Building Political Sites and Gearing up for the Elections on WordPress

Ahead of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections in November, we spoke with Ben Ostrower, Principal and Creative Director of Wide Eye Creative, a creative web design & development studio who has built some of the recent entries of high profile WordPress sites in the government space. 

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Why WordPress? There are so many players in the CMS space, especially in the political realm, why do you choose WordPress as your go-to software?

When I started Wide Eye, we were doing almost exclusively work with Drupal. It filled a lot of our client’s needs and it’s a great tool for some purposes, but it was always cumbersome. The way Drupal was built, it just kept imposing limits on design, which, as a designer, was incredibly frustrating. My developers would always say: “no, it’s really hard to do that because it’s not the way ‘xyz’ module is built”. It was as though the materials we were using to build a house were guiding the design and architecture, not the other way around.

When I first started trying WordPress in early 2010 or so, it was already fairly mature and I wondered immediately why I hadn’t been using it earlier. The structure of it was just incredibly intuitive to me – as though it had been created by designers, not just developers. Suddenly it became much more possible to realize my own creative vision for a project.

On top of it, and almost more importantly, it was more user-friendly for our clients. People would just immediately “get” the interface and how content can be controlled and structured. I saw clients generally become more self-sufficient with the management of their own sites, and our exposure to followup questions, bug-fixes and hand-holding went way down. Since then, while we’ve used Drupal for a handful of select database projects, we’ve used WordPress for literally everything else – every campaign site we’ve done since 2010 has been on WordPress. It’s been a great marriage.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

What can you do using WordPress that you can’t do using locked-down / proprietary software, like NationBuilder?

We pride ourselves on intimately tailoring each site to a project’s goals. WordPress, especially with the Advanced Custom Fields plugin integrated, gives us the ability to deliver really granular control over page templates to a client — i.e. turning a banner image on and off, changing the color of a button, toggling the positioning of elements, the list goes on…Plus, we have a wealth of excellent plugins available to us that we can use to quickly extend functionality. Ultimately, when we train clients on the backend of their site, we consistently hear them say: “Wow. I’ve never had that level of control before.” That level of customization just isn’t as possible with a proprietary framework. NationBuilder is an impressive tool and a good solution for some campaigns, but, for us, it’s really analogous to the difference between a fully bespoke suit versus tailoring a suit purchased off the rack.

You have a great client list and you work with some high profile politicians. What sites have you done that are most exciting to you?

We love all of our clients – that’s not hyperbole, but the most exciting ones are when we work with a campaign or organization that trusts us as a creative partner and is willing to take risks and try new things. Brandon English and his great team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, actively collaborated with us to innovate the way stale old email sign up forms have worked for years. Now a multi-field form operates in the space of a single input field, sending the input data to Blue State Digital’s tools with each click forward instead of form fields stacked one on top of another with a big button below. As a client, they truly understood the value of user friendliness and the capacity that good design has to fuel better, more successful results.

Chris Coons’ Senate campaign in Delaware is another client that worked with us on something that we call a “smart website” – calls to action that change for a user based on their prior engagement with the campaign. That was really fun.

Our other great scenario, as least from a design perspective, is where we have the challenge of striking a difficult creative balance for a client: i.e. “we want to look simultaneously polished and savvy, but also modest and grassroots”, “conservative and classical, but also innovative and cutting-edge”, etc… That’s always fun.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

Do you have any tips and tricks to share that could help other developers and designers who are building websites in the area of politics and non-profit?

  1. Don’t approach political and non-profit projects with any less of a standard of quality than you would for a corporate client like Nike or Apple. Quality matters. Audiences are more sensitive and savvy than ever before to design and functionality – when something is subpar (doesn’t look good or doesn’t work the way a user expects), it diminishes the campaign’s or organization’s message.
  2. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid – one of the first things you learn in filmmaking class. Keep your message simple and your actions focused. By packing lots of information and options in a small space, you’re diminishing the impact of everything.
  3. Don’t be afraid to provoke emotion with your designs – you’re appealing to a visitor to take action. You can’t just expect them to click a donate button because it’s there, you need to tell them “why”.
  4. Interaction matters. With the rise of CSS3 and HTML5 over the last several years, use animation to give visitors the sense that the website is alive and responsive. Buttons should react when you hover, form fields should highlight, etc.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Off The Sidelines

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off The Sidelines

Look 5-10 years into the future – what do you think the future will look like when it comes to technology in politics, campaigns and in the government arena?

