As an angry young ultra-left variously associated with the cpgb, I spent a chucklesome couple of years cranking out Weekly Worker columns reviewing the websites of various left wing organisations, campaign groups, and anything that took my fancy (some reflections on this here). So when I noticed the Socialist Workers' Party have a new website, I couldn't resist giving it the 'Around the Web' treatment*. Shall we?
Well, for starters it's much, much better than the website of old. It's fairly well set out with top stories catching the eye and the party's three regular publications featured underneath (each comes with a selection of contents). Scrolling further down you have prominent links to the main campaigns the SWP is involved in (Reesites will be chuffed to see Stop the War gets top billing). And over on the side you have a mixture of campaign and book/pamphlet plugs, a campaigns diary and a video of Alex Callinicos debating the future of capitalism.
Turning to the top bar, it's pretty straight forward really. But I was a little surprised when I clicked about. Instead of getting your friendly neighbourhood 'where we stand', we have a much more watered down piece extolling the virtues of unity in action, building "the movement", acting as a pole of attraction within it, etc. If this manages to inspire you to join and you hit the link at the bottom, you're met with this. Not good. But aesthetics wise, it's okay. It's probably a bit too much 'movementy' for my liking, but some will be happy with the new look. But there is a design clash between it and the circa 1999 look of the Socialist Worker website.
One definite improvement when it comes to content is the inclusion of Party Notes, the regular internal SWP news bulletin. Sadly its going public probably means the days of disparaging remarks directed toward the SWP's opponents on the far left and the over-exaggeration of political opportunities are over. Or maybe not - we'll have to see.
It's worth comparing the site to that of its resurgent opponent on the far left, the Socialist Party. I know I'm biased, but comparing their respective aesthetic I much prefer the SP's. The main stories are front and centre, you're immediately confronted with a video of the recent Youth Fight for Jobs march in London, and there's plenty of photos of folk demonstrating. You come away with an impression that the SP is an active organisation, whereas the SWP's site doesn't suggest that at all (which of course is an unfair representation of the SWP - it, along with the SP, are probably the most active and dynamic political parties in Britain). However, where the SWP's site wins points is its layout. Less is more in my humble opinion, so the two screen depth of SWP Online compares very well to the SP's busy website that goes on and on for approximately 10 and a half screens.
It's also disappointing to see Web 2.0 and the growing importance of social media pass SWP Online's designers by. Yes, video is good, but the comrades should trust their members a bit more and link to the cornucopia of SWP-friendly blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter feeds (the same criticism can be made of the SP - and most of the revolutionary left for that matter. For instance, how many comrades know the SP is also on Twitter?)
However, the SWP's website has one even bigger flaw. After linking us to here, there and everywhere, if I was a punter entirely new to politics I still wouldn't know for sure what the initials 'SWP' stand for. Ok, you can surmise it after pottering around the website for a while but surely finding out this sort of basic information shouldn't be like an episode of Treasure Hunt?
*For collectors of useless revolutionary trivia, the very first Around the Web article was also on the SWP.