On this blog I’m aiming to look at travel and transport communications in the broadest possible sense, including relevant institutional communications. I am after all based in Brussels and so today, in the first of two linked posts, I will focus on the online presence of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport. What kind of user experience does it offer the average EU citizen? Let’s begin by searching Google for ‘DG MOVE’, the name by which it’s generally known.
The Google Places listing is accurate, if incomplete – the reader is invited to ‘Add phone number’ and ‘Add business hours’. I realize that DG MOVE isn’t a pizza restaurant, but a partial listing arguably looks worse than no listing. Also, Google Maps has automatically generated a very ugly picture to match – although it is transport-themed! While the key information is there and the search results themselves all lead straight to the DG MOVE website, ‘claiming this business’ on Google would result in a better first impression. But what about the website itself?
Aesthetically, DG MOVE hasn’t strayed too far from the standard Commission template (compare DG GROW to see the difference that can be made by more pastels, shading and rounded corners) but its homepage sets out the various sections of the site in a clear and sober way. The bulk of this page is devoted to ‘Highlights’ on a loop at the top and then, beneath, a static feed of News (and Events, Public consultations, and Calls for tender, the most recent of which are incorporated in News). As far as I can tell, the Highlights are intended for the casual, non-specialist visitor – if you make the effort to click through, you will find an admirably concise and clear text. The News section is definitely aimed more at industry representatives, lobbyists and other specialists (see for example the frankly terrifying Public consultation on the Evaluation of Regulation (EU) 913/2010 concerning a European rail network for competitive freight, although that’s in fact intended for the general public). The distinction isn’t spelt out, but it reflects the Commission’s perennial problem of wanting, on the one hand, to be seen as friendly and useful (and simply to be known) amongst European citizens but, on the other, having to face the fact that much of its dealings are with professional policymakers and interest groups.
Nevertheless, the rest of the website is surprisingly accessible. The five main drop-down tabs (Transport modes, Transport themes, Media corner, Facts & fundings, About us) head a comprehensive list of topics, each of which is introduced by a paragraph or two of clear, native-level English (though I note that no translations into other languages appear to be available). It’s a creditable way of introducing the Commission’s work on topics as diverse as inland waterways, the standardisation of clock changes, and passenger rights. For those with a deeper interest (or time to waste), the EU Transport Scoreboard is logically designed and strangely fascinating.
So while the site is unlikely to replace national sources of information on travel and transport, it holds a lot of useful, well presented information. But how, search engines aside, can people find out what’s on there? In part 2 of this post I will look at the DG MOVE newsletter and its use of social media.