Perhaps the most under-utilized Web resources in the communications world are the Web sites offered by international governing bodies. Therein lies a wealth of information that often goes overlooked.
For a project in my MBA program, I recently did a very quick review of ten such sites against the following criteria:
- Accessibility/Navigation: The degree to which a visitor can get around the site and find important information easily.
- Depth: Does the user get a sense that the site offers rich historical and current data?
- Contact Direction: Does the site make it clear how to get answers beyond what the site provides?
- Language Support: How many languages does the site support? Is the number of languages supported equal to its mandate? I paid particular attention to the top 10 languages used on the Internet—English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian, and Korean—inasmuch as appropriate to the mission of the site.
- Clarity of Mission: Put simply, is the “About” page meaningful? Arguably, this page is the most important one of nearly any site.
- Search: Does the search function allow users to go “an inch wide and a mile deep,” allowing visitors to retrieve exactly the information desired?
- Social Integration: This criterion examines whether the organization has a presence on the social Web and whether it appears to be part of their outreach and mission.
Here’s my view of five of these sites after the jump. The area graph plots the sites’ scores for the above criteria on a 1-10 scale (10 is maximum) against the average for all ten sites studied.
Note that I’m not making a judgment about the respective missions of these organizations or their effectiveness, just the usefulness of their Web sites to communicators and in general.
1. World Trade Organization (WTO)
Average Score: 7.57
The WTO’s site has a lot to offer for international businesspeople, though it takes some level of commitment to master the site’s navigation. The most useful items, I felt, were under “Documents and Resources” and, particularly, the information on international trade statistics. Taking the 2011 report as an example, the site offers much of the data in Excel so that you can do your own analysis. For instance, here’s six years of merchandise and services trade data by region and economy (XLS).
Do you want to contact a WTO representative through the site? The contact page is comprehensive, sure, but a tacit “don’t bug us” (however politely delivered in red text) is never the best way to be seen as a useful international body. (Yes, I know they’re busy, but there are ways to communicate this kind of thing and still be seen as useful and cooperative.) That said, the “WTO-and-you” area tells various stakeholders (from politicians to journalists) how to at least get the conversation started.
2. World Bank
Average Score: 8.14
Do yourself a favor: bookmark data.worldbank.org immediately. An empty Web page on this subdomain is more useful than 90% of the sites you probably visit on a given day. Here, you can get an incredible amount of summary information by country, topic, and indicator.
Also, many international organizations would want you to reference their data, but how many international organizations offer an API? The World Bank could not possibly state it more clearly than on the “Use Our Data” page. Head over to the Developer section to learn more about how the World Bank data could be put to work for your next mashup or Web tool.
As for the rest? Well, any time the description of your organization relies on defining five other organizations with acronyms that aren’t immediately familiar, it’s probably time to rethink your messaging.
We are not a bank in the common sense; we are made up of two unique development institutions owned by 187 member countries: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA).
Their work is complemented by that of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Did you get that? Good. Now on to #3.
3. International Monetary Fund
Average Score: 8.43
The IMF site does a good job of looking almost like a journalistic enterprise, which makes it more engaging to navigate. The site gets its depth of information primarily by the third party sources and sub-brands on the Web that it makes accessible through its own pages. Under the “Data and Statistics” tab, you can access PrincipalGlobalIndicator.org (e.g., GDP, gov’t expenditures, short- and long-term interest rates), Financial Soundness Indicators (a kind of SWOT analysis for financial systems), or the Financial Access Survey (e.g., global access to basic financial services).
As of this writing, the most-accessed materials are the 2011 Global Financial Outlook and the Global Financial Stability Report, both of which offer generous amounts of source data in Excel-friendly CSV format.
4. European Union
Average Score: 9.57
The Eurostat database is another must-bookmark resource. The “nested tree” format of the database is also very intuitive, allowing me to get the documents I was looking for.
As someone who counsels companies with regard to online engagement, it’s interesting to see how the EU has so pervasively embraced social media in order to spread its message and, presumably, preserve its reputation online. In fact, the site makes it pretty easy to find the social destinations for not only the various EU bodies (e.g., Facebook pages for the European parliament and the Economic Social Committee) but certain delegates as well. The blogs by the EU officials are also surprisingly up-to-date for an organization like this.
5. North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
Average Score: 4.57
NAFTA’s Web site scored among the lowest of the ten sites I analyzed. It’s either a strategy or a status that this Web site has little to offer visitors who seek more information on this controversial agreement.
Search was a comedy of errors. I submitted queries for “commodities,” “corn,” “wheat,” and “soybeans.” For the most part, the search engine would give me any answer I wanted… so long as it was the full text of NAFTA.
The site gets some grade-curving points on language support given that it need only support English, Spanish, and French to service all signatories.
I also looked at the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, ASEAN, and others. The Friday5, of course, is an exercise in the art of compression. I invite you to comment about these sites in this post and to visit the others.
Image credit: Mariano Real Pérez
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