Monday, November 28, 2005

Keith Fountain's Blogger Advantage

Since the countdown to an election call is less than 24 hours away, I thought I'd do a write-up on the candidates in my riding, Ottawa-Centre.

"Honest Ed" Broadbent of the New Democrats is the current MP, and his constituency website is here. Since Ed's retiring this time out, I expect his website will either be retired with him or be transferred to his successor to the NDP nomination. His two rivals also have websites: Richard Mahoney of the Liberals has his here, and Keith Fountain of the Tories is here.

If you look at all three sites, you'll see some fairly big differences. One glaring weakness of Keith's site is that it's English-only; the other two have similar designs including French versions. In a riding smack-dab in the middle of an officially bilingual town, that could (and probably will) be construed as a weakness. However, it's not necessarily a fatal one, and it's offset by one important strength:

Keith's site includes a blog. The other two don't. (Those of you who are Blogging Tories already know this, since Keith is part of the blogroll, but it's an important distinction.)

Could this fact be turned to electoral advantage? Absolutely, if Keith appreciates the strength of the blogging phenomenon, as well as the Internet in general.

First, he already has a technological edge over his opponents in that we know that his site is maintained on a semi-regular basis. If you look at Richard's site, you'll see that the last "news release" is dated 2004, and his "events" page has a generic greetings message. That doesn't say much for his ability to exploit the Net, and it also says a damn lot about his own willingness to reach out to the constitutency outside of an electoral context. (Expect that this will be updated more frequently once a campaign gets underway, but also expect a lapse once the campaign's over regardless of the outcome.)

Ed's is somewhat better, if only because he's a sitting MP and has more events to go to and report on. But the lack of dates in his news releases suggests a genericness that he shouldn't pass on to his successor.

Keith's blog site gives him a couple of advantages that aren't available on the other two sites. The big one, of course, is that he has an immediate forum to react to and comment on events. With the other two sites, you have to click through several links to get to their stances on the issues, and there's no telling how they'll be able to state their positions on more immediate issues. With Keith, the most immediate stuff is up front. (It's well known that Keith carries a BlackBerry and isn't afraid to use it, meaning he can update his blog pretty much anytime he wants.)

Another advantage is constituency feedback, through the Blogger Comments function. (I'm assuming he has the security function to prevent comment spam turned on.) The other candidate sites have e-mail and traditional contact information, but commentary in public has the quality of public response: a constituent who makes an inquiry in Comments can judge by Keith's response, lack of response, and time before response, what kind of MP he's going to be. And so can everyone else who reads the comments section.

A third advantage is his blogroll membership. Keith's membership in the Blogging Tories can do far more than increase his site visits. He can introduce topics to generate a conversation; he can publicize events that he's attending; he can ask for help in finding information for future speeches. In short, he has an immediate tool to increase his public profile in the Internet community. And in a connected town like Ottawa, that's a big club to wield in an election campaign.

Now of course you need far more than techno-savvy to be a successful politician. I haven't yet seen Keith make a speech or debate his rivals. But playing the blog card will go a long, long way towards getting Keith Fountain into Centre Block.

And if I were Richard Mahoney or Ed Broadbent's successor, I'd seriously consider starting a blog for this campaign.

UPDATE (12h02): I found out from Ed's campaign office that the new NDP candidate for Ottawa-Centre is Paul Dewar. His website is here. Interestingly enough, the page does have space for a "Campaign Blog" accessible on the English main page, but not the French. (I guess there's no word yet for "blog" en fran├žais.) It's blank at the moment, but that shouldn't last too long.

Advice to Ed Broadbent's office: you should link to your successor candidate's site, next time you update.