Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Annoying Websites: Gigantic Stick Edition



Here’s a quick question you can ask yourself when reviewing your own web site to see if you’re driving your visitors crazy: “does my site feature content that’s attached to a gigantic stick?” If so, all of your readers hate you.

A long time ago, way back in the ‘80s, librarians attached newspapers to wooden rods, presumably so that patrons wouldn’t fold up the Wall Street Journal and walk out. The newspaper section was a rare area in the local library where items weren’t supposed to be checked out. You had to sit right where you were and read the paper. There may also have been a functional reason, like keeping the pages neatly folded, but theft was definitely in the equation.

Web sites unknowingly employ the digital equivalent of this tactic all the time. Every day I come across countless sites that demand I pull up a chair, sit down, and consume their content within eyesight of the webmaster. Don’t get me wrong, I’m painfully aware that some organizations need to keep a short leash on the content they produce and for whom a strong Youtube following is not an ultimate communications goal.

However, there seems to be too many sites that fall into the murky gray area between strict web 1.0 control and fully integrated social functionality. These sites may be asking to help get the word out about a certain cause or for users to check out their new product. Yet these same sites deny users the ability to share content in three all too familiar ways:

1) Neglecting to provide the embedded code for videos. Copyright violations and organizational control seem to be the main reasons for this version of the wooden stick. My take is that if you’ve managed to get the video produced, edited, approved, and posted to the site, it’s worth it to take the next step and allow people to lift the code and post it to their own blog or social network.

2) Lack of RSS. Even static web sites make changes and add content from time to time. Why not allow interested readers to be alerted when there’s something new to check out? Certainly, RSS becomes more relevant for constantly updated blogs, but without RSS you rely on your visitors to bookmark or otherwise remember to periodically check back in from time to time. That’s a lot to ask. Seriously.

3) Sites saturated with flash. Flash is sometimes an interesting way to illustrate your brand’s personality*, but too much flash and it becomes difficult to share a link to a specific page. I’m much less likely to a share a link if I know my friend will have to sit through 90 seconds of flash before getting to the content. I never understand sites that go through all the work for complex flash intros and then offer the ‘skip intro’ option. If you create something so annoying you feel compelled to offer sufferers a way to skip it, isn’t that a sign? Sometimes when I land on a page like this, I start to wish for a FireFox Tivo add-on so I could speed through it without losing the look and feel of the site.

These may seem like minor mistakes but organizations guilty of these and similar offenses may unwittingly penalize themselves by affixing the digital wooden stick to their otherwise interesting and shareable content.

[*For more on brand personality, check out Personality Not Included. Disclaimer: it’s written by my Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence colleague Rohit Bhargava, nonetheless, it’s a fantastic book and I read through it cover to cover well before I started at Ogilvy.]

3 comments:

Stacie said...

This is an interesting theory - can you explain more about why it's bad to review content within the eye of the webmaster?

It's not only keeping a short reign on content, but isn't the purpose of having a site is keeping people on it, building a community, etc? Even RSS tries to pull users back to the original site.

Very interesting theory...

Washington DC PR Pros said...

Stacie,

You certainly have a point; it’s not always bad to have users engage in the content on the site, especially if the goal is to build community. RSS definitely helps to get your content in the face interested audiences.

However, sometimes, I think there’s a tendency to employ this “Field of Dreams” theory of community building where a network is built in a vacuum, with the hope that new users will simply materialize. Word of mouth and organic growth isn’t likely to occur without engaged users (ambassadors, in a way) armed with the shareable content that allows them to talk about the community elsewhere on the web…

Anonymous said...

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