Lessons from the technology blind

Five of the seven candidates used Microsoft solutions to develop, fill, and run campaign sites that were strictly pro-forma - i.e. of little or no consequence in the election

Canada is nominally a parliamentary democracy - meaning that the leader of the majority party in the house of parliament acts as a dictator until replaced by another one. My home province of Alberta runs the same way, and we just had a hot ten week contest for party leadership because Ralph Klein, Premier since 1992, is stepping down.

Mr. Klein led the "progressive conservative" party, one that's actually so inclusive that it has been in power since about 1971 when it was led by a guy named Peter Lougheed, and just recently spawned eight leadership hopefuls ranging from a far left America hating opportunist to a far right former American.

The only female candidate dropped out early, leaving seven contenders in what became a bitterly fought campaign - akin to an American primary but with more complex rules and a locally bigger prize.

None of the players made effective use of the internet; the most media blessed of the bunch, Ed Stelmach, won mainly by offending nobody, and the most media hated of the bunch, Ted Morton, left himself wide open to a personal attack on his credibility based on his web site - but nobody noticed.

To be specific: a big part of Ted Morton's campaign hinged on his willingness to stand up for Albertans against the economic imperialism carried out against the west by Canada's Toronto owned Liberal party - but Morton had a Toronto based company develop and run his website.

What's most interesting, however, is that five of the seven candidates used Microsoft solutions to develop, fill, and run campaign sites that were strictly pro-forma - i.e. of little or no consequence in the election. Specifically:

Candidate OS Web Server
DinningWindows Server 2003IIS/6.0
DoerksenLinux Apache 1.3.37
HancockWindows Server 2003IIS/6.0
McPhersonLinux Apache 1.3.37
MortonWindows Server 2003IIS/6.0
NorrisWindows 2000IIS/5.0
ObergWindows Server 2003IIS/6.0
StelmachWindows 2000IIS/5.0

The eventual winner's site has this to say to non IE browsers that dare to visit:

 

Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development. Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development. Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development. Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development. Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development. Currently, our site requires the Macromedia Flash Plugin (newest version), however, our HTML-only version is in development.

No kidding.

Seven out of seven of these guys talked about using the internet for education, economic development, and the general advancement of community - but not a single one of them actually used the technology and every one of them paid for a site without bothering to then use that site to communicate their views - indeed six out of the seven sent out bulk emails to their supporters using third party mailers - two of them registered in the United States.

There's no common thread to the technology choices - unless you want to guess what the lack of effort might mean. The two who used, or allowed someone in their organization to use, open source tools have very little in common: one was a potential right wing kingmaker who chose to lose, the other a left wing wanna be looking for a platform.

Beyond that, the one who carried the hopes of party officials -i.e. the one with good connections but no ideas of his own- had the site with the most expensive licensed components, while the guy that won had the Windows site with the least additional licensed software.

So what lesson is there here? I think that the parochial one is that internet adoption is a very long way from front burner stuff here in Alberta, and the more general one is that it's okay to be a luddite in politics (or business either), but only if all your competitors are too.