Commission set to shift communication resources online

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The European Commission will make a further step into the world of Web 2.0 by allowing users to upload parts of its webpages and progressively reallocating communication resources from offline to online publications, reveals a draft EU strategy for communicating via the Internet seen by EURACTIV. The plan will be published in the coming weeks.

Last summer, the Commission made the first significant move outside the fenced world of its official websites by setting up its own channel on YouTube, the popular video sharing website. In less than three months, EUtube received over 1 million hits.

The Commission’s new strategy recognises the enormous potential of the Internet to help it understand its citizens and in turn, help them understand Europe. “The Internet seems set to become more and more important as a cost-effective means of communicating with citizens across Europe and further afield, and especially with selected target groups”, says the draft.

The paper goes on to acknowledge the poor results of the European institutions so far in the fierce competition for online attention. Although the EU’s official portal “Europa” contains over six million documents and has 500,000 daily visitors, the Commission admits in the document that the “Europa site is not yet sufficiently well known to the majority of EU citizens”.

To overcome these shortfalls, the document suggests a stronger interactive role for the European institutions on the Web. This will be obtained first by renewing, by early 2008, the ‘Debate Europe’ forum website, which has so far performed poorly, with less than 750 contributions from citizens in almost two years of debate. 

The new key word is “interactivity”, which, according to the document, “will be achieved with the regular involvement of Commissioners and senior Commission officials”, at the moment absent from the debate on the website.

In addition, the Commission will launch pilot projects in early 2008 to test new interactive applications on its official websites. This will imply the use of so-called “wikis”, collaborative writing by a large number of volunteers, made famous by the open online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. Citizens will be thus allowed to upload content to certain official EU websites.

The role of users will be also boosted by making them rate the websites “by such criteria as readability and absence of jargon”, according to the new EU strategy.

To increase the Commission’s online visibility beyond the borders of its official websites, the draft paper pushes for a wider contribution of EU officials to public debates. “The recent change to the Commission’s rules and procedures for allowing its staff to speak in public on professional matters will be extended to include participation in blogs and online debates”, says the text.

All these new moves imply a wider availability of resources for online communication. “Spending on offline publications has decreased, although it typically remains the most significant communications expense for many Directorate Generals (DGs). Spending on Internet communication remains modest, but has generally increased in recent years. DGs should continue to encourage this shift of communication resources to the Internet”, says the draft document.

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