Two weeks before the end of the campaign period, six of the major Australian political parties Web sites are still missing opportunities to attract swinging voters to their cause, according to interface designing company Hiser Group.

This latest evaluation, conducted six months after a March and April evaluation, looked at the usefulness and usability of the political party Web sites for helping undecided voters gain information.

Hiser Group’s report showed that the political Web sites have still not demonstrated leadership in the delivery of usable information and services.

The sites evaluated include those of the Australian Democrats, Greens, Labor Party, Liberal Party, The Nationals and One Nation.

While the sites have shown some improvement since the last evaluation (the report noted that all of the political Web sites — except the One Nation site — have “moved in the right direction”), Hiser said that it’s a matter of whether the changes have been significant enough to make a difference.

The Australian Democrats Web site improved navigation significantly by changing the way users access content. The large graphics that Hiser previously found to look like advertisements have been replaced with links to election-related content.

The report found that “while the content may be useful, it is not optimised for on-screen reading and interestingly, uses American date format on the latest press release. The other key change is in terms of accessibility where, regrettably, much of the navigation is lost with images turned off”.

Hiser found the Australian Greens Web site to be the most improved of the six, having changed most radically. The content has been updated to reflect information about the 2004 campaign and a calendar of events is present, making it useful for people who are interested in following the Greens’ activities.

A straw poll on the home page also helps users have their say and gives the party a minor way to gather information about what a selected subset of the public might think. Green party candidates are highlighted directly on the front page, with links to their biographies and e-mail. The Greens’ policies are easy to find and understand and the accessibility is “vastly improved”, with alt tags used to support users who are not able to use the graphics to aid their comprehension.

The Labor Party Web site has been reorganised for the election with news and policies readily available on the home page. However, Hiser said it is not necessarily organised in a way that helps undecided voters learn about the party’s stance on particular issues, as the content is organised chronologically, rather than by topic.

“Overall, the site design is likely to overwhelm visitors trying to find information to help inform their voting decision”.

The Liberal Party home page has also been updated to provide more obvious access to election-related material. This means that the policy information that was previously somewhat hidden is very obvious — although users are likely to be confused given the many ways of getting to the same information.

As for the One Nation Web site, Hiser’s evaluation stated that in the home page of the umbrella site, the “must read” information is not visible unless the user scrolls way down the page. The individual state sites are all very different from each other and very “amateurish in their appearance”, thus radically impacting their credibility.

“Some have policy information, while others don’t even try. In fact, the NSW site — the most professional looking of them all — sends a very clear message when users click on the policy link or news or state executive: ‘This web page is still under construction. Please return later.'”

According to Hiser, “That pretty much says it all.”