Saturday, 26 June 2010

Belgium’s EU Council presidency website: First impressions

Euroblogger Julien Frisch noted the fresh look of the website of the Council of the European Union, redesigned in a manner similar to the new web pages of the European Council. Julien liked the look, but essentially the navigability had not improved that much. I agree with his remarks:

I want to click on the Agriculture Council and find all meeting documents, news, photos etc. (including the work of the Working Parties) available instead of having to search for them with a lot of efforts in the Council document register.

Speaking about the register that is linked under "Documents" in the main menu, I'd recommend that you don't need to click through four links until you actually can search for documents. Why not having a search right after clicking on "Documents"?, officially Se former à la communication européenne, has analysed (in French) various aspects of how the EU institutions communicate. A few days ago, they assessed the European Commission’s Internet Providers Guide (IPG), the Internet handbook for webmasters, editors, content providers, web developers and contractors, as well as others who publish material on EU websites. After a detailed study, they concluded that there is a deep gap between the recommendations the Commission gives to officials and the advice of social media experts .

Two days ago, Lacomeuropeenne made a quick audit of the usability of new Council website. Despite some signs of progress, there were still confusing aspects and the experiences of users are needed for more definitive conclusions.

Both assessments noted the lack of interactive, user-friendly features.

Belgium’s presidency website

Outwardly the newly launched website of the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union is like a sister or brother to the site of the European Council and the redesigned web pages of the Council.

It is clear, well ordered and pleasing to the eye.

A few days before the start of the Belgian presidency, on 1 July 2010, there is mainly basic material to test on, so user experiences will mainly have to be deferred.

A few impressions, though.

If you look, you are able to locate the 18 month programme and the Belgian six month programme.

In my opinion, the Swedish presidency had the best website to date, and they started to interact with users of social media and to monitor blogs. How about the Belgian presidency?

There is not much in the line of interactivity. A poll deep down on the front page asks:

Did you know that Belgium was to take upon the rotating Presidency of the EU on the 1st of July?

I would not expect people to find the Belgian presidency pages without knowing what to look for, but potentially the polls can be used for less inane purposes.

It may be that I lack technical savvy, but I do not know why the EU institutions and presidencies insist on speaking about feed burners but fail to clearly tell us the actual feed URLs, especially ones that actually work.

Test for instance: ? ?

After a process of trial and error, I was finally able to find a feed for my blog.

Somewhere there was an oblique promise of a blog to come (with the potential for interactive use), but I failed to locate it when I visited the website again.

The page on Logo and guidelines fails to make a distinction between official use and use by others of different graphic designs, without wading through a detailed graphic charter or asking for permission.

I would imagine that the Belgian government (if there is one) would be pleased to see its banner all over the place, but public institutions almost always seem to be obsessed by potential abuse and to end up with less than clear and inviting policies.

Is a newspaper or a blogger allowed to use the banner (and other material) freely?

It would be simple to give a clear answer up front, without sending people off to chase wild geese. Now the difference between official and other use is quite unclear.

Only the coming six months will tell if the quality of information is going to improve under the Belgian presidency, after the obvious lapse during the Spanish semester.

I hope that Julien Frisch, Lacomeuropeenne and others more expert in web communications than I, offer their views and user experiences of the Belgian presidency pages. There are still six months to make improvements, if there is a need.

Naturally, it would also require the right kind of attitude.

Ralf Grahn