using Widgets?

BY Colin Delany | Wednesday, May 16 2007

[Cross-posted at e.politics]

The major presidential campaigns have put tons of effort into creating websites, building their own social networks, creating online videos and reaching out to voters through Facebook and MySpace, but they're so far mostly ignoring a simple and effective tool to help their supporters find volunteers, raise money and spread messages: web widgets.

Widgets are little snippets of HTML code that you can drop into a page, a blog post or a blog template to add a rich feature. For instance, the ChipIn widget lets you embed a donations collection tool into your site to support your own custom fundraising campaign, and many online publishers offer widgets that display headlines of recent stories. Widgets have a social media component as well, in that they can often spread from one site to another via a "get this widget for your site" link.

Widgets would seem like a natural tool for political outreach, but so far the presidential campaigns aren't using them at all, with a couple of exceptions. Rudy Giuliani is the only candidate going out of his way to offer widgets for supporters to download: the campaign site's "Rudy On Your Blog" page offers a couple of useful widgets, one for fundraising and one to display headlines, alongside the usual static image downloads.

John Edwards is the only other major-party candidate with a widget download on his site, and it's quite hidden — I only found it through a site that tracks campaign website features. I'd show it to you, but it's a "dashboard" widget for Mac users, meaning that it's designed for a computer desktop, not a website, and hence isn't an outreach tool. You can see it on left-hand side of the campaign's supporter button/badge download page.

Interestingly, the independent Unity08 campaign is using widgets to build a delegate list for next summer's online vote for its presidential ticket, offering them to supporters in several color schemes. I'd show you a sample, but they don't seem to want to work on e.politics (how rude).

Obviously, campaign widget use is still in its infancy. What would a comprehensive political widget strategy look like? Let's divide the little critters into two basic categories: those that spread a message and those that actively solicit support. Message-spreading widgets could display just about any content that you can either fit into or reference in an RSS feed, including:

  • News headlines
  • Recent blog posts
  • Campaign photos, via a photo-sharing site or from a dedicated photo gallery
  • Campaign video clips (either embedded or as a link to a clip displayed on the main campaign site)
  • Upcoming events, geo-targeted by the blog/site owner during the widget setup or generic across all supporter sites
  • The supporter/volunteer of the day, with photo

Widgets that actively solicit support or user input could:

  • Raise money
  • Gather email addresses
  • Highlight volunteer opportunities
  • Gather opinions, polling-style

These options are only the beginning; creative widget builders will no doubt come up with even more applications over '08 election cycle — just think of the possibilities of combining widgets with RSS mashups a la Yahoo pipes. And widget use won't be limited to the campaigns, since everyday citizens can build and distribute them at will. Start with a site like Politickr, which gathers the presidential campaign blogs' RSS feeds and displays them side-by-side — this kind of content is just waiting to be pushed out to widgets scattered around sites across the web. The distributed campaign is right around the corner, just waiting to be set loose upon an unsuspecting world.