I've previously commented, in some detail, on the topic of socialist organisations' use of the Internet. The re-launch of the Socialist Workers Party's website prompts me to return, in more succinct form, to this subject. On the specific issue of the new SWP site I expect that party members will generally be impressed, as indicated by a number of comments on the Lenin's Tomb thread about this. Its design is an improvement, though hardly very fresh or distinctive, and I assume it will be updated far more frequently than before.
My vision of how a left-wing organisation can potentially use a website goes much further. Crucially, there's a need for socialists to abandon a heavily centre-led model and create real opportunities for interaction and participation. It is political activity that should shape a political organisation's website and so interaction is key.
We finally have the means, technologically, to realise Lenin's notion of a publication (or website) that is a truly collective and democratic endeavour. Activists can post articles or comments, submit images or videos, acting as an army of contributors which enriches the content and enables wider layers of people to really identify with the organisation behind it.
In the 1970s Tony Cliff remarked that Socialist Worker had 3000 reporters, i.e. the members, which no mainstream media outlet could match. Actually, mainstream media (especially online versions) CAN match that now, thanks to utilising the opportunities for interaction, the cheapness and availability of the technology (e.g. a mobile phone can be enough for creating video that's then put online) etc. The organised left needs to catch up, e.g. how about offering practical workshops in which activists are trained in skills like video editing?
I'd love to see a collective left-wing website where content is added daily (or several times daily), going on the site and THEN being put in print publications. This allows the site to become highly topical and dynamic, and also encourages people to return to it frequently to check for updates. It creates an organic relationship between site and printed publications - this constitutes a leap forward from simply placing already-published material online. Following this, everything should be integrated: there's no need to have more than one online home. All the publications' content can be part of the main site.
There's no reason why printed publications should be considered The Real Deal while the online presence is subservient to them. Use of multimedia (embedded videos, audio recordings etc) is crucial, rather than the alternative of relying on text with minimal use of illustration. This is one area where the Net has a major advantage over print. A website has to become much more than an advert for the publications, where people look at the site and then choose to buy the print version. Go back to the SWP site and ask yourself: why does it insist on classifying the articles into the three publications they were originally published in? It would make more sense to mix the publications together and instead categorise according to topic.
The great advantages of the Net are essentially speed of response, mulimedia possibilites and interactivity. Only when a left wing organisation takes on board these three major issues - and radically transforms use of the Net in the light of them - will the potential for radical online activism be fulfilled.