It Takes a Content Village—The EU Tackles eContent

EurActiv, a Belgian portal specializing in European Union news, recently reported on the creation of the Content Village by the EU governing body, the EU Commission. Content Village is the latest advance in the EU's eContent program, the objective of which is to "support the production and dissemination of European digital content." This includes, not surprisingly, efforts to make the Internet more multilingual. The Content Village portal intends to showcase eContent achievements as well as serve as a meeting place for eContent participants.

At first glance, EurActiv would appear to be a model member of the eContent program. If nothing else, it disseminates European digital content in multiple languages. However, both the editor, Wily De Backer and the technical director, Pierre Orfinger do not view the eContent program as a driving force in their development. Although De Backer believes that their "own development is one of the best and most successful examples of eContent." He doesn't think that the eContent mission will significantly affect EurActiv's development. In fact, De Backer believes it may be the other way around. "The Commission may choose to follow our lead," he says, "as it is very impressed with what we have accomplished." Both Orfinger and De Backer stress that EurActiv is impartial with regards to EU activities, though the EU and eContent do both appear as sponsors on the front page of the site. But, Orfinger explains that "we see ourselves as an independent news source and policy debate platform, facilitating the development of eGovernment services in Europe."

According to De Backer, EurActiv's content comes from a variety of sources, such as NGOs, lobbyists, lawyers, academics, public affairs offices, and institutions. However, 90% of content creation is done in-house. On the portal, content runs the gamut from brief newsbites to in-depth dossiers. The portal is easy to navigate and each news story is well supplemented with links to additional sources either within the portal, or to outside sites (frequently the official EU site,

The current version of EurActiv was launched in the spring of 2000 and the portal has continued to grow; they are well on their way to creating a content village of their own. According to De Backer, "we are setting up a network of policy portals all over Europe. Mini-offices in Berlin, Paris, and London are scheduled to open in 2003 and in Eastern European candidate countries we will set up portals on EU affairs with franchising partners."

Editorial content reflects current EU developments, as does EurActiv's choice of content management. While Orfinger has not seen any usable technical guidelines in the eContent program, he believes it would be almost impossible to avoid the multilingual aspect. In any case, Orfinger uses Netgora, software developed by DBScape S.A, a local Belgian (an EU member country) company, to manage EurActiv content. He describes Netgora as "a highly customizable database application environment designed for Web dissemination. Its main strength," he says, "is multilingual content management." The EurActiv technical team and DBScape work closely together to upgrade Netgora and make sure it meets EurActiv's evolving needs. According to Orfinger, "the principles followed when developing EurActiv content management are open standards, portability, quality, and usability."

EurActiv does an impressive job at making sense of complicated EU decisions. Perhaps, despite itself, EurActiv is just what the Commission envisioned when launching their eContent program. And perhaps this foresighted Belgian portal has paved the way for the EU Commission and Content Village's success.