Saturday, February 16, 2013

Media convergence and communication features in websites of political parties in India

This is the synopsis of my doctoral thesis. I will be uploading my full thesis on my website very soon.

Media convergence and communication features
in websites of political parties in India

Synopsis of the proposed thesis
Submitted for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Arts
Department of Communication and Journalism
University of Mumbai


Mangesh Manohar Karandikar

Under the Supervision of
Dr. Kiran Thakur
Department of Communication and Journalism
University of Mumbai


Title: Media convergence and communication features in websites of political parties in India

Chapter 1: Introduction
Communication technology is evolving at a very fast pace since the last two decades. This researcher has been a witness with a very close view of the rapid changes that have taken place in these two decades. He has also been a part of this change, dabbling with the latest graphic designing software, web designing software, Flash animation, client–server programming, digital video production for offline as well as online content delivery. His position, thus affords him the knowledge and the expertise needed to test all features of websites and their content. Knowledge of programming has helped the researcher technically analyse the websites, and the graphic designing background has laid the groundwork for learning and analyzing the design aspects of the websites that he has studied for this research.

1.1:  Many Voices, One World
‘Many Voices, One World’ or the ‘MacBride Report’ as it is popularly called was a result of a world-wide research conducted by UNESCO to address the disparity of communication between the ‘first world’ and the ‘third world’ countries or the developed and under-developed or developing nations. The imbalances in communication tended to marginalize the developing world, which included India. However, since mid-1980s India’s economic policy opened up the markets and one of the results of which was the rapid development of communication infrastructure in the country.

1.2: India’s Economic Policy and the Communication Revolution
A Balance of Payments crisis  in 1991 that brought India to the brink of bankruptcy ushered in the age or economic reforms. One of the biggest beneficiaries of these reforms was the Telecommunications and the Information Technology sector. The telecommunications infrastructure, which was wholly owned by the government, was opened to the private sector producing exemplary results. The regulatory constraints were eased in 2004 and rapid developments in the communication technologies around the world, especially in the field of Internet began to flow into the country. As a result, today India can boast of having the third largest telecommunications network in the world (OECD, 2007 ).

1.3: The Internet, history and recent developments
The Internet can be termed as an international network of computers. The development of Internet started in early 1960’s with research in packet switching, which enabled transmission of data in groups or chunks called packets. In late 1960’s and early 1970’s ARPANET was developed which allowed protocols, or formats to transmit digital data for internetworking. In 1995, the Internet was commercialized, removing any restrictions on the Internet to transmit commercial data. From 1990’s the growth of the Internet has been rapid, spreading its tentacles to almost every corner of the globe (Serf, 1990).

Since the commercialization of the Internet in 1995, several phenomena have led to its rapid rise in the popularity and proliferation, at the same time made it a medium of choice for communication. The increasing popularity of the Internet could be attributed to several factors; the anonymity that the Internet provides allows the user to communicate without the fear of being left isolated (Griffin, 2011), the speed at which one can communicate with anyone, breaking geographical boundaries and barriers, almost making the world a ‘global village’ (McLuhan, 1962). The social networking sites have helped in blossoming of online communities comprising of people having similar thoughts and ideas, leading to a process of re-tribalization (McLuhan, 1962) in the virtual world. The Internet has become a truly convergent medium and is used extensively today for personal as well as professional use, be it for ordering groceries or for making banking transactions online.

1.4: Internet and Political Communication
The Internet has transformed the way we communicate around the world. In this technology- created global village, Internet has given rise to phenomena like the e-mail, blogs, websites and online social media, leading to the redefining Habermas’s public sphere into mini public spheres (Dahlgren, 2001) (Sassi, 2001). It is also argued that the Internet has led to the formation of a new brand of civil society, with access to divergent channels of information, with the possibility of every issue debated on social media platforms. (Coleman, 2001), Wring and Horrocks (2001). Apart from bringing like-minded groups together in the virtual world, new media could also promote polarization (Aday, Farell, Lynch, Sides, Kelly, & Zuckerman, 2010). Though some political parties use their websites only for dissemination of information, others use the websites for interaction and encouraging participation (Römmele, 2003 ) and that political parties’ websites could play a distinct role in political communication with the public (Norris, 2003 ). Kulokova and Perlmutter (2007) in their study of an unofficial blog,, an advocacy blog that was linked to the recent ‘Tulip Revolution’ suggest that unofficial blogs could be effectively used for political communication. In a study which studied the interactive features of political websites, it was found that there was a direct relation between the level of interactivity in a website and the perception of the political party and the policy positions taken by the party (Sundar, Kalyanaraman, & Brown, 2003 ). Hibberd (2003) argues that though political websites provide a platform for public discussion of political affairs, their role in actual political communication has to be examined. He, however, asserts that there is potential for democratic participation on the Internet provided that the political parties use it optimally.

