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Presidential candidates' mobile websites ripped for poor performance

Romney, Obama are tied in one area -- both fail to link mobile users to a full desktop website, tests find

February 3, 2012 06:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Despite pronouncements that they are pro-technology, all of the U.S. presidential candidates have made fairly feeble attempts at building mobile campaign websites.

"It's appalling how poorly their mobile websites work," said Joshua Bixby, who has analyzed desktop and mobile websites of the Republican frontrunners and President Obama. Bixby is president of Strangeloop, a Canadian Web software company that has no connection to any of the campaigns. website
Screenshot of the website taken with an iPhone 4.

In a blog post in which he shared his most recent findings about candidates' websites, Bixby said he encountered slow site load times -- some took several minutes on smartphones -- and basic functionality problems. Computerworld performed several of the same informal tests as Bixby did, and in some cases found even poorer performance than he did.

The findings suggest that politicians may not be doing a very good job of reaching out to voters who are using smartphones and tablets in far greater numbers than they were during the 2008 presidential campaign, Bixby said. He joined other election observers in predicting a big upsurge in campaigns focused on mobile device users.

"None of the candidates' sites rose to the challenge of designing for mobile devices," Bixby wrote in his blog. One key ingredient of a good mobile website is that it should offer the ability to link to the full desktop site, not just provide a view of a stripped-down mobile version, Bixby added in an interview. He said surveys have shown that at least one-third of mobile users strongly favor access to a full site from a mobile device. website
Screenshot of the website taken with an iPhone 4.

What Bixby found was that of all the Republican presidential candidates, only Mitt Romney's campaign had designed a mobile site with a link to the full-size website.

All of the other Republican candidates, as well as Obama, have adapted their full-size desktop websites to run on mobile platforms -- a tactic that can work well, or not, for many different reasons, Bixby said. In some cases, "responsive design" principles have been used, which means that developers have designed desktop content to adapt to a variety of devices, including tablets and smartphones.

Computerworld found that Obama's mobile website does include an apparent link to the desktop version of the president's campaign site, but clicking it repeatedly led to a page that said, "Sorry, the page you are looking for is not here."

Bixby and others credited Obama's 2008 campaign for having a sophisticated digital operation that included a mobile strategy, but critics have noted that the president's 2012 website falls down, particularly for mobile users.

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