Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let the conversation begin … but how?

Hillary Clinton announced her campaign for the US presidency in a video on her website a week or two ago. Most of the other candidates have also posted video messages on their campaign sites, and some even directly on YouTube. While they’ll no doubt spend a lot of time in big televised rallies, reaching thousands of supporters in the venue and hundreds of thousands through the boxes in the corner of their front rooms.

Hillary even goes a step further—she’s either smart or paying for really good advisors, or both—and calls it a conversation. As well as kicking off with her opening clip, she has posted some daily videos under the banner of Let the Conversation Begin talking to the public and answering their questions. A real (if ever so slightly staged) conversation, aimed at getting the electorate talking about issues and listening to her pitch. Engaging not preaching.

Now I’d be surprised if Gordon Brown invested in the wonder of YouTube in his upcoming bid to take over from Blair as leader of the Labour Party. But I’m sure some of the candidates running for vice president, I mean deputy leader, will … if only to prove their credibility and grasp of modernity and life outside politics.

But what about our next bout of local elections in Northern Ireland?

Will the major parties continue sticking posters to lamp posts with cable ties, dropping leaflets through our letterboxes, and bickering publicly on local radio and television? Or will they start to dip their toes in the online world?

Maybe they’d be wasting their time? The Northern Ireland blogosphere doesn’t feel that large or powerful yet. Without research to back up my hunch, it’s feels like an extension of the traditional media.

Outside the school-age Beboers (or Bebites?) enjoying bands and trading gossip, what is it?

It’s a less rigorous form of citizen journalism without the constraints of balance and truth. (With some notable exceptions!) But it doesn’t really extend beyond about a few thousand people.

Over the next few weeks, we should watch to see if the local parties bother to start conversations through their websites. A quick scoot through the online presence of some of the parties shows ...

  • Sinn Féin link to photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and have Myspace and Bebo pages too. Not too many friends yet, but give them time.
  • The UUP (who have ditched the final “.uk” in their URL and now live at are textual, through Lord Trimble manages a gallery of photos on his website, and a single video of a 2001 speech.
  • Nothing too special over at the SDLP.
  • Searching for the DUP’s website—to see if it featured a video welcome from Big Ian on its front page, it amused me to see how the DUP used to describe itself on its website … a phrase that Google probably still uses since there’s so little straight text on the site. It feels about as accessible as a manifesto embedded in concrete!
  • At least the Alliance Party clain to be WAI-AA accessible.
  • The PUP website was down for renovation before David Ervine’s death and hasn’t bounced back yet.

Very little in the way of allowing people to feedback their views or enter into a conversation. So until the parties bother to engage, we’ll have to use the local blogosphere as best we can ... and hector the doorstepping campaigners.


John Self said...

Off-topic, but brought to mind by mentioning the UUP: am I the only Belmont Road resident who's horrified by the ugly signage put up on the new UUP offices at the corner of Holywood/Belmont Roads? The Union-flag-in-NI design is exactly the sort of thing that the Unionist parties need to get away from. And it can only harm nearby businesses like Bennett's.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

But in terms of party survival and self preservation - ie, keeping their jobs in politics - they couldn't ditch the union flag or they'd be ridiculed by the DUP and lose votes.

John Self said...

Well as they're down to one Westminster MP I think we can safely say they've hit rock bottom votes-wise, so why not try a different tack? And even the DUP have a more sophisticated logo than that - the lion with elements of red and blue but which doesn't actually reproduce the flag literally.