Political parties' community-building efforts

I was a bit surprised to learn that the first major clash / head-to-head / love-in in the latest Lib Dem leadership race was only up the road in Newbury; I hadn’t heard a peep about it. Further research led me to a Lib Dem site I hadn’t seen before: Flock Together, a Google Map-based mashup of local ‘social events, policy discussions, campaigning sessions and forthcoming conferences and by-elections.’ Very simple, very effective. Even better, you can get RSS feeds out of the central engine, feeding information back to your local site.

(The Tories have something similar, more directly focussed on by-elections, and not quite as friendly.)

Labour have traditionally been seen as lagging behind in the online stakes… but one innovation I’ve just spotted on their site is Labour:Central, which seems to be a ‘members only’ version of del.icio.us, based primarily on a Google Toolbar add-on. It’s prettier than del.icio.us, which might be reason enough for it existing, although it completely lacks a ‘personal touch’. Just a bunch of links with (frankly) pretty uninspiring excerpts, most too short to be meaningful. In fairness, it is labelled a beta – but I wonder if it’s even the right project to be trying.

So is Labour trying to get its online act together? There’s good and bad in this report from one local activist’s attendance at a recent party seminar. Tangent Labs are Labour’s main online agency: their boss was apparently ‘focused, personable, coherent and passionate about the possibilities of web based campaigning for the Labour Party’… but then revealed that the day’s main purpose was to sell them ‘the new WebCreator package, the ‘official’ Labour Party site creator. Priced at £411 per year!’

Blogger Ricky asks an interesting question: is it better for all local party sites to look the same, or different? Consistency would reinforce the sense of voting for a party, and a candidate for Prime Minister; and of course, for many people, that’s what elections are about. But would unique sites for each candidate be a boost for local campaigning? There’s no need for a single CMS these days, in a world of RSS feeds, mashups, APIs, etc.