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How the presidential field uses it

The potential supporter

Potential supporters are a large category and it would be impossible to lump them in one bucket.  For the purposes of this discussion the reader should assume we are discussing tech-savvy and/or young potential supporters since this demographic has already begun to embrace RSS in their daily lives.  These potential supporters already get lots of information on various topics from all over the web, everything from sports to news to politics.  One characteristic of this audience is that they process an incredible amount of information on a daily basis and they won’t often take the time to visit all of the web sites they get information from.  If a candidate wants to reach this audience you have to allow them to get information on their terms, and that means providing as much information as possible to them via RSS.  They may be weighing several candidates, does a campaign really want to lose out because the other candidate is getting information to them and your campaign isn’t! ?

The activist

The activist is already in a candidate’s camp, and furthermore they are likely volunteering for the campaign and showing their support at the grassroots level.  The power of RSS comes into play here because all of a sudden a campaign has the ability to get information produced by the campaign out to thousands of activists on their web sites which is then read and consumed by thousands more people the campaign might not have otherwise reached.  The portability of this information makes this possible and it costs a candidate nothing to do it.

The blogger

The blogger is similar to the activist in that they may have decided to support a particular candidate or political party, but they may also be covering the field broadly. Good bloggers are those which can take in incredible amounts of information, and then present the best nuggets either alone or with their own commentary and analysis.  This job absolutely requires RSS, no one that is serious goes out and visits hundreds of sites by typing in the URL.  They have their sources they use which include mainstream news sources, other bloggers and yes even candidates’ web sites.  As a candidate you want to make it as easy as possible for this group to get information from your campaign because much like journalists they are writing about politics on a daily basis and influencing thousands with their words.

The political reporter

Very little explanation is required of this group; campaigns have dealt with political reports probably since politics began.  There are ways a campaign can make a political reporter’s life easier (assuming they are willing to try some new things) which generally benefits the campaign.  Some of the things that political reporters are interested in are press releases put out by the campaign, interesting stories that might be included on the blog, and upcoming events so they can schedule trips to cover them.  Those reporters probably have a relationship with someone on the campaign staff and that’s how they get that information.  What if they could get it themselves though?  No guarantees all of them would do it, but I think it would become a more compelling argument once they realized how much time they could save if all of that information flowed directly to them as it was published, effortlessly.

What is the state of RSS usage for presidential candidates in 2008?  I have put together this handy table to illustrate that usage.  Some of the important factors to consider here are:

  • Consolidated Feeds:  Is there a place on the campaign site where I can see all of my options?
  • Blog RSS: Does the blog (if it exists) provide an RSS feed?
  • News RSS: Can a reader get RSS feeds for news, press releases, events and other items?
  • Discoverability (1-5):  Discoverability seeks to rank how easy it is to find these feeds and use them.  5 is the highest ranking and 1 is the lowest.

Democrats

Name Consolidated RSS Blog RSS News RSS Discoverability (1-5)
Biden No Yes No 3
Clinton No N/A No 1
Dodd No Yes No 3
Edwards Yes Yes Yes 5
Kucinich No Yes No 3
Obama No Yes No 3
Richardson No No No 1
Vilsack No Yes No 4

Republicans

Name Consolidated RSS Blog RSS News RSS Discoverability (1-5)
Brownback No N/A No 1
Giuliani No N/A Yes 4
Huckabee No N/A No 1
Hunter No No No 1
McCain No N/A No 1
Romney No N/A Yes 3
Paul No N/A No 1
Tancredo No N/A No 1

And the winner is…

John Edwards is the clear winner here as of the writing of this article. Check out his consolidated RSS page.  As you can see Edwards provides RSS feeds for pretty much anything that any of the aforementioned information consumers would be interested in.  He also goes a step further and devotes this page to explaining to his readers what RSS is and where they can find a feed reader if they are unfamiliar with the technology.  Some additional things to note about his approach is the fact that you can find these individual feeds all over the site, you can get to this page from the footer of each page, and you can get to the main feed offered right from the address bar in browsers which support that functionality like Firefox.

There are a few places Edwards could improve such as using Feed Burner to deliver the feeds.  A lot of the benefits of feed burner are for the campaign, most notably they can see how many people are subscribing to each feed.  That isn’t possible by offering a raw RSS feed.  It does offer something for the reader as well, if someone clicks into a feed URL it offers a friendly page letting the user know exactly what s/he is looking at.  Read more about Feed Burner.

Advice for the rest of the field

The remaining Democratic candidates generally offer some form of RSS and use some of the basic techniques to make it available.  The Republican field on the other hand for the most part does not offer any sort of RSS feed at all. With that in mind the following pieces of advice are offered to those candidates.

, if you don’t current offer an RSS feed then you need to put your technical team to work.  It costs you little and the return on investment is huge. If your web site already offers one or more feeds make sure people can get any kind of information they might want delivered via RSS.

, now that you’ve got a feed you need to promote it on your site.  The wikipedia article linked earlier has the standard icons that are used for RSS.  At a minimum one of these icons should be included in the various places on your site where information is available.  Extra credit for offering an item in the footer that presents a single page that shows all of the available feeds or adding text to further describe what the icon is.

, make the feed discoverable through modern browsers from the address bar.  This is incredibly simple and just takes one line of HTML in the “head” section of your web pages to make it work.  Here’s an example (minus opening and closing brackets).

link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="My 2008 Campaign, stay informed!" href="http://www.mysitecampaign.com/rss.xml"

, use Feed Burner.  I have absolutely no connection to the company but I also can’t see a reason not to use it.  Instead of putting this data out and having absolutely no idea how it is used or how many people use it you can have that information available for your web team.

, take the time to explain RSS.  Edwards did a good job of this on his page, if I clicked into that link and didn’t know what RSS was I’d be well on my way to understanding it after reading that.  Educating your readers ensures that you’ll get this information out to more than those that are technically savvy.

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