Political “interactivity”

We’ve got this election going in Canada, and the dead-tree newspapers are busy rushing their election coverage into the 1980s. Instead of merely reviewing campaign commercials, now they’re reviewing Web sites!

The standards of comparison are all wrong, as befitting a medium that still measures the length of stories in column inches. Of course they don’t know how to evaluate a Web site, which would include assessments of graphic design, navigation, usability (particularly under difficult conditions, like a slow modem on an old computer), accessibility, and of course content. Yes, if you are a detractor of a certain party, the fact that the party’s site failed to budge you even a millimetre can be germane.

The biggest paper in Canada, the storied Toronto Star, an operation with a technical infrastructure that gives a Brezhnev-era telephone switchboard a run for its money, shakes its withered hand at the TV screens attached to their typewriters and reviews the oligopolist federal parties’ sites. (Note: One of the commentators is billed as a Web designer himself. God help us all.)

Attallah: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to come back a second time. There’s nothing very interactive - no audio clips, not even the TV commercials. [...]

Custode: A hip and interactive site that impressed me the most overall. It looks like they had a lot of people working on it. They’ve got a version of the party platform with animated graphics. Very professional. [...]

Presenza: They’re trying to use all the technology available, with streaming video and audio. It’s very funky, very modern and it’s got the best links to other sites. [...]

Attallah: They’re effectively running their TV campaign on the Internet with clips of [a party leader and his daughter] and some MPs. They gave me the strongest reason to come back to a site. [...]

Attallah: When you go to this site, the first thing that happens is that they’ve got their hands out asking for money – a pop-up window that you have to close. It’s the most annoying site.

Where to begin? (Well, how about the title of the story? “Luring voters into their Web.” Bleeding-edge, huh?)

  1. How exactly is a site “interactive” if it shoves “audio clips” and “TV commercials” down the pipe at you? How are you interacting? This isn’t like driving a car, where you’re constantly adjusting to changes in what’s happening around you. You hit the link and the audio or “TV” then “streams” at you. What’s interactive about that?
  2. How is it that animation can be deemed “professional”? If we called the animation cartoons instead, would they still be professional?
  3. The decision to “use all the technology available” makes a site “very funky, very modern.” Does it persuade voters? Does it inform in any way? Does that mean it even works in people’s browsers?
  4. Should political Web sites, like any other sites, use a particular Web technology merely because it is possible to do so, or should appropriateness be considered? (Wouldn’t that require the parties to hire someone with more than six months’ online experience, itself limited chiefly to zapping virus-attached Outlook E-mails around the globe?)

We’re sort of morally opposed to assisting political parties, no matter how worthy. We wouldn’t assist a slaughterhouse or a tobacco juggernaut or Microsoft, either, so don’t take it personally. But there are two obvious things to do on a political Web site:

  1. Offer enormously more information that you could possibly afford to put out in print or for broadcast. The contradiction here is that political handlers fight over every single syllable. (Actually, every punctuation mark, and we don’t mean an impassioned discussion over the use of a comma before and. We mean demanding that incorrect punctuation inserted by a political operative be retained.) Nowhere but in politics do you strive to say as little as possible. At the very least, post the entire party platform and every bit of research you have at hand supporting each claim.
  2. Text and images only. Multimedia simply does not work on a general-interest Web site, as we have explained ad nauseam already. Besides, during an election it is impossible to avoid political broadcasting on radio and television. You’re wasting everyone’s time, not to mention adding to your bandwidth costs, retransmitting this crapola online.

Which is worst: Political parties that don’t get the net, political consultants who don’t, or newspapers that don’t?

Posted on 2000-11-07