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e-Democracy update - 21/6/06 - Aussie political websites versus US, Sarkozy's donations site, and Wikipedia's new editorial policy

21 June, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

Australian political websites performing high against US

Comparisons with recent figures from the US show Australian political websites are high-performing in terms of visitor statistics.

A recent ComScore analysis of online activity in the US for May shows political websites are the most viewed category with 8.1 million visitors, rising 31 percent versus the previous month.

The ComScore study reports leading sites within the politics category include: Capitol Advantage, (up 126 percent to 1.6 million visitors) (up 20 percent to 637,000 visitors) and (up 14 percent to 492,000 visitors).

Australian online publications, such as On Line Opinion, compare very well to such figures.

On Line Opinion Chief Editor Graham young says the US population is approximately 15 times larger than Australia and thus 8.1 million visitors there equates to 540,000 here.

"As On Line Opinion has around 350,000 unique IPs during a month and Australia has only one-fifteenth the population of the US, we’re doing extraordinarily well," he says.

"And a site here with 334,744 visitors equates to one with 5 million there.

"In other words, The National Forum punches well above its weight in international terms."

Sarkozy sets up donations site

France's interior minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a fundraising website for his UMP party to prepare for next year’s elections.

This is the first ever online fundraising drive in French politics and is estimated to boost donations to the UMP from €4.5m (A$7.6m) last year to €7m (A$11.9m) this year.

However, Mr Sarkozy has not officially declared his presidential candidacy and still has not opened a specially regulated bank account to handle his campaign expenses, as required by all candidates under French law.

UMP Treasurer Eric Woerth says: "The day we have an official candidate and that person wins the party’s nomination, the UMP will be able to contribute to their campaign in financing."

Visit the UMP site here.

Wikipedia revises editorial policy

Critics have panned the freely editable online encyclopaedia Wikipedia's revised editorial rules to "protect" certain entries from vandalism and disputes over accuracy.

Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales says protection is usually temporary and affects a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million entries on the English-language site.

"Protection is a tool for quality control, but it hardly defines Wikipedia… What does define Wikipedia is the volunteer community and the open participation," Mr Wales said.

Some articles receive a temporary "protection" against edits while others are "semi-protected", meaning only established users can edit them.

The decision has received criticism

Technology writer Nicholas Carr says the new editorial policy distorts the underlying concept of Wikipedia.

"Wikipedia's bureaucratic structure increasingly resembles the editorial structure of a traditional publishing operation, with a small group of participants [who] design and enforce editorial policy and a large group of contributors judged according to their reputations," Mr Carr says.

"To say that great work can be created by an army of amateurs with very little control is a distortion of what Wikipedia really is."

US campaign supporters set up Facebook profiles for candidates

Several Maryland campaign workers are using social networking site Facebook to create profiles for several gubernatorial candidates in the up-coming elections.

The profiles include pages for Democrats Douglas M. Duncan and Martin O'Malley.

Facebook is an online social networking site for university and high school students, similar to MySpace. It began in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University.

Campaign spokespeople for the Duncan and O'Malley campaigns says they give the site and profiles their blessing.

University of Maryland student Jahantab Siddiqui, who works for the O'Malley campaign, says he sees the potential in sites like Facebook.

"I got on Facebook around the time the 2004 elections were going on, and it was huge as far as students mobilizing and getting the word out," Siddiqui says.

"I think I might have shown [the profile] to him once sometime last year.”

A third profile for current Governor Robert Ehrlich (Republican) was reported as a fake satirical entry, which was created by Lee Fang, the president of the Maryland Federation of College Democrats.

Fang wrote interests such as "raising more taxes in 16 months than Democrats did in 16 years", "increasing college tuition by almost 50% in 4 short years" and "getting terrible haircuts" in Ehrlich’s profile.

A spokesperson for Ehrlich, Shareese N. DeLeaver, has declined to comment on the Facebook profile but says: "We're confident that constituents can tell the difference between political fact and political rhetoric."

Visit Facebook here.

US political candidate promises more open government via the web

A US politician running for a state treasury position wants to use internet technology to make the treasurer's office more user-friendly.

Rhode Island State Senator and State General Treasurer candidate Frank Caprio (Democrat) says he plans to make available more information on Rhode Island’s estimated $6 million in state spending.

"You shouldn't have to be an investigative reporter to know how our money is spent by the politicians. After all, the state is spending our tax dollars," he says.

"I want to share my vision for the treasurer's office with as many Rhode Islanders as possible in as comfortable a format as possible."

"By leveraging the latest technology, I plan to make the Rhode Island treasurer's office one of the most user-friendly offices in government, and plan to show my dedication to this goal in my campaign."

Mr Caprio has so far attracted neither Democratic primary-election nor Republican general-election opposition.

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