Democrats' new site misses mark

With a new interactive Web site launched this month, the Democratic National Committee is attempting to leap into the age of the user-oriented Internet. But the jump so far may be more of a stumble.

The site ( is full of user-oriented features, but some are poorly designed and others provide incomplete or erroneous information, according to independent Web page designers and tests of the site.

For example, the home page can be personalized to display information on topics the user selects. But it takes some perplexing page navigation to get to the point where users can personalize the home page.

A feature designed to tell users who their elected representatives are contains some information that is outdated or incorrect in other ways. In late February, for example, it listed Republican Jim Gilmore as governor of Virginia even though Gilmore had been replaced nearly two months earlier by Democrat Mark Warner. The same section of the site incorrectly identified a state senator from rural southern Virginia as a representative for Northern Virginia, and supplied nonworking hyperlinks to state delegate Web pages.

A section of the site designed to provide e-mail addresses so users can fire off letters to editors is incomplete. For residents of Virginia and Maryland, for example, it fails to include the Washington Post, the newspaper with the highest circulation in both states. Similarly, it fails to provide Philadelphia and New York City newspaper addresses to New Jersey residents living near those cities.

Such shortcomings are the fault of vendors who provided the Web site with those features, said Bill Buck, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. The Web site will improve over time, he promised.

"I think they have done a good job," said Kathy McShea, a Web site designer for the Energy Department before starting her own online public relations company, Emerald Strategies. "It's a big leap forward for the Democrats to have all these new features."

But political Web site designer Phil Noble declared the site "sort of underwhelming." Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline and a leader in using the Internet in political campaigns, said navigation difficulties, errors and a lack of information aimed at Democratic candidates undercut the site. "It's a step forward, but not a quantum leap," he said.


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