1.5: Why this study?
Once a website is ‘online’, it can be accessed by anyone in the world. An organization which creates a website actually creates an interface, a facility for anyone in the world to communicate and interact with itself. Having a website, hence, becomes vital for any organization in today’s communication scenario, especially for a political organizations which have to be in constant touch with their stakeholders; the public - who are their potential voters, the party workers and officials – who help in communication with the public and in the day to day functioning of the party, the government and the donors and supporters. Most political parties in India have created and hosted their websites. This study analyzes the features present in the websites of political parties in India to analyze them for convergence and communication features.

Chapter 2: Literature Review
There is a huge body of work done by researchers around the world, but more so from the US, UK and other European countries. However, this researcher has come across very few studies on websites of political parties in India and this thesis is probably the first of its kind to address this subject.

2.1: Types of political parties
Norris (2003 ) studied websites of political parties from around the world. During this study Norris categorized political parties into major, minor and fringe parties according to the number of seats they held in the respective countries’ parliaments. Based on this study, this researcher uses the terms major, minor and fringe parties ….. Major parties are those that hold more than 20 percent seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower house of Indian parliament). Minor parties hold between 3 and 20 per cent seats in the Lok Sabha. Those parties with seats below three per cent are categorized as fringe parties. The equalization and normalization theory is essentially based on this categorization due to which they acquire significance.

2.2: Equalization and Normalization
Theoretically the Internet provides an equal platform to political parties for extensive online campaigning and communication, enabling the smaller parties to communicate with their constituents directly, equalizing the opportunities negating the cost factor. At the same time major political parties, with more resources host more sophisticated websites and also attract more attention, thus normalizing the effect of the Internet. There are several arguments to support the equalization theory (Lappas, Kleftodimos, & Yannas, 2011), (Welp & Wheatley, 2009 ), (Ackland & Gibson, 2006). (Lim & Park, 2011 ). At the same time there are several arguments that contest it (Small, 2008), (Soon, 2010), (Smith & Chen, 2010), (Gibson & McAllister, 2011).Mirandilla’s (2010), (Lim & Park, How do congressional members appear on the web? Tracking the web visibility of South Korean politicians, 2011 ), (Margolis & Moreni-Riaño, 2009).

However, it is evident that the equalized field is normalized in real life and the major political parties are able to host more sophisticated websites than minor parties. The degree of sophistication could be judged on the basis of the number of features present in a website. This study focussed on the features available on the websites of political parties analyze them on the basis of their category to find if the normalization theory holds true in India.

2.3: Design is the Message
In his doctoral thesis on a study of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Jamie Dow (2008) claims that for an expert rhetorician, arousing emotions of others is a necessary skill to be able to communicate and convince. According to Norman, there are three levels of design: visceral, behavior, and reflective (Norman, 2005 ). At the visceral level, physical features—look, feel, and sound—dominate.

The importance of aesthetics is demonstrated in Indian theory of Rasa in several compositions especially in the Natyashastra. Aesthetics is an important part of shringar and the audiences’ perception depends a lot on the presentation. Consider the following poem by an unknown poet:
कर्णारुतुदमन्तरेण रणितं गाहस्व काक स्वयम्
माकन्दं मकरन्दशालिनमिह त्वां मन्महे कोकिलम् ।
धन्यानि स्थलवैभवेन कतिचिद्वस्तुनि कस्तूरिकाम्
नेपालक्षितिपालभालपतिते पङ्के न शङ्केत क: ॥
[Kuvalananda, N.S. edition page 134]

The poet gives an example of parading a lesser thing as a greater thing. The poet, with his tongue in cheek advises a crow to sit on a mango tree and not crow, which will make people mistake him for a cuckoo, because of the similarity in colour and form.

