Govt Ministry takes direct aim at Eventfinder
[Updated 12:37, 28/08/06]
28 August 2006
Government Ministry takes aim at Eventfinder.co.nz
A new website by the Ministry for Heritage and Culture appears to have changed direction in order to compete directly with Eventfinder (www.eventfinder.co.nz), a private sector company focussed on promoting New Zealand events online.
The Ministry's "cultural portal" will include research on New Zealand culture and is the recipient of $3.6 million of government funding, according to a December 2005 media release. The new website was due to be launched in July 2006, although it is now expected to be officially launched on September 11th.
"It appears the Ministry has delayed the launch date in order to develop new features we pioneered, and are using their influence to block proposals already put to other government agencies" said Michael Turner, Eventfinder's chief executive.
Eventfinder is New Zealand's only dedicated events calendar covering the entire country and spectrum of events that empowers event managers and promoters with the ability to manage event information in real-time.
Launched in January 2006 after a year of research, planning and development, Eventfinder is gaining popularity at a dramatic rate. It is increasingly being used as a source of information by print, radio and web media, a testament to the site's user-friendly nature and usefulness to the public.
The website has received international recognition from the open-source community, such as MySQL AB, for innovative use of Web 2.0 technologies and AJAX driven design.
Eventfinder has built strong relationships with the private sector, government agencies and government-funded organisations, with more than 550 clients having listed over 2,300 events.
"We researched this market thoroughly before investing in the development of a national events database, something that the events industry has been crying out for" said Michael Turner. "We were alerted to the change in scope of the Ministry's project by people who were present at demonstrations of the site."
Eventfinder staff met with Ministry officials on Thursday 24th August. "We approached the meeting in an honest, open and and transparent manner to discuss ideas for co-operating, including allowing the Ministry access to our database of events. We were presented with a brick wall, and in parts of the meeting, thinly disguised hostility."
It was suggested to Eventfinder by Ministry officials that the events industry will gravitate towards the Ministry's portal because their services are free.
"The public can use Eventfinder for free, and for organisations and event managers who want to promote several events we have paying plans. The most popular is less than $10 a month, and that allows up to ten events to be promoted at any one time.
"That's less than a dollar per event. Compare that with the cost of printing a brochure, or taking out a newspaper ad. Since when did it become politically incorrect to charge for services? We've had a lot of feedback from clients who think ten dollars a month is great value.
"We have a free option for individuals and organisations that simply don't have a cent to spend on marketing, and we also sponsor not-for-profit and community organisations, so for them, Eventfinder services are free anyway.
"We'd like to point out that the Ministry's services are hardly free - they have a budget of $3.6 million so the cost is borne by the taxpayer, and not the actual organisations running and promoting the events."
Eventfinder has also developed a program to syndicate the event information listed in their database. This enables other organisations, such as government agencies, regional councils and tourism operators the ability to display an events calendar on their own websites automatically.
Many of these organisations are currently maintaining their own online event calendars, a cost that Turner believes could be better spent on the events themselves, rather than duplicating IT infrastructure and staff resources.
A proposal had already been presented to Tourism New Zealand, which has recently come under pressure to include more events on their website as a result of the $6 million "What's On" campaign designed to encourage tourism numbers from Australia. They had been entering event data by hand, so the Eventfinder proposal was warmly received.
However the day after meeting with the Ministry, Eventfinder received an email from Tourism New Zealand declining the proposal, as "there is the possibility that they [the Ministry for Culture and Heritage] can provide the events content that we need."
"We were shocked that a Ministry would influence another government agency to replace a commercially viable proposal with their own, especially as the Ministry had expressed no prior intention to syndicate their content" Michael Turner said.
Eventfinder had worked with Tourism New Zealand over a four week period to produce a seamless method of displaying event information on the NewZealand.com website.
"When we made the decision to invest in the technology sector, we never imagined that a Government Ministry would replicate key components of our business model.
"It appears to us that the Ministry has intervened to block a proposal we already had on the table to another government agency. We're understandably concerned that the Ministry is aiming to put us out of business to further their own agenda."
The Ministry indicated they only had recent knowledge of Eventfinder. "It's a bit rich for the Ministry to say they've only just heard of us when we launched in January and they appear to be replicating core components of our business, let alone actively blocking our proposals."
Turner has a warning for the technology and investment communities. "If the Ministry is allowed to continue this behaviour, it sends a crystal clear message - don't invest in web technologies, because one day you may wake up with a Government Ministry breathing down your neck."