You know what? This post was originally going to break down the new Alberta is Energy website… I was going to go through the site and comment on all the sections, what this particular area had to offer, what this one says… But I took a look at all of my notes and stopped. I stopped because I was, on the whole, disappointed.
Instead, I have provided a screencast of the site which you can find at the bottom of this post.
It’s My Own Fault
But perhaps I have no one to blame but myself. Maybe I am not the audience Alberta is Energy is trying to reach… when I took all of 10.3 seconds to quickly see the site on the 6th, I saw three things:
- A flashy site with lots of smiling people
- A green “Energy” within the site logo
- Social media buttons (Facebook and Twitter etc.)
In my mind I had built up my vision of what this site would (or should) be. And, when I started digging around, I found I was wrong.
What It Is
AlbertaIsEnergy.ca is a brand new online resource (launched on April 6th, 2010) brought to us by a collection of energy industry partners and does not appear to be directly supported by the Alberta government.
It seems to be a place for people to come and see how amazing energy in Alberta is. To see how the economy in Alberta is reliant on energy, to see how many people make their living through energy and to see how many spinoff industries are supported by energy.
It is also set up to be a forum where we Albertans (and presumably others) can discuss how much we love our province and the impact that energy has on us.
I agree with all of the above.
What It Isn’t
It isn’t a response to our biggest critics. It doesn’t address responsible energy development. It doesn’t try to bring a balanced point of view on the oil sands, an industry that has been described as “the most destructive project on earth.” There’s an Action Centre, but I’m not sure what “action” I’m supposed to take… Based on the content of this site, am I supposed to take action against all those who think Alberta is *not* about energy? I don’t think there are many people out there who would argue.
(perhaps it shouldn’t be a response to our critics at all… there are other industry-driven attempts to put the record straight out there after all.)
It isn’t a platform for open dialogue. There is an attempt to embed social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and there is a forum for you to see “what other Albertans have to say about their province and their sector. This is the place to discuss our past and present, and shape our future.” But I’m not sure how effective these attempts will be.
A Public Sphere – Sign Up, But Be Careful What You Say
Let’s look at the forum first, an area that I have a few questions about. The first question, why do I have to create an account to post – why can I not use my Twitter or Facebook account to sign in? Social media sites have bent over backwards with publicly available APIs to allow easy posting across the web.
Make it easy and people will be more likely to post. Who wants to remember another username and password? Another benefit for this is that whenever I post to AlbertaIsEnergy.ca under @MyOilSands, I automatically tweet about the post and potentially drive my followers to the site. That’s a good thing. (The service MusicHy.pe has embraced this method – just see how easy it is to sign in to their site.)
Another question I have revolves around the 551 words within the Terms and Conditions of the forum. I can fully understand why the lawyers made an argument for such an agreement, and I can also understand that industry execs are scared to do anything without their lawyers, but it does nothing to encourage open dialogue. Something like this will scare off many digital enthusiasts to other communities that rely on self-regulation for control. If the goal is to have frank discussions… well, it’s not going to happen here.
There’s a lot of language in the T&C that are scary enough, take a read if you’d like, but one that jumps out at me is this: “…otherwise in violation of any International or United States Federal law.” What about Canadian law? Don’t we rate at least a mention? (there’s probably a reason – like the forum software/service is actually based out of the States etc. and the T&C are taken from their service. But that’s just a shot in the dark.)
There’s an attempt to embrace social media here, and I love it. I do.
I love the idea of industry engaging in two-way communications with the public. This is what we need. However, the site and its respective social media cousins are new and are missing content. I’m positive the folks behind the scenes will no doubt be making improvements to their Facebook and Twitter accounts (like adding a URL to their @AlbertaIsEnergy account). But, as mentioned before, they should completely integrate social media into the login/forum process for it to be effective.
There’s a YouTube account linked to the site, with one lonely video of a pumpjack. Alas, the expensive-looking “Alberta is Energy” video in the Video Centre is not on YouTube, so I can’t comment on or rate the video. I would love to be able to point out how many Fort Mac shots there were in the clip (Sawridge, OSDC, Shell on Franklin/Hardin etc.)… so I’m looking forward to accessing and interacting with more content in the future.
(Here’s nice little article from Fast Company regarding, “The Five P’s of Social Media–Where Do You Start?”, which gives a rundown on effectively using social media.)
It’s Not Easy Being (Orange &) Green
And what do I think of the colour scheme used on the site? Well, aside from thinking NDP, the use of green in the logo and throughout the site is an interesting choice. I love both colours, orange and green are great, and I can see why they chose them.
The sprinkles of green though… well, lot’s of organizations are jumping on using green in their advertising and public relations campaigns. Is it greenwashing? Not sure. Would I feel better if there was more information of responsible energy practices in Alberta? Yes. Perhaps they have such information (like water use and reclamation) waiting in the wings – the site has after all, only been active for less than a week.
So What Was I Expecting?
Let me make one thing clear: both industry and government have lost control of Alberta’s brand – particularly around the energy sector (read: tar sands). Opponents to the oil sands have done an effective job at getting their message across to the world. And their message? It’s simple and clear: oil sands = dirty oil.
As production and income levels from the oil sands continue to rise, so too does the reliance of Alberta’s economy on “unconventional oil”. A target on the oil sands is a target on Alberta.
This is the message we need to counter. And this is what I am still looking for.
Alberta Is Energy Screencast