Editorial: Kerry and the Webmasters

It is easy to underestimate the Web—to treat it as an afterthought to print, television and other media. Worse yet is to create the appearance of having a Web strategy without having one. Anyone who does not take the Web seriously should take a cue from Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry made a compelling case for the value of the Internet during his acceptance speech last month at the Democratic National Convention. According to news critics, Kerry was under pressure from the TV networks to end his speech during prime time. After rushing through the overview of his agenda, he told the audience they could find out more about his campaign by going to www.johnkerry.com.

The single line speaks volumes about Kerry's view of the Web. In particular, it defines the role of the Web in the context of a broader communications strategy.

As Internet experts like to point out, the Web—unlike print or broadcast—is virtually free from space and time constraints. It is an ideal reference library to direct an audience to when information cannot be fully conveyed by other means. But such a resource is not worth much if it is not part of a larger strategy.

Kerry's team clearly put some thought into JohnKerry.com before the candidate mentioned it on national television. After his speech, Federal Computer Week asked political pundits to review both Kerry's and President Bush's Web sites. Kerry, observers said, had an impressive array of information available about his policies. The site clearly was designed to supplement, not simply mirror, key points of his campaign message.

We also asked pundits to assess the Bush and Kerry sites in terms of ease of navigation, accessibility—specifically, compliance with Section 508—and privacy policy. Both are sophisticated Web sites, but our pundits found JohnKerry.com to generally be the stronger site. Kerry's team apparently devoted more time and energy to developing an online presence.

This is not just about presidential politics. The same principles of good online communications apply for department Web sites designed for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of constituents, or committee Web sites designed for a select group of stakeholders.

Kerry, if nothing else, has reminded everyone that the Web is serious business.

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