Why Aren’t the Presidential Campaigns Using Widgets?

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, eager to be set loose upon an unsuspecting world.

See also: Widgets Not Waiting for the Presidential Campaigns


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • I couldn’t agree with you more Colin. In fact, I was hopeful for widgets earlier this year before the silly season started:


    In my view, widgets really are one area where politics can innovate in technology. Unlike for the 2004 cycle, I really feel like all the 2008 campaigns just aren’t doing anything new. They’re all copying off worn ideas and each other, and they’re using technology that is recent, but not cutting edge.

    Being on YouTube in 2006 or MySpace in 2005 would have been cutting edge. Today it’s just boring.

    Widgets, on the other hand, really fit the domain of online advocacy perfectly. They’re about real substantive action, rather than about watching a video on YouTube or friending someone on MySpace.

  • […] Blog Campaigning A forum for information exchange about the effect of blogging in political campaigns « I hear there’s something called â€œblogs…â€? Widgets: A natural tool for political outreach? May 17th, 2007 Colin Delany of e.politics asks a very interesting question: Why Aren’t the Presidential Campaigns Using Widgets? […]

  • i agree, widgets would be an invaluable asset to add substance to the social network aspect of the pres campaigns. also, i found this page on myspace myspace.com/ilovedesign123 that has some really great presidential smileys for social network pages…

  • Mac users have mini programs called Widgets that run in the background of their system. There are an infinite number of widgets that have been developed to do everything from send text messages to monitor the weather, news and the stock markets.

    While I don’t really use widgets that much, the cool thing about them is that you don’t have to open a browser to access web enabled services.

    I could see a widget that let you chat with your circle of fellow volunteers and share a common calendar to be a useful widget for a campaign to distribute.

  • I am a supporting webmaster for a local candidate for Mayor of Berea; http://www.dikmalott.com
    I also started a community site: http://www.bereabuzz.com
    I am a novice in widgets and related stuff but would appreciate any info on “widgets for dummies”.
    Any actual direct suggestions relating to using widgets to raise funds and volunteers would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for the info to get me this far already
    Regards~ Dave

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