Track Changes Podcast #3: Make HTML Great Again (Transcript)
The transcript for Track Changes #3, a comparison of presidential websites
Paul Ford: Hi and welcome to Track Changes, the official podcast of the Postlight Agency. We’re a product shop in New York City. We build web apps and we build websites and we build mobile apps that you can hold in your hand and have a true, wonderful experience.
Rich Ziade: Cradle. You can cradle them.
Paul: Just a great experience. If you want someone to build you something just completely phenomenal and out of control awesome, you want to just get in touch with Postlight. I forgot that we’re doing a podcast, I got so excited talking about our company.
Rich: You drifted a bit.
Paul: My name is Paul. I’m the co-founder of Postlight.
Rich: Rich is the other name in the room.
Paul: Immediately across the table, also a co-founder. Rich, we’ve got a lot to talk about today, are you ready?
Paul: We’re going to talk about the websites and the web platforms that have been built by each of the presidential candidates.
Rich: You know, the funny thing here is that, somebody says, “What’s Hillary Clinton’s platform?” Which is a common election question. But when you ask me that question, I just go to “view source.”
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: That’s the twisted part of our world here.
Paul: If you go to Hillary Clinton’s website and actually you can look at the source code of any web page.
Rich: You know what would be great? “View soul.”
Paul: View soul.
Rich: You can right click “view soul.”
Paul: Oh that would be horrible actually.
Rich: Peering in.
Paul: That’s going to bring back blogging. Hillary Clinton’s website, what do we know about it?
Rich: It’s pretty good.
Paul: It is.
Rich: It’s well done. If you view that source, right at the top you get some art made out of characters. There’s a whole world about this.
Paul: ASCII art.
Rich: ASCII art.
Paul: If you look, so we’re looking at the source code that makes HillaryClinton.com work.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: What’s it say in the source code?
Rich: Well, the source code is instructions for the browser to run a page, to display a page and all kinds of functionality. In that source code is this little bit of love to anybody who bothered to go in, “get out the vote.”
Paul: No, it’s “GIT out the vote.”
Rich: Oh, “git out the vote.” Wink wink.
Paul: “Git” is the name of version control software.
Rich: Right, and they’ve got their act together. Whoever did the tech for Hillary Clinton …
Paul: It’s a good platform. It’s its own thing. It seems to be built on in house technology.
Rich: That does seem to be the case. Google analytics is in there. You’re going to find Google analytics pretty much in all of them.
Paul: We’re going to talk about that in a minute, but Google knows what’s happening in politics — because of this, they know better than anybody.
Rich: Larry Page at two in the morning after some bourbon, he’s checking those seven or eight accounts.
Paul: Yeah, he knows what’s up.
Rich: There’s an overlay graph of some sort.
Rich: It’s thoughtful. They didn’t overreach, it seems, and it’s fast. We ran HTML validation on it, there were only seven errors, which is actually really, really good.
Paul: Honestly great.
Rich: Somebody bothered to do it actually, you can just tell.
Paul: Somebody made sure this was a good, valid site that would work all over the place.
Paul: Let’s stick with the Democrats for a minute, did you look at Bernie Sanders?
Rich: I did, and we got to be careful with this one. There’s some strong passion here, strong support for this guy. As we go into this we have to be careful. First off, it’s on WordPress. Let’s not judge.
Paul: Okay, so it uses open source content management system/blogging tool, WordPress.
Rich: Correct. They outsource the fundraising platform.
Paul: Oh who does that?
Rich: There’s a company called ActBlue that takes care of the dollars. Fundraising is funny. There’s like two embeddable, seem to be, leaders in doing it, and one’s for the left and one’s for the right, which I think is …
Paul: The left is ActBlue, obviously.
Rich: Right, exactly.
Paul: Do we know who did the right?
Rich: Yes. It’s called something like Victory Passport.
Paul: Victory Passport by Targeted Victory. Okay. It’s funny cause it’s like, they’re the same thing.
Rich: Yeah, you can just tell that the fundraising platform on the right is more pro-military.
Paul: It’s very red and it’s got more flags.
Rich: Well, just Targeted Victory. It’s a little hat tip to the drones, for Christ’s sake.
Paul: Targeted Victory.