1. Websites, ads and apps will continue to become smarter. Messages and calls to action will be more and more targeted and segmented based on a visitor’s profile. By 2016, the era of visitors all receiving the same general, default call-to-action on a website landing page will be over.

2. Mobile will continue to become even more important. Designers and developers will need to stay ahead of the curve on that.

3. Ads, emails and appeals for people to take action and donate will only become more and more ubiquitous. There are going to be more and smarter ways to reach people.

4. Not that it’s not happening already, but digital campaigns will be more and more driven by data, analytics and math.

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

What new technology are you using that you’re most excited about? 

There are a lot of technologies that we’re keeping a close eye on. We’re really excited to play with NGP VAN’s new API, and we’d really like to be building more around Google’s open source civic tools.

My incredibly talented Lead Developer (and JavaScript Ninja) Nick Cerminara considers the JSON API WordPress Plugin the most exciting WordPress technology we’ve been toying with lately. With it, we’re able to do any WP_Query and get a nice and pretty JSON endpoint with almost no custom work involved. This is huge for application development because it allows us to leverage WordPress as an out-of-the-box backend. Down the road, this makes using Front-End Frameworks like Angular JS a lot more practical with WordPress where they’re typically intended only for single page applications. Combining these is going to bring a whole new and unprecedented liveliness to WordPress sites.

Thank you to Ben – to learn more about Wide Eye Creative or to see some more case studies, please visit their website! Visit the WordPress.com VIP site for more information about WordPress in Government or get in touch.

The Meredith Vieira Show Launches On VIP!

Meredith Vieira has had quite a career. You probably know her from years as co-anchor of the Today Show or maybe as host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Well, starting this fall, you’ll know has as host of The Meredith Vieira Show, which is slated to launch September 8th on NBC. And, starting this week, you’ll know her as the newest member of the WordPress.com VIP family - the brand spankin’ new website for the television show is live and we’re super excited to welcome Meredith and her team! Good luck with the show launch!

The Meredith Vieira Show

http://meredithvieirashow.com/

Extreme Makeover, Data.gov Edition

Earlier this week, Data.gov relaunched with a beautiful new redesign. Behind it is a powerful CMS platform called WordPress. The previous version of the site ran on a mix of Drupal and other proprietary systems, but as Marion Royal points out in a blog post explaining the relaunch, development on the previous version of the site was done behind closed doors. Marion goes on to explain the open source ethos that was put into play with this update of the site:

Now we’re using open source systems, including WordPress and CKAN. Most importantly, the development is public from the beginning on GitHub so you can see how the site came to be, and will continue to grow. We’ve already had significant help from the open source community and look forward to more.

Data.gov is one of the most innovative initiatives inside of the federal government. A talented team of designers and developers are working hard to expose millions of pieces of government data from across the entire government so that citizens, along with government entities, can leverage that data for good. From the Data.gov website:

Data.gov is the home of the US government’s open data. You can find Federal, state and local data, tools, and resources to conduct research, build apps, design data visualizations, and more. The Data.gov team works at the U.S. General Services Administration, but the site itself is open source, and we’d love your help making it even better.

I have personally worked closely with many of the developers who helped to steer this project. I have been continuously impressed by their level of dedication to opening up government data and putting it into the hands of those who want to use it to make America a better place. I expect big things out of this team, and I believe that Data.gov — and other similar initiatives — can help redefine the way citizens view the work that the government does. It’s an exciting time to be working on these issues and I’m very excited to see WordPress at the center of the action in Washington, DC.

Data.gov on GitHub.

WordPress Powers Health Care Reform

In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed landmark comprehensive health care reform known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and also known as ‘ObamaCare’.

Yesterday, a critical component of the legislation rolled out, giving American consumers the chance to purchase health policies on the open market by joining a pool of other buyers, which legislators and policy analysts believe will ultimately drive down the cost of health care for everyone. In some instances, these exchanges are being run by the states and in other cases, the federal government is administering the marketplace.

We were very excited to see that WordPress is the dominant content management system being used to power these exchange websites and as a result of this powerful platform, yesterday, millions of Americans from coast to coast researched their heath care options and began the open enrollment process.

Here are some great examples of WordPress being put to work behind large, enterprise-level websites who are dealing with complicated data structures, high traffic demands and of course, sensitive security.

