Comet Drives Election Excitement

by Andrew BettsMay 5th, 2008

As I write this, we’re waiting for the results of London’s Mayoral election. The position of Mayor of London has only been around since 2000, and this year a too-close-to-call contest between two of the most colourful politicians in the country has kept the race on the front pages of the papers for weeks. The incumbent and often controversial socialist mayor Ken Livingstone is up against an unpredictable and flamboyant conservative, Boris Johnson, who is better known for hilarious appearances on TV and for having uncontrollable hair than for serious politics. There are about a dozen other candidates, but I’d struggle to tell you who they are. This is the Ken and Boris show.

A couple of days before the polls opened, I helped set up a Comet server for TheLondonPaper, one of the city’s free newspapers, enabling them to provide real time coverage on polling day and during the count, which has now been going for a mammoth 14 hours. I’ve had it open for most of the last 48 hours and I’m absolutely hooked.

TheLondonPaper screenshot

The paper’s reporters are out with all the candidates, at City Hall and at all the counts sending in updates at a frightening rate. What have I learned? Well, Ken started the day with an orange juice, and voted at 08:59. Boris emerged from his house to vote at 10:37. At 11:25, we discover where Boris had his hair cut in preparation for the big day. By 13:10, the hair is back to its usual wild state and the pictures are beaming across the web in real time. Moments later we have coverage of a rain shower that has forced both candidates to take shelter, and Boris gets mobbed by a group of sixty-year-olds. Some serious analysis follows… Ken is modeling the very latest in flasher mac couture and charity shop-style muffler - grand total about £120 ($240). Boris strides out in text book Conservative Paul Smith navy blue suit and Thomas Pink shirt - grand total about £1,200 ($2,400). The fashion editor has the vital statistics at her fingertips.

In fact I’m doing the paper a disservice. The live feed had no match when it came to keeping Londoners informed throughout polling and count day - results literally seconds after they were announced, quotes and sound bytes from senior members of both parties, polls and interim results as they came in. And all the ‘flashes’ about rain showers and wardrobe malfunctions are just adding to the sense that we’re right there in the midst of the action. It’s utterly addictive in a way that TV just can’t replicate, and I can have this running on my computer all day.

This is surely one of the very best uses of Comet technology. Tracking live news events that change by the second is a real challenge for the web, and Comet technologies make the difference between a lacklustre service and one that people simply can’t turn off. I hope we see more of this kind of thing in the future. For the moment, the count is finally over and the announcement has just been made - Boris has won it.

TLP screenshot 2

With characteristic flair Boris signed off his acceptance speech:

I hope that everybody who loves this city will put aside party differences to try in the making of Greater London greater still. Let’s get cracking tomorrow, and let’s have a drink tonight. Thank you.

I know a web developer at TheLondonPaper who could probably do with one as well.

One Response to “Comet Drives Election Excitement”

  1. Dave Nattriss Says:

    I (the web developer) ended up just going to bed!


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