Paul: That’s true, and then ActBlue is like, come on, come on in the kitchen and act blue.
Rich: Yeah. Everyone, we made casserole for everybody.
Paul: Pancakes this morning.
Rich: There will be enough for everyone.
Paul: Vermont maple syrup. ActBlue.
Rich: Yes. It’s a mess. The site is not good.
Paul: Bernie Sanders’ code could be a lot better.
Rich: It’s not good. They didn’t even bother to clean it. There’s a lot of dead space in there.
Paul: A nice little phone bank app that they built in there. I thought that was cool. Overall, Bernie Sanders’ platform, thumbs up, thumbs down?
Rich: I’m going to say thumbs down on this one.
Paul: I’m also going thumbs down.
Rich: Again, no judgment on Bernie. This show is not political in any sort of way.
Paul: No, this is just about the platforms that they use.
Rich: It’s about the platform. You know what Bernie should have done? He should have hired a high priced, high powered, capitalist web agency, they would have probably killed it for him.
Paul: It’s too bad there aren’t any of those around.
Paul: All right, let’s go to the right. Let’s go deep into the red. I’m looking at Marco Rubio, when we ran his site through the validator —
Rich: Yeah, what happened Paul?
Paul: 164 errors.
Rich: Oh boy.
Paul: Just a disaster. They just, they didn’t care.
Rich: They didn’t care.
Paul: No, so Marco Rubio — he’s built on WordPress too.
Rich: He’s on WordPress too, and you know, if you would have just hit one of those WordPress template sites, for like $60 they would have hooked him up with a solid set of code to start with.
Paul: Yeah, but they would have bought something from Brazil by accident.
Rich: At least it wouldn’t have had 164 errors. It’s kind of a mess. I’m going to go thumbs down for Rubio also.
Paul: I know. He’s also on Stripe.
Rich: For payment.
Paul: Yeah. For payments.
Rich: I mean, outsource that bit, that’s fine.
Paul: The thing with Rubio, it’s interesting, Clinton, top to bottom custom. Sanders kind of getting in there with the rest of the web just trying to make it work, but he did go with ActBlue. Rubio’s just like, let’s go off the shelf. You could go to Starbucks and buy Marco Rubio, or you could just give him a donation.
Rich: That’s right. I don’t think he thought he needed to do more than that, so here we are.
Paul: All right, let’s talk about our next President, Donald Trump. I’m sorry.
Rich: Oh boy, here we go.
Paul: Let’s talk about Donald Trump’s website. Personally, I expect everything that he touches to be a complete and garish disaster.
Rich: This really surprised me. It’s not bad. They’ve got it together, more or less.
Paul: Is it just a lot of him sitting in leather chairs?
Rich: There’s a lot of him sort of staring you down, which I guess works in certain circles.
Paul: It’s what he likes to do.
Rich: It’s what he likes to do.
Paul: Was it valid HTML?
Rich: It’s not bad. 17 errors.
Paul: That’s not bad at all. It’s not as good as Clinton.
Rich: Not as good as Clinton. Clinton is really tight.
Paul: Honestly, I expect Hillary Clinton to have a lot of stuff buttoned up on that front. I just don’t expect her to not. Email aside.
Paul: She’s going to get that HTML —
Rich: She knew how to run servers in her own house. She knows what’s up with technology.
Paul: She’s pretty good. She’s got a Raspberry Pi right now running the whole campaign.
Paul: Donald Trump is pretty good with stuff like jQuery, just real nice good overall page hygiene. He is one of our “Victory Passport Targeted Victory”-fundraising-platform guys.
Rich: He is. He uses the same technology used in drones to collect money from supporters.
Paul: I noticed too, a lot of little iFrames, which is an HTML element that embeds other HTML pages.
Rich: Inside of a page.
Paul: What do you think that’s about?
Rich: I think there’s a lot, he’s hiding a lot of stuff. He’s not owning up, there’s sort of a peeling-back-the-onion kind of story here.
Paul: Quality of the overall Donald Trump platform?
Rich: I’m going to have to say thumbs up.
Paul: It’s killing me.
Rich: I can’t believe I’m putting my thumb up for anything here that has to do with …
Paul: I’m putting my thumb up.
Rich: I’m not going to finish that sentence.
