One day, perhaps, elections will be decided on the Internet. If that were the case on October 12, the New Zealand Labour Party would romp home.
The real electoral battle will be rather tighter than that, but Labour deserves kudos for launching easily the most impressive party political Website yet. Labour is also the first party to raise a budget and formally call for tenders from Web developers.
The successful tenderer was the Web Limited, the Wellington firm which made its own site a hit by offering daily weather forecasts on it. The company has previously worked on business sites, including the prototype for Telecom’s Web pages, and project manager Kate Frykberg says its “business-focused approach” was regarded as a plus by the party.
“The process of creating a party Web site was similar to that of a business project--you meet the same kind of issues, but the audience is different. The main difference, which we had to learn about, is the aspect of sensitivity. When you’re a political party, you have a lot of people keen to attack you, and that’s something you don’t get in the business world. What that means in practice is that you have to be alert to the possibility of misinterpretation.”
Labour Party spokesman Luke McMahon contrasts the new site with “a lot of other party sites created by enthusiastic amateurs. If you’re going to be committed to the Internet as a medium, then you’ve got to be prepared to do it properly. It’s no help to anyone to have a site for sake of being there--you’ve got to have a sense of purpose.”
The site, at http://www.labour.org.nz/, launched with 150 html pages--bigger than the Telecom site, but nowhere near as large as the Web Limited’s own 1000-page site. It includes profiles of list and electorate candidates, all Labour’s policies in brief and in full, a form allowing users to request information or volunteer services and even a quiz on Labour lore. It also navigates smoothly and quickly.
“In my opinion there are three quite separate areas of skill involved in a good Web site,” says Frykberg. “There’s a knowledge of information, there’s graphic design and there are technical skills. Our graphic skills come from a close working relationship with BNA Design.”
The company updates the party’s site on a weekly basis and Frykberg says further features, including a mailing list based at the site and a direct interface with the party’s database, have been discussed. McMahon says the party is also looking at being able to sign up members online, as does the British Labour Party.
Meanwhile, New Zealand First has a page at http://www.nzfirst.org.nz “under construction”, with the assistance of Rotorua-based firm CyberWorld. National and the Alliance, which have also promised Web sites, have yet to make a showing.