Around the web

Bright but boring: Phil Hamilton looks at the website of the ESF

The second European Social Forum now taking place in Paris will be a useful exercise for the left. An event where communists and socialists can mix with thousands of activists of a variety of political hues from all over Europe is an achievement in itself. Even as recently as five years ago, such a gathering for the sharing of experiences and the discussion of strategies on this scale would have been unthinkable. It is to be hoped that this occasion will mark a deepening of pan-European socialist unity.

The official ESF website is bright and breezy, but rather basic looking. If it was not for the ‘Forum social européen 2003’ logo in the corner, you could be forgiven for thinking the site was part of a GCSE examination web design project. Functionality is the name of the game. Well, as the old saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that certainly is the case for this website. The viewer has the option of reading the pages in one of five languages (German, English, Spanish, Italian and French) selectable from the top of the screen. Beneath, the main field bids us welcome to the ESF before leading off on a statement announcing the closure of registration online.

The 12 menu items provide navigation around the site. The first of these - ‘ESF?’ - links to three articles. The ‘Charter of principles’ is that of the World Social Forum. Drawn up at the January 2001 WSF meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, it is a document replete with fluffy buzzwords and pious hopes. To be generous, anything more concrete and explicitly political would in all likelihood scare some of the NGO and anarchist participants off. Hence the nods toward decentralisation, “the practice of real democracy”, opposition to unspecified “totalitarian and reductionist views”, and the ban on parties - regardless of political character. (Still, this has not prevented organised Marxists from playing leading roles in the WSF movement - even to the absurd extent of endorsing the political party ban!).

‘The European framework’ lists the kinds of groups the ESF hopes have been attracted to the Paris-based forum. These cover unions, social movements and various associations. Strangely socialist and communist organisations do not make the list under their own name. Instead, you could say they are subsumed under the Delphic category of “networks that promote a social economy based on solidarity”. The article goes on to give a very general outline of the way in which the second ESF is organised - again peppered with trendy references to participation, diversity and the like. The third article, ‘Statement from the French Organising Committee’, is in much the same vein.

Returning to the menu, ‘Accommodation’ carries the housing options that were open to delegates - but registration for places have long been closed. The ‘Programme’ section divides the plenaries and seminars into a series of extensive columns with place, date, times and language coverage. ‘Practical information’ lists the four ESF locations and payment options for individuals, organisations and those who wish to have a stall. Other options here link email details for ESF organisers; a concise ‘Who, what, where, when’ page that packs together practically everything ESF participants need to know; a useful directory of the hundreds of paid up organisations; a page of ‘official’ ESF mailing lists; site maps; and lastly a letter urging activists to bring seeds for planting around the town of Saint-Denis.

‘Around the ESF’ carries a small piece on local forums and a short list of contact details for those operating in France. ‘The assembly of social movements’ article is yet another Noddy’s guide to what the 2003 ESF will be about. Ditto for the ‘European assembly for women’s rights’. The remainder of the menu consists of transport information, volunteering details, more on the ESF preparatory process, press contacts and releases, and pages that will eventually carry written summaries of sessions and seminars.

If the promotion of the ESF is the aim of this site, the basic design and deadly dull articles are more suited to a moribund sect than a dynamic and diverse movement. While providing the essential nuts and bolts, it needs media feeds, a better design, forums, a proper FAQ, more resources and genuinely interesting articles. Out of the wealth of talent available to the organisers, surely there must be web designers able to come up with a design more worthy of the movement.