Paul: Good platform. Right now we’ve got Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running their own custom platforms. It’s pretty thorough, pretty good. Do you think that running your own platform makes you a more viable candidate?
Rich: It shows you’ve got a little bit of management skill.
Paul: That’s true. That’s a good point.
Rich: You know how to hire.
Paul: It’s true. These are big complex things.
Rich: These are pretty complicated things.
Paul: There’s real tech talent behind both of these.
Rich: Yeah. I mean, you imagine Rubio just sort of sweating for an hour and saying, “You know what, the hell with it, just use Stripe”.
Paul: I know, it’s true. I bet Rubio’s campaign started on SquareSpace.
Rich: The unit tests were just bad news and just like, forget it, just use Stripe.
Paul: Use Stripe, yeah. What does SquareSpace offer? All right, Ted Cruz. Not bad on the validation. 19 errors.
Rich: Not bad.
Paul: No, some pretty clean HTML.
Rich: Also Targeted Victory. Also WordPress.
Paul: Yeah, WordPress though, we’re back.
Rich: Yeah. He doesn’t own TedCruz.com. Big blunder.
Paul: That’s a big blunder, cause you get there and it just says Obama immigration.
Rich: It just says Obama in black.
Paul: Yeah, it’s not.
Rich: It’s sort of this weird statement. It looks like a …
Paul: He pushes his app real hard, so it’s the Cruz Crew app. They all have apps.
Rich: Yeah they all have apps.
Paul: If you get the Hillary Clinton app it’s like, “Get notifications every time there’s Hillary Clinton news,” which would make me stomp my phone with my fist, but everybody’s got an app. So the Cruz Crew app lets you check in at caucuses, big thing. He also has, it’s very WordPress output. He’s got the meta tags in there, “Ted Cruz is a proven, passionate, effective fighter for limited government”, so they’ve thought about SEO. They thought about stuff, all these people.
Rich: It’s working for him. This passes muster, I would say.
Paul: I can’t give it thumbs up or thumbs down. I think it’s pretty generic.
Rich: Yeah it’s kind of off-the-shelf-ish.
Paul: It’s right in the middle. Thumb in the middle.
Paul: John Kasich.
Rich: John Kasich.
Paul: Who the hell is he?
Rich: I don’t know.
Paul: All right, nine validation errors.
Rich: Not bad at all.
Paul: No, not. But what’s the platform?
Rich: It’s WordPress. WordPress is just about everywhere.
Paul: If you are an uninspiring political candidate that can’t really get people to vote for you, WordPress is your platform of choice.
Paul: Spark Pay, from Capital One, is John Kasich’s payment choice.
Paul: That is just …
Rich: Yeah, I mean.
Paul: Somebody came and sold that.
Rich: Yeah, that was pitched for sure.
Paul: Somebody from Capital One was like, “Hey, you know donations? I got the platform for you.” I also noticed he had CSS for versions of Internet Explorer going back to eight, because I’m just assuming the average Kasich fan is using a Windows XP machine and may be right …
Rich: Hasn’t upgraded.
Paul: They’re at death’s door, both them and their computers.
Paul: He also had pingback turned on, which is a little bit of legacy action there.
Rich: That’s amazing.
Paul: I don’t even want to explain what that is.
Rich: I’m going to guess he picked up a template from his kid’s computer.
Paul: Yeah, or this was his WordPress blog from back in the day, from whatever he used to do, and they just pivoted.
Rich: He gave them like an external drive and everybody was afraid to say, “No, thanks.”
Paul: I’m going thumbs down.
Rich: Yeah, this is a thumbs down.
Paul: God, Ben Carson just dropped out today, 19 errors. What’s the platform?
Rich: More Targeted Victory.
Paul: More WordPress. If you want to lose an election …
Rich: This is the most important pattern we’ve found. All of the losers are on WordPress.
Paul: Including Chris Christie.
Rich: Including Chris Christie.
Paul: He’s our last one. Another Targeted Victory, Victory Passport user. The thing about Chris is, just like Hillary Clinton, you look at his source code and it’s got ASCII Art in it and it says, Chris Christie 2016 in huge letters. “Telling It Like It Is.”
Rich: Yeah, you’re going to drop this in the newsletter right.
Paul: Oh absolutely.
