Websites need youth-directed content... and interactivity.
By Amanda Taccone
The most sought-after voters in this election belong to one of the most technologically savvy age groups. Young people use the internet more than any other demographic, but little attention is being paid to catering to youth online.
Student Vote 2004 Youthbeat
June 8, 2004
Vince Petrozza, a certified webmaster at web design firm e2b.ca, says websites can be a great tool to woo young voters, but aren't being used to their full potential in this campaign.
"I don't see a lot of their campaigns really flogging their websites
as a place to go for information, because I think campaigns are all about
information; finding out which party you're going to vote for based on
what they stand for, what their platform is, and I think better use of
their websites, in terms of putting it on all their signs, on their banners,
in their print ads, in their commercials, they could put them more in
the foreground [of their campaigns]."
Jim Elve, publisher of blogscanada.ca, says the major party websites are falling short because, even in the age of interactivity, information flows in just one direction.
"I think that if our own leaders would be savvy and get a good blog up there, where they would allow people to comment and they would respond to those comments, they could really bring the youth into the picture," he says.
"What this does is it gives the voters, the electorate, the young people who are commenting and reading these blogs a real sense of empowerment. But for the most part, big media, old media, TV, radio, newspaper, is one way media, it's a one-way conversation."
The Conservatives do have a blog, but it's more like a daily news release about what Stephen Harper has done that day, he says.
Elve says blogs maintained by Howard Dean during the Democratic primaries in the U.S. and by Belinda Stronach during the Conservative leadership campaign are examples of successfully engaging voters. He says that while leaders don't need to write the blogs themselves, having an "official campaign blogger" who can respond to both positive and negative feedback would help satisfy people who want their voices heard.
Petrozza agrees that blogs are popular among young people, but adds that other elements are also missing from party sites.
"Since this is a multimedia platform, the more multimedia, the better, the more colourful the graphics, the better, obviously it will be more pleasing to the eye, and video, which I didn't find a lot of. The Conservatives were good for that actually, one of their foremost links was Video of the Day."
These features have to be balanced with technical concerns like a quick loading time, but the party sites are also short on "fun" elements such as flash animation, Petrozza says.
Of the main party websites, the Liberal and Bloc Québécois sites provide the most prominent links to the sites of their young counterparts, The Young Liberals of Canada and the Forum jeunesse du Bloc Québécois. The Conservative and Liberal sites both have links to the Youth Text 2004 program, while the NDP and The Green Party have no specific youth content.
When it comes to whether youth-directed content makes the websites more effective, Elve and Petrozza disagree.
Petrozza says that having youth-directed content is key, and even things as simple as having images of young people could help make a website more appealing. But, he adds it's often the features that aren't age-specific that draw notice, like the Green Party's splash page. He think it's a good example of a visually appealing element that can help add interest.
Elve, who admits that he no longer belongs to the demographic in question, thinks that the biggest issues the websites should be addressing appeal to a broad range of voters.
"If I were a young person, I wouldn't want to be in the young people's ghetto," he says. "I wouldn't want to say, OK, this is where they're talking to the grownups and then they've got this section for the kids. It's like a playroom at McDonald's. I think that the issues that speak to the rest of the world, the over 30s, they're the same issues that speak to the under 30s
the kind of thing that hits them where they live. Student debt, affordable housing, these are things, debt and affordable housing, if you just take away the student part of it, they're things that affect every Canadian."