Sri Lankan Mission website in Geneva: The flipside of getting to #1

The SL Mission website

The SL Mission website

The website of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office in Geneva is apparently ranked the most popular amongst all the foreign Permanent Missions accredited to the United Nations Office in Geneva (Switzerland), according to Alexa Web Search Platform, up from its number two position last week.

Earlier this week I got an email from a colleague who said that Alexa had ranked the Defence.lk site as the most visited news website in Sri Lanka. I haven’t checked any of these figures myself, but suffice to say I have been very surprised to note that under the Rajapakse regime, Sri Lanka’s web media and communications strategies have evolved far more than under the UNF during the CFA. There are a number of reasons for this. As I wrote in an very quickly penned email to a colleague yesterday (reg. the Defence.lk’s ranking):

One reason is that it is the only source of information on the war from the GOSL perspective. During the height of the UNF / CFA, the presence of many wire services and local news agencies on the ground resulted in a diffusion of traffic amongst a larger spectrum of sites. Today, this is the only one that articulates the GOSL’s position and is the counter to the LTTE’s propaganda.

The stats also hide the fact that everyone who visits Defence.lk will also visit at least one of the other sites noted, so collectively, the others still get as much or more traffic than Defence.lk.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that the site is good enough. It’s not great, but doesn’t need to be given the present context and because, if you analyse the traffic flow, I suspect most coming to it will be from the diaspora.

It’s also wake up call for all the local media organisations. None of the websites of the four main media organisations are worth, frankly, being up on the web. The main /old FMM site is a disaster. None of the media org’s have the internal capacity to learn and use, web media and communications strategies to counter the increasing sophistication of those opposed to media freedom.

But I digress.

The website of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office in Geneva is one I’ve followed closely for a while, partly because it is central to my work and mostly because I follow the writing of the Mission’s incumbent head, Amb. Dayan Jayatilleke, who I have known for some years and is both a commentator and contributor on Groundviews.

In early June, I wrote to his office with this image:

The Mission website in June 2008

The Mission website in June 2008 (Click for larger image)

In June 2008, a single page on the Mission’s website came to over 21Mb. For many accessing the site in Geneva or in the West, this may have gone unnoticed over high speed broadband connections. Many accessing the site in Sri Lanka would have put it down to their own slow broadband connections.

I just said that if the Mission wanted to communicate the Government’s propaganda, a single page weighing in at over 21Mb wasn’t the best way to go about doing it.

I was assured something would be done and let the matter rest. As I read most of Dayan’s pieces elsewhere on the web, I didn’t revisit the site until last week, when I was invited to take a look at it again.

It was – how to put this politely – a disaster. Firstly, there was the issue of size.

The Goliath of diplomatic sites. (Click for larger image)

The Goliath of diplomatic sites. (Click for larger image)

From 21Mb in June 2008, the size had for a single page increased to (drumroll…) a eye-popping, SLT broadband busting, incredible 48Mb. I repeat, this was for a single page.  Nearly 47Mb of that behemoth total was for images / photos.

And here’s the time it took to load on my machine (on a Mobitel HSPA 3G connection)

Time for nearly 4 packets of Maggie noodles while this loads...

Time for nearly 4 packets of Maggie noodles while this loads... (Click for larger image)

It took over 11 minutes just to load a single page. Perhaps Eranda Sooriyapperuma, the “webmaster” of the Mission’s site is inspired by (and as tedious to engage with as) Paulo Coelho’s tome.

Upon reading the news that the site was #1, I was curious to know whether these issues, which shouldn’t have been there in the first place, had been resolved and was pleased to note they had, at least for the moment. The site homepage is now a relatively anorexic 647Kb which loads (over a Mobitel HSPA 3G connection) in 26 seconds.

The site’s also gone back to an older look and feel, which features online translation of the site (through Google Translate). Clearly, no one at the Mission knows the perils of relying on machine translation for diplomatic content.

I’m not entirely clear that ousting Algeria from the top spot to become the most popular website is because the Sri Lankan Mission is doing a good job or because the shenanigans of the Rajapakse regime generates interest in and concern about rankings of a rather different sort.

Perhaps it is a mix of both.

Either way, I think the this particular website and indeed, the Defence.lk website, are clear examples of what is a very heavy emphasis on web communications strategies by the incumbent regime. That they are getting better at what they do is a clear wake-up call for civil society organisations to raise their own ante in the high-stakes battle for audience reach and retention on the web.

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