Rich: This is too good.
Paul: It’s just nonsense. Then he’s got the meta tags in like it’s 1998, and Lycos is still indexing the web. The title of the page is “Chris Christie for President,” and the description is, “Let’s get to work. Chris Christie’s telling it like it is”. He really kind of sucks on this.
Paul: Again, nothing to do with his political biases or anything, this is a garbage site and it gets a thumbs down.
Rich: Yup, thumbs down.
Paul: One of the things that we noticed, we had a good time today looking through these and thinking about them. First of all, Trump and Clinton, by platform alone, are probably the nominees.
Paul: If I was to say, these are the people who’ve thought the hardest about how to communicate and have the most money and the most resources to reach a global scale on the web. Obviously voters aren’t all checking websites, but from this limited point of view, they’re the ones who have done the best work.
Rich: No doubt. The frontrunners — I’m not an expert in politics by any means, but Clinton and Trump are the frontrunners clearly today — and they are not on WordPress. All the others are on WordPress, and some of them are even just sort of cobbled together.
Paul: Yeah, so if you want real…
Rich: If you want to be President, don’t put your platform on WordPress. I mean it’s a damning piece of advice, but that’s reality.
Paul: The other thing that we noticed, there’s trackers all over these. Everybody wants to know who’s visiting their website.
Paul: It’s not surprising, what’s interesting is Google Analytics on every page.
Rich: Every single one.
Paul: Google Analytics, if you don’t know it, what it does is it shows you charts and graphs of who is visiting your website.
Paul: Basically it’s the industry standard tool to let you know how popular your site is, but it also means that Google knows an enormous amount about who is visiting each website.
Rich: Oh, for sure.
Paul: Google, who knows what they know, what they do with it, who can look at anything, but Google has …
Rich: Google knows.
Paul: Yeah, not just from searching, but also just patterns of usage, they know everybody who hits those sites.
Paul: That’s sort of fascinating to me, that actually each one of these political candidates has all these various calls out to other services, and the services are increasingly aware. Like that platform for fundraising knows how much the candidates are raising.
Rich: They’re competitive with one another. Targeted Victory knows exactly what’s up across — well I think they release the dollars raised anyway.
Paul: They have to, but they know that minute.
Rich: They know that minute, and they also know patterns. They also know where it’s coming from, where it’s not coming from, and the like. Really important.
Paul: There’s kind of a hidden marketplace on political futures.
Rich: Yup it really is.
Paul: Floating around inside of there.
Rich: That’s right. TypeKit.
Paul: That’s the other one, so a lot of people pull their fonts from Adobe Typekit. So Adobe knows.
Rich: Adobe does know.
Paul: Which is terrifying.
Rich: A lot of serif, a lot of bold sort of make, you know America, a lot of the websites look like US bonds.
Paul: The next version of Adobe will be, just watch if like the next version is like Adobe Conservative Cloud, it means that we’re headed, three months from now that comes out, it means they know.
Rich: You got to wonder. They’ve splintered the fundraising tools. I wonder if they’re going to splinter the fonts and splinter the analytics between the left and the right. You’ll have these startups that are just only servicing one or the other.
Paul: Right Watch and Blue Watch.
Paul: Let’s say I want to become a really big-deal political candidate, and I want to win the prize. I need to build my own platform, that’s what we learned.
Rich: I think you need to build your own platform.
Paul: Okay, so I need to know, top to bottom, I have to have control over my own code.
Rich: I think you have to know the right people, obviously they’re not going to be involved in very deep ways.
Paul: I don’t think Hillary Clinton views source very often.
Rich: I don’t know how this works. I think the people who work on the campaigns, don’t they end up and if you win, you end up in the White House?
Paul: Without a doubt.
Rich: Okay, so I would think that a lot of the technology people that are involved in the campaigns actually end up in the White House in important roles on the technology side of things.
Paul: There’s a book of positions that the President can hand out, and it’s actually called the Plum Book. It’s plum-colored.
Rich: That’s who they can hire?
Paul: Yeah. The President has this very large staff. You think about like the cabinet positions.
Rich: It’s fascinating, isn’t it?
Paul: Yeah, so if you are in the campaign, one of the things that happens if you give your life over to this is that you become a trusted advisor, and then there’s no time.
