Webmasters Offer Advice to EU President

The editors and webmasters who work on the various internet presences of the European Community have written an open letter to the re-elected President, José Manuel Barroso, and the incoming Commissioners on “Harnessing the power of the internet for better communication.” As you might expect there’s some good advice here from people who know first hand what’s happening to communication systems currently. After all, the EU website has some six million pages — which makes it larger than Slaw.

The letter, available in both French [HTML] and English [PDF] begins by reminding (one hopes) the President that:

The audience for on-line news continues to grow; informal forums and blogs are increasingly influential on public opinion. Meanwhile the written press is in free fall, and companies are bypassing traditional media channels to communicate directly with their customers.

It recommends in general “an open, decentralized way of communication, engaging in constant dialogue, rather than communicating via press releases.” Some other points about restructuring the EU web presence made in the letter are:

  • be user-centric rather than driven by Commission “priorities, organisational structures and vocabulary”
  • “strip Europa sites and pages of obscure jargon and less relevant content”
  • require director generals to “peer-review each other’s websites”
  • encourage / empower Commission staff to use social networks to communicate also about their work via blogs, social networks etc.
  • make intelligent use of social networking platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc…)

All of which, as the letter recognizes, will require appropriate resources and continuous research and training and, in sum:

a major shift in attitude to break away from the one-way, top-down communication culture, still prevalent in many parts of the organisation, and develop an in-house communication culture that encourages and empowers staff across the organisation to use the internet to interact with people.

This is advice that could — and should — be directed firmly at all levels of government in Canada. It’s not at all clear than any of them actually “gets it” as yet.


  1. Simon:

    That advice applies to organizations generally – not just government, in my view. Milton Zwicker, a lawyer in Barrie, Ontario was promoting a ‘client-centered’ practice 20 years ago in his columns in The National Magazine. He was well ahead of his time. The idea of engaging and interacting with those who are part of the wider community and moving away from a ‘top-down, communication culture’ is a positive one, in my view. Great to see this concept applied using social media, web pages and other new internet tools.

    One thing that seems to be missing from this is Michael Geist’s concept that social media is also influential on organizations. If you are not engaging in the dialogue, you allow others to shape your strategies, influence public opinion and develop your message. Marshal McLuhan’s ‘the media is the message’ applies yet again.



  2. Good thoughts, Dave. The EU webmasters certainly will understand your point about social media being influential on organizations — they talk more about social media than I’ve reproduced in my post. And they were probably careful not to frighten the horses any more than necessary: which organization, large or small, is entirely comfortable with entering into the unknown with the prospect of losing (largely imagined) control?

  3. OTOH some stability of official resources is valuable too. The EU used to restructure its website every six months or so, it seemed to me. Just when I managed to locate a document, like the E-Signatures Directive or a study paper on … whatever, it would be moved and the old URL would not work any more.

    So by all means encourage dialogue and interactivity, but also provide a predictable, and once discovered, durable, structure for those who are looking for ‘top down’ information, like legal resources.