Political parties, RSS feeds and Twitter…

I find RSS feeds very useful for keeping up to date on a news aggregator, but it seems very few of the political parties in Northern Ireland do. For total convenience and speed, RSS feeds are hard to beat, making access easier and thus articles more likely to be read. Any website with free and frequently updated content needs RSS or Atom feeds to deliver information to those who care enough to want to read it. I also follow quite a few party political people on Twitter, as I have clearly have nothing better to do. But there are winners and losers in the NI political Twittersphere. Here’s what I found (below the fold)…As you might expect, media savvy Sinn Fein has an RSS feed. It works fine with my aggregator, Feed Demon. The party also has a handy Twitter account. But the party’s news feed doesn’t work with Twitterfeed, bringing up the error message: We couldn’t find valid date/time stamps or GUIDs on items. Please make sure your feed contains valid pubDate entries or GUIDs for each post.

Presumably this is why the party’s press releases are updated from the web (which implies it’s done manually), rather than through a free automatic updater like Twitterfeed.The party twitterer has 271 followers and 99 updates, with many links, but zero interaction with followers despite being run manually. Perhaps it’s one of those SF dronebots on the keyboard. Just kidding. The party also has a nifty Social Networks section for SF’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube etc. Other parties, like the DUP, also have presences on these social networks, but a page of links from the main website is a very useful starting point for users. Get to it other parties.

The DUP is also Twittered up. Simon Hamilton is now well established, and the party has its own online spokesman, DUPonline. In a nice touch, the latter isn’t just a wire service for press releases – there’s a real person who’s interacting with readers too, and providing handy links. The party website doesn’t appear to have any RSS feeds though, which is a big oversight, as it would mean their news releases would land right in my lap as soon as they’re released. Please fix.

Alliance also has a party Twitter account, (80 followers, 49 updates) but again it’s not automatically updated with press releases, despite the fact there’s a working RSS feed that is compatible with Twitterfeed. In 10 minutes the party could be automatically tweeting all its press releases, but the Twitter account doesn’t appear to have been active for 10 days, nor does it appear to have been interactive. A pity, as these (manual) tweets had useful information about party activities, surgeries etc.

The SDLPlive Twitter account (84 followers, 36 updates) is pretty boring, tweets are intermittant and practically useless, containing no links at all, leaving many posts contextless. Such-and-such an MLA will do something tomorrow, but no update or link to press release issued afterwards. (SDLPyouth fares better – 86 followers, 42 updates, links, interaction and, crucially, a bit of personality too!) The party website has no RSS feeds at all. Worst of all is this dreadful archive. Are users supposed to pick a number at random?! Even SDLP E News is only a monthly service, rather than sending out every release issued through the central press office. The top story in the most recent edition asks SDLP members who they would vote for… in the US presidential election. What?! On so many levels, this party has communication problems online.

The Greens (243 followers/113 updates) are an all-Ireland party, although their tweets are specifically for a southern audience. John Gormley started promisingly, but hasn’t posted in two weeks. GreenPartyNI has only posted 16 times despite being a long-established tweeter, first appearing last October. In spite of the lack of interest, there are 235 followers eagerly awaiting updates – indicating a wasted opportunity by the party. And no RSS feeds on the website. Zilcho. This is, like, so basic to do right, dudes.

The PUP’s Dawn Purvis has been plugging away on Twitter for 172 updates, and I think they’re all her own work, which must be a big part of the appeal to her 187 followers. Not many links, but like Daithi McKay and Simon Hamilton, the personal, original content makes Dawn a bit of an MLA pioneer on Twitter. How many people have posted “Having lunch with the President” in such an offhand, this-happens-to-me-every-day kinda way? The PUP website has an RSS feed capable of automatic updates on Twitterfeed, but you won’t need it, as the party hardly ever posts press releases there. Argh!

And finally, to the UUP. Its website has improved dramatically in recent times, and it has a nice big RSS button slap bang in the middle of its latest news page – a good job, because neither Explorer nor Opera detects the feed automatically (weird, but no biggie since you’d have to be blind not to see the button). UUPonline has 117 followers and 202 updates, mostly auto-updates of their press releases. Good as a wire service, but more personal interaction would be better. Don’t be scared!

Most of the party ‘twits’ could take a leaf from perhaps the best political tweeter in Northern Ireland, who is… (drumroll) NI Assembly, who hits a nice balance between useful information, personal observations and a fair bit of interaction with followers. This seems to be the secret – it’s good to have a fast, maybe even automatic, service, but it’s hard to beat real interaction. Tweeting is two-way, though I’m guilty of using mine as a feed for Slugger updates… For shame. I also set up NInews purely as a news feed and mainly for my own benefit, but 264 others find it worth following. It’s amazing the little nuggets of news that occasionally appear on it.

It should, of course, be noted that all the political websites have some form of email subscription. But that’s not what this blog entry is about – and now you’re going to tell me who and what I missed!