Rich: You got them there, and then you keep going.
Paul: Yeah. Going to build a platform for a politician, you’re going to start from scratch, you’re going to gather requirements, what are you going to do?
Rich: It kind of signals to how much you’ve got it together. If you’ve got the team, I think Hillary Clinton has it together.
Paul: Yeah, that’s a real thing.
Rich: That’s a real thing, and they’ve been thinking about this for a very long time.
Paul: They’ve got a lot of apps in there, they have a lot of services, search services.
Rich: A lot of stuff going on.
Paul: You can find events.
Rich: I cannot explain how Trump has it. Based on the source code, he kind of has it together. I don’t know how that came to be, it just doesn’t add up.
Paul: Well, this is a good point, because the old Republican websites, this is the first year that Republicans have decent websites.
Rich: Yeah, but they look decent, but again, when we viewed the source, it was more outsourced.
Paul: That is very true. The last couple election cycles, your typical Republican website looked like it was ten years older than it was, and was prepared by dogs. For some reason the Democrats have been better at the web.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: Now we’re seeing, obviously the Clinton organization, it really does, it has a very big, very together website. There’s a precedent set by Obama. He had an extraordinary tech —
Rich: I think he changed the role tech plays in politics within elections, yes.
Paul: Especially that 2012 campaign was immaculate. They just ran an extraordinary technology organization.
Rich: It was a whole other game.
Paul: The Romney, the statistical game that they were playing with the Romney software. Everything on Romney’s site just imploded at the end, and Obama’s just went from strength to strength as they scaled up AWS services.
Paul: Okay, so what we know is that better platforms make for bigger candidacies and more impact.
Paul: That’s what we’re going to draw away from that. We’ve got a question.
Rich: I love me some questions.
Paul: That’s good because we’ve got a question from Kevin. You ready?
Paul: It’s a little question, it’ll take like a second to answer.
Paul: Do you think the patent system needs to be overhauled? And, if you were given ultimate power over it, how would you have it restructured?
Rich: My God.
Paul: Okay, I need this in about 30 seconds, can you do it?
Rich: I’m going to answer the first part of the question, that’s an easy one, yes. The second part of the question, how would you have it restructured? The patent and trademark office? I think what he’s specifically talking about is the patent system, which I think you said in the first part anyway. Yes, it does need to be overhauled.
Paul: Let’s start: what’s wrong with it?
Rich: It’s abused today, the system that takes patents in, that process of review and comparison of what’s already in the patent system —
Paul: When you file a patent.
Rich: When you file a patent, just never caught up to the rapid change of technology and modern advances, such that I don’t think they knew what they were … It got more abstract, it got more difficult to really make heads or tails of what was coming in and whether there was a conflict. It became nearly impossible to really determine whether there was a conflict. I’m actually named on four patents.
Rich: Yeah. They were provisional, and then they became full patents. What happened a few years later was a firm showed up, some law firm, I think it was a law firm, that said, “Hey, you’ve got some really good patents.” One as a rules engine tool that we built which let you essentially write, they were sort of quasi-scripts that injected rules into a piece of software. Pretty cool stuff. You have to go to programmers to write business rules.
Paul: Oh, so anybody could set up a set of rules.
Rich: That’s right, so they could change them on a daily basis, which is very powerful. They came to us and they said, “Listen, here’s what we want to do. We want to sue some big people, we want to sue them because you have some good patents.” A rules-based engine, that is a very broad stroke patent.
Paul: Kind of stuff that’s been around for 50 years in technology too.
Rich: Yeah, I’m sure, if you dug around, there’s probably stuff out there that conflicts with it. Essentially they said, “Listen, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll put all the money in. We’re going to harass the hell out of IBM, or whoever, probably somebody like an IBM, who has this patent, or patents, and when we win that judgment or we settle, we’re going to keep 40% and you get the rest of the money.”
Paul: So almost a class action.
Rich: Well, not really, but it was essentially, we were approached by someone that saw an opportunity to exploit the patent system, effectively.
Paul: It’s an opportunistic legal move.
Rich: An opportunistic legal move, and then just out of curiosity I said, “What do you think you’re going to get out of it?” They said, “we’re thinking between $15 and $25 million,” they tell us.