Get Covered America

http://www.getcoveredamerica.org/

Get Covered Illinois

http://getcoveredillinois.gov/

HealthSource RI

http://www.healthsourceri.com/

New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange

http://www.nmhix.com/

Connect For Health Colorado

http://connectforhealthco.com/

Hawaiʻi Health Connector

http://www.hawaiihealthconnector.com/

Massachusetts Health Connector

https://bettermahealthconnector.org/

Maryland Health Connection

http://www.marylandhealthconnection.gov/

Hungry for more information? The Kaiser Family Foundation (powered by WordPress.com VIP) has a great resource on their new website. If you’d like to get in touch to find out more about hosting your website on WordPress.com VIP, you can contact us here!

Comcast Commemorates The March On Washington with New WordPress Site

To commemorate today’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a major milestone of the Civil Rights Movement where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, new WordPress.com VIP client, Comcast has launched His Dream, Our Stories.

The site chronicles the history and impact of the civil rights movement and features more than 80 unique and personal interviews with civic leaders, elders, clergy, and activists.

Through commentary and archived footage, His Dream, Our Stories provides historic context for the March on Washington, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement through interviews from influential leaders, including Rev. Billy Kyles, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine, political leaders like Rep. John Lewis and attendees of the March on Washington, the Detroit Walk to Freedom and the Selma-Montgomery March.

On this historic anniversary, please take a few minutes to check out the site and share it with your colleagues, friends and family.

His Dream Our Stories   Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

 

Interested in VIP Support for self-hosted enterprise and corporate sites? Get in touch

The White House launches Next.Data.Gov on WordPress

The White House just announced that they are launching a new generation of Data.gov, moving to a WordPress / CKAN based approach with their newest iteration called: Next.Data.Gov. Here’s a quick look at the new site:

Next.Data.Gov

Here’s more from the White House’s blog:

Last week, President Obama talked about the importance of opening government data to the American people, so entrepreneurs and business owners can use those troves of information to create jobs and solve problems that government can’t solve by itself. In remarks last Monday, he noted many examples of the Administration’s progress toward making that happen, saying:

“At Data.gov, you can search through and download more than 75,000 data sets – data on everything from what different hospitals charge for different procedures, to credit card complaints, to weather and climate measurements.”

And:

Scalable and Open Source: Next.Data.Gov was built using new tools. This project tapped into two very active open source projects: WordPress and CKAN. The content and community sections of Next.Data.Gov are powered by WordPress. The data catalog is powered by CKAN.

Building Next.Data.Gov Together: The Next.Data.gov interface launching today is an early peek at the future Data.gov experience. Because many of you depend on Data.gov for critical functions, Data.gov will be maintained in its current form and will remain fully accessible while the Data.gov team continues to iterate and improve upon Next.Data.Gov. Going forward, expect regular design and software updates.

Next.Data.Gov - mid-page screenshot

There is a ton of interesting data (the site notes 75,714 datasets) being ported into this site from across many key government agencies, including the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, whose website is also powered by WordPress. Visitors can also get access to data on education, energy, finance, global development, health, research and safety. As the White House’s blog post notes:

The team studied the usage patterns on Data.gov and found that visitors were hungry for examples of how data are used. The team also noticed many sources, such as tweets and articles outside of Data.gov featuring Federal datasets in action. So Next.Data.gov includes a rich stream that enables each data community to communicate how its datasets are impacting companies and the public.

Similar to NASA’s Data.NASA.gov project, WordPress is instrumental in bringing data closer to the public, and making it useful and beautiful, too.

Want more information about WordPress for government or enterprise sites? Contact WordPress.com VIP Services.

WordPress in Government Workshop

wp-in-government

A few weeks ago in Washington, DC, WordPress.com VIP hosted a half-day workshop focusing on WordPress in Government, which was co-sponsored by our friends at GovLoop.com. The workshop was a huge success and I wanted to take just a few moments to share with you some highlights from the day’s events.

First off, why government? WordPress powers close to 19% of the top 10 million websites on the planet and we’re seeing major growth in all areas. The government sector, from federal to the state level and all the way down to local cities and towns, is experiencing some major technology shifts which have led to big changes in the way average citizens relate to and get information from their government. It’s an exciting time to be a technologist or developer at any level of government and it’s leading to some really interesting opportunities for WordPress, as there’s real interest on the part of government to move towards open source software and the availability of responsive platforms that help deliver on-demand information and government services.

We wanted to showcase some of the innovation that’s happening with WordPress for the government sector, so we hosted a workshop at the District Architecture Center in Washington, DC. We gathered over 115 key technologists and decision makers who work inside and outside of the government to network and to hear some presentations about some innovative things happening with WordPress in government. The attendees represented a big cross-section of agencies and organizations and many discussions centered on what they’re currently doing with WordPress and how they plan to scale their platforms.

