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Technology tests candidates
A blogger gives his perspective

by Andrew Belonsky . Special to Q-Notes
It would be naive for a political candidate to ignore cyberspace this election cycle. No, not naive. Disastrous.

As obvious a statement as this may be, an online presence helps candidates reach their constituents. Whether it’s through official websites or social networking sites, our political hopefuls work tirelessly to establish online outposts. And U.S. Senate canididate, N.C. state Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Guilford) is no exception. Her effort, however, indicates more than just her 21st century savvy.

Though one would expect a nine-year senator to already realize the power of the internet, the Democratic politico only recently revamped her digital digs, which had been languishing in an unsightly beta swamp.

In honor of the occasion, Hagan released this celebratory, painfully self-aware statement: “Whether it’s fantasy sports, Facebook, MySpace, community bulletin boards, our local newspaper or citizen blogs, North Carolinians are coming together online to build communities, and political campaigns ignore that power at their own peril.”

Hagan definitely needed to compete. Her competitor, the openly gay Jim Neal, had already established himself online, founding the requisite Facebook and Myspace pages, snatching up his domain name. The former businessman, who worked closely with tech companies, had even reached out through online journalism, penning pieces for www.DailyKos.com and www.BlueNC.com.

It wasn’t until mid-March that Hagan caught up in the game, seeking out the communications experts Bullseye Interactive Media to administer her virtual facelift. The firm is an understandable choice for Hagan. They’ve done good work for the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Party of Virginia, as well as for Connecticut state Rep. Chris Murphy, who beat out 24-year veteran Nancy Johnson. Bullseye!

The partnership was definitely a good move for Hagan, whose face now plasters her campaign site, an aesthetic nod to Bullseye’s philosophy: “See the best in our clients, and show it off to the rest of the world.” All I see is Hagan staring sort of glassy-eyed.

Now, don’t be fooled — Jim Neal didn’t whip up his site himself. The newcomer also enlisted a politically-minded company, The Campaign Network. The firm, which operates from three offices, including one in Chapel Hill, has previously worked with N.C. Rep. Maggie Jeffus, the Kerry/Edwards campaign and Harvard.

Yes, The Campaign Network is an insider’s group, but one with a more popular ontology: “We believe that the best insight into any political jurisdiction comes from the people who live there.” Obviously a big difference from Hagan’s people.

I spoke with Neal’s site designer, David Galiel, who described the layout and content as “iterative.”

“Getting continual feedback from the potential audience for a website is a critical part of iterative design, which is a process of creating a series of quick prototypes, each incorporating changes learned from interaction with the previous ones, on the way to a full design,” Galiel said.
I asked a Hagan staffer the same question — whether or not the design team consults the constituents — but she declined to comment. She did say, however, that the senator’s site represents “one more way in which the Hagan campaign is reaching out to voters who believe, as Kay does, that Washington is broken and we need someone representing the interests of North Carolinians in the Senate.”

Like I said, all I see when I look at Hagan’s site is the candidate staring out into the world wide web with a somewhat glassy, awestruck expression. But maybe I just need to squint through the sheen.

— Andrew Belonsky lives in New York City where he is the editor of Queerty.com, an online resource featuring news, entertainment, shopping, fashion and travel for the LGBT community.

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