Paul: That’s nice. That’s good.
Rich: Wait a second here, is this real? We never went through with it, but it highlighted just how busted the whole thing is. How would you restructure it? That’s really really hard. I think one of the things you need to do is go back and find a better way, and provide better tools for the officers in the patent office to be able to really organize, index, understand what’s in the system already and really scrutinize. You got to raise that bar, that’s the reality of it.
Paul: Software patents are a nightmare, right? Because they’re completely —
Rich: It’s a disaster.
Paul: They’re divorced from physicality.
Rich: They’re abstract in most of the cases.
Paul: There’s no little brass model that you can point to and be like, “This is innovative.”
Rich: That’s right. There are patents in the patent office that are fully filed, that fully conflict with one another, sitting there in the patent office.
Paul: Sure. Thousands.
Rich: Yeah, cause it just got out of hand, they couldn’t police it anymore.
Paul: The software patent, when you read a software patent, it’s almost always just this painful obvious sort of trolling.
Rich: Yeah, exactly. You’ve got firms out there — I forget who it was.
Paul: Method for displaying a shopping cart.
Rich: Yeah, there is a firm, I think it’s in Texas or somewhere, that every few years bangs a couple hundred million dollars out of Apple.
Paul: Do you understand why there’s that one area of Texas where all the patent lawsuits go? I can’t figure it out.
Rich: Is that true?
Paul: Yeah, there’s like one particular part of Texas where it’s incredibly friendly to patent lawsuits.
Rich: I did not know that.
Paul: Yeah, it’s almost like Delaware corporations. There’s all these offices where it’s just the name on the door.
Paul: What I would say is, we should probably table this, because it’s huge.
Rich: It’s huge. If you really decided to dig into it, it’s huge.
Paul: Let’s dig in a little bit into it and come back to it in a future episode.
Rich: Let’s do that. I think it’s interesting.
Paul: Well Rich, I think we did it. I think we talked about…
Rich: I think we did it, Paul.
Paul: Does the quality of a candidate’s platform influence your vote in any way?
Paul: I think it does for me.
Rich: Maybe a 5% tip one way or the other, that’s about it.
Paul: I’ll be honest, it made me more comfortable with Hillary Clinton, to look at her source code.
Rich: Did you really?
Paul: Yeah, because my concern with her is she always has those really weird, creepy, Ivy League-ey advisors around there. Just those guys with the dark hair who are just sort of whispering in her ear and turning her into yet more of a robot. She scares me on that. I think she’s definitely put in some time, but I always worry about those advisors. Someone’s been doing it for her. Someone’s been building that site for her and doing a pretty good job.
Paul: Whatever nasty politics are around her at any given time, it’s not actually impinging on their ability to deliver a pretty good web platform.
Rich: Yeah. Well you make a good point. A key part of the job, a really boring part of the job, is a good administrator, a good operator. If you can pull that off, and this isn’t small by any means, then you can do other stuff.
Paul: And of course that’s also true about Donald Trump. On that note, we’re going to leave you. I don’t know if you know this. Rich, do you know that Postlight has a newsletter?
Rich: I wait for it every day Paul.
Paul: I think it’s a pretty good newsletter.
Rich: What is it called?
Paul: It’s called Track Changes.
Rich: Oh I see what you’re doing here.
Paul: Just like this podcast. Welcome to our vertically integrated media platform. You can go to postlight.com and you’ll see the subscribe link right there on that page. You can just put your email in, what are we going to do with your email? We’re never going to sell your email.
Rich: No. We may lease it out a bit.
Paul: Sacred, all email is sacred. What’s in the newsletter? Stuff.
Rich: I mean, you’re too modest Paul. Paul’s a wonderful writer and loved to go into weird corners of the world and just yank things out and show them to you. It’s just been awesome. I really have been enjoying it. I enjoy it more than your company, that’s the weird thing.
Paul: That’s great. We’re going to start communicating merely that way.
Rich: Via newsletter.
Paul: You can also go to trackchanges.postlight.com and you’ll see the whole thing. There’s a nice archive so you can always get caught up. Go to postlight.com, put in your email address, and we promise to treat you with respect. Thanks for listening everyone. Rate us on iTunes. We love you very much.
Rich: We love you.
Rich: Bye bye.