A visitor would probably stay on a website longer if a better visual first impression is achieved by the web designer. This ‘first impression’ is described in what is termed as the ‘Halo Effect’ first coined by Thorndike in 1920 (Josephson, Barnes, & Lipton, 2010). Several researchers have studied this concept and their results prove that the ‘Halo Effect’ does exist (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977 ), (Clifford & Walster, 1973), (Beckwith & Donald, 1975), (Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010), (Cyra, Head, & Ivanov, 2006).

2.4: 50 milliseconds to make an impression?
At the start of the millennium, in the year 2000, the Google Index had one billion websites registered. By the year 2008, it had reached the one trillion mark (The Official Google Blog). A simple search for any subject shows up thousands of links on a search engine . Hence, to make an impression on a casual visitor, web designers could have less than 50 milliseconds (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). The ‘better looking’ website is perceived to be ‘more usable’ (Tractinsky, Katz, & Ikar, 2004). Rather than textual content, aesthetic factors and visual appeal initially decide whether a visitor remains on the website for a longer period (Hartmann, Sutcliffe, & de Angeli, 2007). For this study, the researcher conducted two experiments to test the websites of political parties in India for their aesthetic quality.

2.5: Colour and Layout of the website
Generally, warm colours (yellow orange spectrum) are said to be responsible for ‘advancing’ (spatial depth) and ‘arousing’ (mood) effects whereas cool colours (blue green spectrum) are said to have a soothing effect (Goethe). Colour is important to design and helps a designer in enhancing the aesthetic appeal, accessibility and usability of design. The ability of colour to evoke emotional response is well researched and documented (Elliot, Maier, Moller, Friedman, & Meinhardt, 2007), (Kaya & Epps, 2004). The colours of a website have the power to appeal to the senses and could determine the users’ perception about trust and satisfaction. This puts a lot of emphasis on effective use of colour for interface and website designers (Cyr, Head, & Larios, 2010). When cool colour combinations (blue-light blue) are used in website design, they evoke significantly more positive response than warm colour combinations (red-orange) and have direct effects on the users perceptions about creativity and cleanliness of a web design (Coursaris, Sarah, & Watrall, 2009). Another study found that greater readability was achieved by using a greater contrast ration of colours and that cooler (blues and chromatic colours) lead to higher aesthetic ratings which in turn also affected the decision of the user to purchase goods on that particular website (Hall & Hanna, 2004). There are however cultural variations in the perception of colour. For this research, two websites were tested to find which colour combinations are more favoured by a sample Indian population.

2.6: The F Pattern
A study conducted by Jacob Neilsen (2006) using eyetracking heatmaps reveals an understanding of how users ‘read’ a website. The study shows that users often read web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F's top bar. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F's lower bar. Finally, users scan the content's left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F's stem.

2.7: Design for New Media
Today, about 100 million Indians actively use the Internet, which is only about 8.5% of the country's population.  Moreover, we have a growing number of users who access the Internet through their mobile phones - about 40 million (India Internet Usage).

Internet and the mobile telephone are now challenging and rivaling the traditional media in reach and content delivery. More and more content is being disseminated and accessed on the Internet and the mobile phones. Both these delivery systems have forced the traditional media to jump on to the Internet and mobile bandwagon, delivering their content over these platforms along with the traditional delivery channels. Moreover, most of the content on the Internet is free and easily accessible by anyone with a normal, low cost Internet connection.

This new media have sparked off several technology-fed phenomena, the most important being Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The availability of these online social media sites has enabled the marginalized societies to create their own media, challenging the authority at the centre (Innis, 1964). Social media networks have partly enabled uprisings and revolutions in countries like Tunisia and Egypt by giving the people a tool to create their own media, to enable people to give vent to their feelings and form virtual communities. People are no longer dependent on the traditional media and handouts from the administration for information.

No government and political party can now ignore the power of these online social media. This study looked at how and whether Indian political parties use the medium of mobile phones and social media platform for information dissemination, peoples' participation and how they conduct a dialogue with their present and prospective supporters and voters.

2.8: Language of the Internet
Language -  “A body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition”.

