For the ninth year in a row, LabourStart is once again organizing the Labour Website of the Year competition.
The history of that competition reads like a history of trade union use of the Internet.
Back in 1997, the competition involved around seven websites. All of them were based in the USA or the UK except for the winner, the Brussels-based International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions. I think enough time has now passed to admit that very, very few people actually voted in that year’s competition. But a tradition was born.
Two years later, the IWW’s own site won — and this time it was competing against 41 other websites. There were a lot more unions with sites, but it was still possible for a relatively small union to win the competition. (The IWW followed up on its 1999 victory by making the list of runners-up in 2004 as well.)
By 2001, everything had changed. Now the winner was the health and safety website, Hazards, whose candidacy was backed by Britain’s powerful Trades Union Congress (TUC). Over 3,000 votes were cast. Some 200 websites were now in the competition. With 755 votes, Hazards won easily — and that record has not been beaten since.
In last year’s competition, new records were set for the number of voters (8,343) and the number of sites in the running (525).
Trade union use of the net has vastly expanded in these last 8 years. There are now many more websites and many more users. And the websites are far better than the ones which competed back in 1997. (Even the IWW’s site has hugely improved over the years.)
On 15 December 2005 we announced the launch of this year’s month-long ballot, which closes on 15 January. To vote, go here: http://www.labourstart.org/lwsoty/
This year’s competition will be different from previous years in a few ways.
First, when voting for a website, you’ll see the website displayed on your screen. That way, if you’re typing in a web address and you’ve made a mistake, you’ll immediately catch it. (Try typing in iwww.org or iw.org instead of iww.org and you’ll see what I mean.)
Second, for the first time ever, we’re requiring voters to confirm their votes by email. This is to prevent the persistent attempts by some overenthusiastic webmasters in previous years. (In one case, a union webmaster keyed in the email addresses of hundreds of union staffers, in alphabetical order, in a blatant attempt to stuff the ballot box.)
Third, we’ve gotten rid of the idea of nominated sites. LabourStart itself doesn’t nominate sites, and participants can vote for any site they want — and always could, anyway.
Running a competition like this is a lot of work, and you might be asking yourself — why do it? What’s the point?
There are two points, really.
The Labour Website of the Year does recognize excellence in trade union use of the new communications technology. That’s important for a lot of reasons. The website which wins, and the nine runners-up, get a lot more traffic in mid-January than they normally would. Often unions which make the top 10 issue press releases. All this is good if you want to see unions moving forward, embracing new tools.
There’s another reason too. Voters are given the chance to sign up to LabourStart’s mailing list. Many of them do. In the last year, that mailing list has grown from around 20,000 names to over 31,000 names. The Labour Website of the Year competition contributes a chunk of that growth, as do the various campaigns we run.
The bigger the mailing list, the bigger the online campaigns. If we can bring a few thousand more people onto the mailing list each year because they want to vote in this competition, it means that our campaigns in support of workers on the picket line will be that much more effective.
Having largely eliminated the element of fraud in this year’s voting for the very first time, we will get a real sense of which websites have generated the kind of enthusiasm among members that might get them included in the top ten.
Are these the best union websites, or just the most popular? It’s an interesting question, and I’m not completely sure that the two are opposites.
In any event, we will all know on 16 January 2006 the results of the voting. Good luck to all of you.