Websites vs. Convenience Stores

I wonder if many website homepages are becoming the new convenience store windows.

Convenience store windows measure attention in nanoseconds. They’re plastered with a slew of (poorly designed and) colorful advertisements for products we often don’t need in the hope that maybe we’ll walk out with something we didn’t plan on getting in the first place. They serve the store more than they serve the customer and we’re often suckers for buying into them.

Many websites try the same strategy. They clutter their most valuable real estate with content that is more important to the company than it is for the visitor and the result is no different than your local convenience store.

Your visitors have a purpose in mind when they come to your site. Whether it’s purchasing a new cardigan, researching your cause, or wasting time, they have specific tasks in mind that they came directly (or organically) to in order to do it. And instead of taking the time to understand what those tasks are and designing a site around them, many sites are using their most valuable real estate to push content that serves them instead.

A homepage doesn’t need to be complicated. Google has barely touched theirs since the first day it launched and it doesn’t contain anything more than a search box and a top menu. Unlike the convenience store philosophy of design, Google knows why people come to their site: to search.

I understand the temptation to give content you think is important the front-and-center treatment in the hopes of reaching the greatest number of people. But as long as the content is not fulfilling the purpose(s) of why people are coming to you site, then you have to trust me that it’s really doing more harm than good for your company and its bottom line.

Besides, designing your site around tasks makes it easier for you to measure your site for success in your favorite analytics tool and use the information to make further improvements based on solid information. Anything else is like throwing a handful of darts and hoping one sticks in the bulls-eye.

If you’re fine treating your visitors like window shoppers, then go ahead and plaster your homepage with all the junk you want. The only difference between you and a convenience store and you is that the person holding you up at the counter by gunpoint is yourself.

Web 2.OMG

What happens when 999,999 words isn’t enough? The English language answered that when it added the Web 2.0 buzzword to its arsenal.

And what exactly does it mean? Asking Google to define it, a handful of ideas comes up, including social communties, RSS, interactive webpages, web applications, collaboration, a style of design, hosted services, and even a World War II generation. The best definition I’ve seen is from O’Reilly Media (who coined the term in 2005), but that somehow hasn’t caught on to something used across the board. It’s a buzzword that means something different to different sets of people: marketers, programmers, designers, etc.

Not only is it a buzzword, it’s too late. Web 2.0 has been hovering around since I was in college (which, yes, is turning into a long time ago) and is already being supplanted by the equally confusing Web 3.0. Google’s Eric Schmidt discussed the difference between the two back in 2007.

Although I’m glad to see American culture taking online advancements seriously, this seems more like a fireworks show than anything truly substantial. At it’s worst, it just makes us looks like we’re catching up to the times rather than leading the revolution.