For every verbal or non-verbal communication to be successful there has to be a common language which can be understood by both, the originator and the receptor of the message, because the message, by default, is polysemic in nature, it is extremely important that the message communicates exactly what the originator intended to (Orlik, 2000). Language is the medium for all communication through which people express themselves whether orally or by printed or written text (Paolillo, Pimienta, & Prado, 2005 ). The Minerva Group has proposed ten quality principals for cultural websites in Europe, one of which states that a quality website must provide access in more than one language so that the content can be understood by more users (Minerva Working Group 5, 2005).

Though the quality of education can be assessed by using several parameters, the most important parameter is the language of teaching and communication. Although India has a multi-linguistic culture, its education sector is dominated by English, a foreign language not understood by a large chunk of the population (Benson, 2004 ). The use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in India and the world over has been limited by the language of the interface that the ICT devices provide. There is a strong co-relation between the use of ICT and developing content in local language (McCallum & Papandrea, 2009), (Wahid, Furuholt, & Kristiansen, 2006), (DarlingWolf, 2004 ). There is evidence that suggests that Internet penetration increases when the content on the websites is available in the language which is more widely used in a particular region (Beal, Ho, Kluver, Kenneth, & Yang, 2003).To enable a wider use of ICTs, the users should be ‘functionally literate’ . This necessitates the adaptation of ICT interfaces to help people access to knowledge in a language and script that they can understand. This is apart from the fact that they also have to be ‘digitally literate’  (Pimienta, 2005).

Though the Internet as a medium provides content of visual nature, majority of the content is still textual. Hence, to understand the content on Internet, basic literacy levels are a necessity. Today the most prominent language on the Internet is English, followed by Chinese. Despite being the second most populated country in the world (Census of India Provisional Population Totals Census 2011) not a single Indian language figures in the top ten languages used on the Internet.

The dominance of English on the Internet is due to several factors. First, the early users were North Americans and second, the early designs of the computers were based on American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). Finally, the dominance of English has also been due to the need to communicate in a common language in the age of globalization (The Economist, 1996 ).  India has 22 scheduled languages and several hundred dialects (Census of India 2001a). Indian Internet users are no more restricted to the urban areas. The rural Internet usage has seen phenomenal growth in the last few years.

The use of Internet in rural India has jumped from 12.1 million users in December 2010 to 24 million in December 2012, a rise of more than 50%.  The rise in the rural Internet usage is significant because there has been a rise in the literacy levels in India especially in rural India.  In fact the improvement in literacy rate in rural area is two times that in urban areas (Chandramouli, 2011).

These statistics have to be considered in several contexts. First, the efforts taken to impart education regional languages in rural India with several initiatives by NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) scheme of the Government of India, GyanDarshan , Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan , etc. along with the private sector in developing content in multimedia format (Ward M. , 2007). Second, fact that the growth of rural literacy and improved technology in India led to a boom of Indian-language newspapers which transformed readers into consumers at the same time as it met their increased desire for information and political participation (Jeffery, 2004). The third fact is the rapid proliferation of the Internet in India, especially in the rural areas. In the latest data available, the total number of active Internet users in rural area was projected to rise by 98% to touch 24 million by December 2011 from 12.1 million in December 2010 (Internet and Mobile Association of India). Lastly, the rate of mobile telephone penetration of India is an important factor. J. Satyanarayana, Secretary –IT, Ministry of Communications and IT says, “Mobile penetration in India is over 800 million but penetration of Internet is only 15%. On the other side (sic) literacy rate in English is less than 20% whereas literacy rate in Indian languages is around 50%. Hence, the next big thing is the evolution of Mobile Internet in local languages.” (Internet and Mobile Association of India). Thus, language is an important aspect to be considered while developing content for websites in India. It could be a mistake to ignore the rapid growth of Internet users in India, who would want to read content in their mother tongue. Since communication with their publics, mainly their potential voters, is of utmost importance for any political party, it will be useful for the party to create contents in regional language to educate the electorate about its policies, programmes, and achievements. An important part of the present research is to find if websites of Indian political parties use the language of the region or are content with text only in English.

