Tweets, blog mark royal wedding's step into Internet era


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Forget the elaborate secrecy surrounding that long-ago, oh-so-formal royal wedding in 1981 of Lady Diana and The Prince of Wales, covered mostly by two types of media: tabloid newspapers and network television.

This week's launch of www.officialroyalwedding2011.org, the official website for the April 29 nuptials between Prince William and Kate -- er, Miss Catherine -- Middleton, shows that the royal family is trying hard to be hip, accessible and webby, but just how successful they have been isn't clear.

Just below famed Vanity Fair photographer Mario Testino's photo of the happy couple is a link to a Twitter feed from Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales that handles all public matters relating to the young couple. There's a virtual tour of Buckingham Palace, plus Flickr photos of the prince and his fiancee christening a rather large orange boat.

So far, the reviews have been tepid.

"It's a little like reading Hello! magazine on an iPad: the vessel is modern but the content is defiantly retro," noted The Guardian's Hadley Freeman, referring to the hagiographic British gossip magazine that breathlessly covers aging celebrities and their homes (Joan Collins, Elton John and British TV "presenters," i.e. television anchors).

"If your computer screen has been thirsting for blog updates on the official royal wedding china, it will thirst no more," Ms. Hadley wrote, noting that thousands "have already expressed a Facebook 'Like' for the opportunity to look at more photos of Kate and Wills standing next to various ships."

The Twitter page for Clarence House, she added, sounds a bit like its former resident, the Queen Mother, "speaking from beyond the grave: 'Signs of Spring are starting to show in Green Park. Happy St. David's Day!' a tweet trills. Truly, we are on the cutting edge here."

Actually, Joseph Coohill, a professor of British history at Duquesne University, begs to differ -- a little bit.

"I found the website to be a lot more like a younger version of the magazine 'Majesty,' which is much more tasteful than 'Hello!' if decidedly more boring," he said.

Which still may not be enough.

"I actually wish it were like reading "Hello!", but right now it's a little slim on splashy content," said Tori Mistick, who is handling social media for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden's "Royal Wedding Reception" fundraiser at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley on April 29.

More photos wouldn't hurt, she said, "and more insider information like what flavor their cake will be or what Kate will select as her 'something blue.' "

Not only that, the site is a real mouthful of a name as opposed to royalwedding.com, royalwedding.org or even theroyalwedding.org?

Those domain names were long ago snatched up by "squatters" -- enterprising Internet hackers hoping, no doubt, to make some money selling them back to the royal family. Its Internet consultants were apparently too slow to protect the brand, noted Jason Simmons, a designer and digital strategist who leads Pittsburgh-based Gradient Labs.

No surprise there, he added. The official website seems kind of dowdy -- kind of like the royal family itself -- and it was created by Accenture, a global corporate consulting firm not known for pushing the edge of the envelope.

"It's not bad, it's just bland," he said, noting that "the biggest problem is a total absence of storytelling. Where's the drama? If they're trying to engage people in the wedding and make them feel some sort of connection to the couple, I think they're failing."

"It's very 'stock,' " added Jay Fanelli, of Full Stop Interactive, a Pittsburgh-based Web company which created the site for Salt of the Earth, one of the city's hottest new restaurants.

"It's surprisingly template-like for a royal wedding website. Certainly not the level of Web design befitting a prince," he said. "It looks like something someone would've thrown together on extremely short notice and for a shoestring budget -- five years ago."

Nonetheless, the site, for all its daffodils and chirpy tweets, "is fine for what it needs to be -- tasteful in tone, yet friendly in approach," countered Mr. Coohill.

In fact, it's precisely the note British Royal Family needs to hit -- modern, yet not completely stripped of mystery, he said.

"It's their version of social media, tastefully just behind the times, yet opening the windows just enough to give people what they want."


Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. Watch her webcast Omnivore at www.post-gazette.com/omnivore . Twitter: @Kenzie54. Follow her coverage of the royal wedding in a blog beginning April 1. First Published March 4, 2011 5:00 AM


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