Friday, September 28, 2007

Upping our game

If there's an election, it'll be fought on the web, writes Alex Hilton in The Daily Telegraph.

Hilton describes himself as a "new media adviser" and is editor of labourhome.org. And he is right. But it is not only the elections, it is also the referendum, if ever we have one. In fact, the forum for political discourse on all issues is no longer the monopoly of the MSM but is increasingly taking place on the internet.

Interestingly, of the internet, Hilton notes that political parties - like much of the corporate and not-for-profit sectors - know that there is something there that they should understand, something that will be of benefit to them, but they just don't get it - yet.

"Blogs, online video and social networking," he writes: "this seems to be the extent of the political parties' dabbling with new media. This has culminated in a Ming Campbell blog, the Conservative publication of interminable policy discussions on YouTube and Labour's widely-detested 'MPURL' system, a facility that's a bit like Facebook for Labour Party members only with less functionality and a horrific colour scheme."

His main message, therefore, is that although political parties realise the importance of the internet, they are not very good at using it.

However, he does not offer any real insights as to how they can exploit the medium and one just has to look at his own site to realise why. It has that same dull, leaden feel of all the other "corporate blogs", or "clogs", as we call them. On the other hand the site is well-designed, fresh in appearance (if you like red, white and black) so, in media terms, it should work.

It took me a long time to realise (call me slow, if you like) why this and the many like it do not, cannot, and never will.

The point about the internet is its intimacy. Whereas the television brings the presenter into the front room, the computer is much more intimate. It is one person sitting at a keyboard, communicating his or her thoughts. And they are read by other individual sitting at a screen. It is a one-to-one dialogue.

The moment the corporate ethos gets stuck into this, it destroys the intimacy. Its very polish, having gone through the layers of bureaucracy and approvals, destroys any sense that there is a conversation going. A "clog" may have the appearances of a blog, but it is not the real thing.

Blogging, therefore, if it is to work as a political force, has to be carried out by self-motivated individuals, writing directly to the screen without the corporate filters which guard and polish what they say. That is what happened in America and, if it is going to happen here, this is also the way it must be done.

Individuals, on their own, however, do not have the deep purses of the corporates, or the "reach" that will get them noticed, and must rely on people happening on their sites, or through other bloggers linking to them, in the hope that their blogs get read. Many do not – or get far less traffic than they deserve – simply because they are crowded out.

This is one of the reasons why we have set up Umbrella Blog - to give individual bloggers a bigger platform, while allowing them to retain their own unique identities as individuals.

Now a week since our "pre-launch", we have been working with a small number of volunteers, trying out the systems. The experiment has been successful. All the bloggers on the site have experienced significant increases in their traffic and have been able to keep a steady flow of material coming to the Umbrella site.

Thus, we are in a position to extend the offer to other bloggers who feel they have something original or interesting to say.

Our commitment is to help you improve the way you present your message and give you that bigger platform, capitalising on our experience of three year's blogging and the modest but significant success of this site.

If you are interested, click the link, read the offer and get in touch with us.

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