2.9: Features of websites
Apart from the design features of websites, several scholars have studied the features of political party websites. In a study on websites of Italian parties during the 2006 elections, Vaccari (2008 ) tested the following parameters: Information Dissemination, Interactivity, Responsiveness, Presentation, Freshness and Visibility. Eva Johanna Schweitzer (2005) studied the German Party Websites during the 2002 National Elections testing Accessibility, Navigation, Updating and Quality of design. Norris (2003 ) tested 134 political party websites from around the world for 34 informative and participatory features. She found that most of the parties’ websites had a more informative rather than participatory approach. However, there were a substantial number of parties who did have participatory features. In another study, websites of political parties were studied for their presentation, freshness, responsiveness and visibility (Small, 2008). In another study, interactivity, friendliness updatedness and accessibility features of political websites were analyzed (Semetko & Krasnoboka, 2003 ). Ferber et al. (2003) evaluated websites of 50 state legislatures on five criteria: usability, interactivity, transparency and audience. For the present study the researcher classified the features into design, formal, functional and technical features. One aspect that has not been looked into in the studies around the world is the language of the websites. This research gave  special emphasis to the availability of regional language used in the websites.

Chapter 3: Research Methodology
To examine these issues the researcher used multi-method research design combining content analysis (features) of the party websites with survey evidence from users in experiments conducted by the researcher. The approach that the researcher used is a combination of qualitative and quantitive methods, exploratory and experimental methods to study the websites.

3.1 Research questions
R1. What is the aesthetic quality of websites of political parties in India?
R2. Does the Internet enable smaller parties to compete equally on the Internet?
R3. Do the political parties in India enable public participation and dialogue through their websites?
R4. How effectively do the political parties in India use the online social media platform?

3.2 Utility of research
This research will generate a guideline for political parties in India to optimize their web presence and use Information and Communication Technology while performing the crucial function of connecting the public and the government.

3.3 Aims and Objectives

3.3.1: Aim:
To study web-enability and access features of websites of political parties in India in the context of the concept of democratization of communication.

3.3.2 Objectives:
To study the level of convergence features in the content of the websites of political parties in India.
To find if the political parties in India use the convergent features of the Internet and the mobile medium to enable two-way communication with the public.
To study if the political parties encourage public participation in the democratic process of the country.

3.4: Hypotheses
H1. Websites of political parties in India are not of very high aesthetic value.
H2. The Internet provides an equal opportunity to all political parties to compete online.
H3. Political parties in India do not use their websites to enable public participation in the democratic process.
H4. Websites of political parties in India are more informative than participative in nature.

3.5: Sampling
There are over 1300 political parties registered with the Election Commission of India which include National as well as State level / regional parties. Of these, 37 parties have a presence in the Lok Sabha. Out of these parties, 29 have active websites. The researcher has studied the active websites of political parties represented in the present LokSabha.

3.6: Research Methods
To test the aesthetic quality of the websites, to minimize bias, the researcher conducted two experiments in a computer lab of the IT Department of the University of Mumbai. For both the experiments students of the Department of Communication and Journalism were given a software developed by the researcher using Flash. All participants had volunteered and no monetary compensation was offered to them. They were awarded one academic credit for participating in the experiments. The computers used were of similar configuration with screens of same size. The software showed a screen shot of the political party website for exactly one second, followed by a white screen for one second. The white screen was introduced to diminish the Halo Effect after each screen. This screen was followed by another screen with question which asked the students to note on a printed sheet the aesthetic perception of the website they had seen. The software paused at this screen and proceeded only when the participant clicked on a ‘NEXT’ button on the screen. The screenshots of the websites of political parties were mixed with screenshots of State Government websites and Newspaper websites. The students were not told the purpose behind the study till both the experiments were conducted.

The second experiment was conducted to find if language affects the usability of websites. For this experiment, another set of students were given two websites, one with content in English language and another with content in Marathi language, with similar content in the respective languages. Care was taken to ensure that aesthetically the websites were similar. The students who participated were primarily Marathi students who preferred to appear for their written examinations in Marathi. For each website, the students were given instructions/tasks to carry out. The tasks consisted of clicking on 10 links on each website. The words/links that were chosen were not commonly used words and had to be found on the page to be clicked. When the participant clicked on the last link of the English website, an alert box popped up showing them the time they spent for clicking all the links in seconds. The time was noted by the students in the printed sheet provided to them. On clicking the ‘OK’ button on the popped up window, the page navigated to the Marathi site. Similar tasks were given on the Marathi site and the time taken to complete the tasks was noted. A printed sheet had three more questions asking their preference of language of the websites. The program was written by the researcher in JavaScript.