We had attendees from:

  • Department of State
  • Peace Corps
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Millennium/Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC)
  • National Cancer Institute
  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
  • US Navy
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Patent and Trademark Office
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Commerce
  • And more…
  • We’ve gotten some great feedback so far on the content of the event, and over the next few weeks we’ll be posting various presentations from the workshop here on VIP News so that you can learn more what’s happening with WordPress in government.

Here are some of the presentations from the event (we’ll be adding more as they become available):

You can read through some of the tweets and real-time reaction that was taking place through the event on Twitter (see below). #WPGov tweets can be found here, and thanks again to GovLoop.com for partnering with us on the event.

Here are some pictures from the workshop:

If you have any questions about WordPress inside your government agency, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Read more about WordPress in Government.

Dispatch From The White House Hackathon

White House - We The People Logo

This past week, our very own Mo Jangda, WordPress.com VIP Lead Developer, along with Carl Danley and Christopher Cochran from 10UP (WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partners) participated in We the People‘s second White House Hackathon. They were chosen to attend with the goal of building a plugin that allows WordPress users to install a petition tool that connects directly, via API, to the White House’s We the People platform. For those who aren’t familiar, you can learn more about We the People from the White House’s website:

Carl at 10UP published a blog post detailing the events of the day. Below are some key excerpts (you can read the full blog post here):

The event is an open-ended civic hack day where developers of all stripes from across the United States are invited to create applications in languages like Python and JavaScript. The purpose of the event was to create resources for websites, smartphones and other platforms that build on We the People.

The entire experience was incredible. Located in the EEOB, we worked alongside employees from organizations like NASA, Google, and Github. Alongside these fellow developers, we spent June 1 hacking on the We the People API, building public, ready-to-launch applications, with the intention to make them available at the end of the day.

Christopher, Mo, and I built a WordPress plugin called WP the People, which enables WordPress publishers to embed petitions within their sites. The plugin offers three unique views:

  • Basic petition view shows the petition information, signatures, and a progress bar.
  • Geographical view shows who signed the petition based on their location within the United States.
  • Timeline view shows the petition’s progress, deadlines, and when it met signature milestones. Anyone who uses this view can choose between vertical or horizontal orientation.

We focused on making this plugin extensible, so other developers can build additional petition views.

Joining Christopher, Carl and Mo was Steve Grunwell from Buckeye Interactive who built his own WordPress plugin, We The People WordPress plugin, which is already live in the WordPress plugin directory. You can read more about Steve’s experience here.

As Carl notes in his post, this plugin isn’t live yet, but we’re working on it and will post an update as soon as it’s ready to use. Our team will continue to work closely with the White House as they extend their API’s so that millions of WordPress publishers will have the ability to leverage their readers to help petition the power brokers in Washington on important issues that matter to them. Thanks to Mo and the team from 10UP for their exceptional work on behalf of a more open, more powerful democracy and web. Here are some pictures from the White House (courtesy of Mo):

Macon Phillips, who is the White House Director of New Media at the White House posted this Vine video – it’s a cool little snapshot of the hackathon in progress.

Two Cities, Two Launches: #MadeInNYC & #WhereTheWorldChanges

There is no greater rivalry than #TeamNYC vs. #TeamSanFran. Both cities have launched high-profile initiatives to highlight their technology and startup communities and while they’ll continue to angle for prominence in this all-important race to the top, there is one thing that they share… Both of their websites, Where The World Changes and WeAreMadeInNY are built on one of our newest products, WordPress.com Enterprise. Check them out and while you’re at it, check out WordPress.com Enterprise and we’ll even hook you up with a 1-month free trial. You can find out more here:

Where The World Changes

Where The World Changes   San Francisco

WeAreMadeInNY

 The City of New York

NYC VIP Party – Thank You!

Hudson Hotel

To those of you who were able to join us last Thursday in NYC for the VIP Happy Hour, I wanted to extend a hearty thank you – we really enjoyed seeing so many of you there! We had about 120 attendees, ate some delicious chocolate fondue and enjoyed the beautiful courtyard space at the Hudson Hotel. We’re really looking forward to our next VIP Happy Hour – in London next February (more details on this soon…).

If you have ideas for future events that you’d like to see us host or sponsor (both social or professional welcome!), please get in touch. We really enjoy bringing everyone together and we’re looking forward to some awesome events in 2013.