How euro protagonists are courting low conversion rates
Supporters and opponents of the UK’s adoption of the euro currency have recognised the importance of the web to their campaigning. But the manner in which most are failing to use their sites effectively raises issues of persuasiveness for all interest g
|Britain in Europe||British National Party|
|Business for Sterling||Democracy Movement|
|The European Movement||The Yes Campaign|
|The Euro Debate||National Rifle Association|
Websites are good at handling complexity. Not only can they hold lots of information, they can divide it into bite-sized chunks and make it easily navigable. So why is it that groups belabouring each other on that most complex issue, the euro, are failing miserably to use their websites effectively? This may be a UK-specific issue, but there are issues here for lobby groups everywhere.
It is not that they have failed to see the importance of the web. Plenty of effort, and cash, have been put in by both sides. The euro supporters have created a set of co-ordinated sites that belong to the Britain in Europe campaign, while the sceptics have a disparate online display. The problem is that – with a couple of exceptions – they either treat their sites like a print product, simplifying unnecessarily, or they fail to organise their material sensibly, bringing confusion where there might be clarity.
Subversive use of design
When I first looked at the sites, I was rather impressed: there were clear efforts to use design to disrupt received opinions. Britain in Europe counters all thoughts that it is an agent of foreign devilry by clothing itself in union flags. Indeed its site looks remarkably similar to that of the far right British National Party. One of the images used on the home page – they rotate with each reload – is of a girl with a union flag T-shirt and facepaint. Straight off the football terraces. Conversely the anti-Euro Business for Sterling and the Democracy Movement are brushed with red – much like the Labour Party site.
Over-simplification short-changes the arguments
In general it is the Euro supporters who opt for simplicity over sophistication. Britain in Europe’s site is well organised and makes some use of interactivity – for example, in the Myths section – but does not provide detailed arguments for those who might want them. One of the rotating headlines on the home page tells us that “3,500 people a month lose their jobs because we aren’t in the Euro” but the only explanation is that “managers” have said this is so. The resource centre tells us the benefits of the Euro on different sectors, but again the arguments are stronger on assertion than fact. An intelligent ‘don’t know’ would I think want more. The European Movement offers no more, because it links through to Britain in Europe for its arguments. Yes Campaign has a little but not much greater depth. Its Killer Facts brief entitled “Britain is economically ready to joint the Euro” is just 300 words long.
Over-complication clouds the issues
Turning to the antis, I looked first at New Europe, the pro-EU anti-Euro group set up by Lord Owen and other heavy hitters. Its site does not oversimplify; it over-complicates to the point of being almost unusable. The home page is unbalanced, looking as though it is the tail end of a page that starts somewhere above the computer. The lead link promises to tell us the constitutional implications of joining the single currency. I clicked on it and was led on a merry goose chase that took me neither to the pamphlet being advertised, nor to any clues as to how I could obtain it. Yet elsewhere I did find the full text of very long pieces – some were in HTML language, some in downloadable PDF form, without any consistency. The site is badly constructed and badly maintained; not a good advertisement for a group that would like to be known for its intellectual rigour.
Euroknow is run by economists led by Patrick Minford. It is better constructed that New Europe, and has some strong material (including Winston Churchill’s 1946 Zurich speech so we can see what he really said – a good use of the web’s storage capacity). But its potentially valuable “concise encyclopedia” is let down by poor organisation – an alphabet asking us to click on a letter is not a sensible way of leading us to the information we need.
Organisation of detail shows best use of the medium
So do any of the lobbyists get it right? Only the anti-euro Business for Sterling. Its site has detailed explanations, well organised. The Frequently Asked Questions section consists of 12 pro-euro arguments, which it tackles in some – but not too much – depth. It then offers more detail in its Research Briefs – a split level approach that works well on a website.
But the very best site of all does not take sides – or rather it offers all viewpoints. The Euro Debate has a superbly organised set of arguments for and against joining – along with a forum where pro and anti comments are carefully sorted. The web at its best.
First published on 21 May, 2003