For all the above experiments, care was taken to ensure that all the participants had computers with a similar configuration.

To study if the websites fit into the F pattern, the researcher captured a screenshot of the home page of every website and overlayed an F shape on top of it, just below the masthead of the website.

Further the websites were studied for their content. This study was only limited to checking the availability of necessary features. Further analysis of the content in terms of language and political communication was avoided. To study the content of the websites the features were broadly classified into the following categories:

3.6.1: Functional Features
The primary function of websites of political parties is to communicate with the public and the party workers. The functional features were further categorized into Participatory, Information, Mobilization and Integration/Networking features. The parameters tested were as follows:
a. Participatory features: The researcher analysed the websites on their participation features like availability of Postal Address, Email, Phone no, Feedback form, Online petitions/protest/complaints/suggestions form, Online opinion polls, Chat room, Guestbook/Forums
b. Information Features: General information about the political system, general information about the elections, party history, information about party organization, party members, party programme – Manifesto, Official documents, Current party news, Newsletter, Press releases, Photo archive, Videos, SMS service, Search Engines
c. Mobilization features: Local candidates, Online fundraising, Online party membership, Online volunteering, Online subscription to party publications, Download of promotional material (e.g. logos, screen savers)
d. Integration/networking features: Intranet/login for members, Links to satellite home pages/partisan websites, Links to politicians’ personal home pages, Commercial links, Links to NGOs, Links to media organizations, Other links (education, jobs, etc.)

3.6.2: Formal features: These included features that any website would ideally have. Additionally, these included technical features like loading time, meta tags, etc. Formal features were further categorized into
e. Accessibility features: Accessibility tested as per W3C Norms.
f. Navigation features: Site map/index, Search engine, broken links, etc.
g. Technical: Loading time on average (56k modem), Website ranking, Font problem, Web server, Meta Tags, Broken links, Website clutter

3.6.3: New Media (Web 2.0) features: The websites of political parties were studied for links for their Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Blogs. The researcher studied Facebook and Twitter accounts of only those parties, which had officially linked these to their websites. Further, every website was visited using a 3G connection on the researcher’s mobile phone and tested to see if a mobile compliant version was available.

3.7: Data Processing
To analyse the data gathered, indices was calculated for each category to compare the different website components in a clear and uniform way. The number of website features found in one category (e.g. information, mobilization, or navigation) were divided by the total number of website elements available in that class, thus resulting in an index quotient for each category between 0 (all elements absent) and 1 (all elements present). All data was analyzed using Microsoft Excel and SPSS software.

3.8: Limitations
This research was limited to a study of the availability of features – design, formal, functional and technical as well as new media. Further, only the websites of parties that were represented in Lok Sabha were studied.

3.9: Further Scope for Research
There is tremendous scope for further research in this subject. A more detailed content analysis of the websites could give a better understanding of how the political parties in India design their websites and how they use them for participation by the public as well as by their own party members. A detailed study while the actual making of a website, if possible, could give valuable insights as to how political parties perceive the medium of Internet. Most political parties update their websites and tend to communicate more during elections. A major research could be carried out during the next Lok Sabha elections. However, this would require a large amount of funding and resources including manpower at disposal.

Chapter 5: Discussion
Analysis of the data to test the aesthetic quality of the websites indicates most of the websites of political parties were of average aesthetic design. Very few were found to be ‘very attractive’ or ‘very unattractive’. Most of the websites follow the F pattern of design, though there are some exceptions. The analysis of the Functional, Formal and Technical features reveals that most of the websites have many features lacking. The websites are more informative than participatory in nature. An analysis of the ranking of the websites shows that many websites do not even appear in International ranking, let alone Indian ranking. The number of visitors on the major parties is far more than those of minor or fringe parties, giving credence to the normalization theory rather than the equalization theory. However, in terms of design, the equalization theory does hold true, that the minor and the fringe parties do compete equally in terms of design and aesthetic quality of the websites. Most websites do not conform to W3C accessibility standards (World Wide Consortium). Very few political parties in India have Facebook or Twitter pages. A study of the Facebook and Twitter accounts reveals that though the parties post information on events on these pages, they do not respond to posts and queries made by visitors. There appears to be no two-way interaction between the political parties and the public on the social media pages. Only one political party – Communist party of India had a mobile compliant website.

Chapter 6: Conclusion
In a world that communicates increasingly through the Internet and mobile phones, the websites of political parties in India are lacking in their participatory features, thus impeding the process of a two-way dialogue with the publics. The fickle and anonymous nature of the Internet communication would further distance the Internet natives, who have been using the Internet almost since they could read and write. This phenomenon could adversely affect public participation by creating an impediment in the democratic process.  Though studies on political participation through the Internet and websites have been inconclusive, there is evidence to show that though not directly affecting the power equations, online social media have acted as a catalyst to political change. With growing number of Internet and mobile users in India, political parties, which systematically tap these sources of communication, stand to gain leverage during the future elections, at the same time bringing in a larger participation of the public in the political process of the vibrant democracy of India. 

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Friday, February 15, 2013

A New Beginning

On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2013, The University of Mumbai declared that I am now a Doctor in Philosophy, a Ph.D. in Communication and Journalism.  

So what now? I know many in our profession treat this as the end. For me, who has come back to academics after spending 20 years in the industry and in business, this is just the beginning. Working on a Ph.D. thesis is not a task, its a pleasure. It is also an eye opener. I thought I knew web designing well, until I was humbled by the tremendous amount of work research scholars have done around the world. The quest for Ph.D. degree has opened up so many paths to choose from, so many subjects to study, that I will not be able to travel even a few of them. Though I did get frustrated several times during the study, I am certainly not tired, rather, I feel invigorated.

A lot of credit goes to Dr. Sanjay Ranade for introducing research in the department, pursuing it, and then making us all do it. You have to see the way his eyes light up behind those thick glasses when he discusses research! Thanks again, Sanjay. I would never have imaged that I would ever be a 'Doctor'. 

My guide, Dr. Kiran Thakur has not just guided me, but shepherded me through the frustrating period of complete ignorance to a glimmer of light here and there. His method of gentle pinpricks worked well to egg me on and complete my research quite well in time. I am sure he must have despaired several times during those three years, especially when I would go into a periods of doing nothing, and then suddenly sending him enough material to give him sleepless nights. He must have thought that I had lost it, when I suddenly decided to sing in an orchestra and did not work on my research for almost 3 months. But he understood the compulsions under which I was working, the work load I have in the department and I don't remember him ever reprimanded me.

My friends and colleagues in the Department, were always there all the time. Dr. Meenakshi Upadhyay, who also got her doctorate on the same day, always lent a patient ear when I discussed my subject. She went through equally frustrating periods doing her own research. Dr. Sunder Rajdeep kept reminding me of how to be patient, considering the time it took for his RRC to be held, Prof. Daivata Patil, who gave suggestions in data analysis.

My father, Shri. Manohar V. Karandikar, supported me in his own way, silently watching and subtly suggesting that I eat on time. The wall of support was always there. My son, Tejas, did all that a growing up teenager should do…. bunked classes, did not submit his journals in time, made me go to meet his professors… probably all normal things for youngsters today. But I realized that I have a grown-up son when he helped me put together the website snapshots for my observations chapter in the thesis, working patiently and diligently, without me ever having to remind him. He simply understood the seriousness and the importance of my work. 

My wife, Manjusha was my biggest support system. All frustrations, irritations, had the tendency of dissolving almost immediately, with just a smile from her. I spent the last summer vacation, holed up in my room day and night, with no time table, writing my thesis, and with only research on my mind. I discussed my research with her, without ever bothering to know if she was interested. The tensions and the frustrations remained, till I finally got my letter last week. She took it all, giving unflinching, unconditional, and loving support. I know how lucky I am to have her as my best friend, and wife.

Several people helped immensely. Dr. Srivaramanghai and her colleagues from the IT Department, Dr. Ujjwala Barve from University of Pune, Dr. Sudhir Gavhane from Aurangabad helped me in conducting the crucial experiments in my research. I have chewed Mr. Ajit Sawant's brains for gaining insights into the political system, have spoken to Dr. Vinay Sahasrabudhe for his views on new media. Shri. Rahul Gadekar helped in analysing my data using SPSS. A simple note from Dr. Lance Bennett help me in formalizing my research topic in the first place.

My students willingly helped my in my experiments, patiently working on the software I had made, giving suggestions, testing it. All this would not have been possible without the support from all my students, past and present. Dear students, I am, because you are.