Sunday, September 23, 2012

Digital content: It's all useless unless you need it.

Grossly oversimplified visualization of www.

It's a mess out there on the internet.
Corporate websites can have hundreds of thousands of pages--and once you get below the pretty top-tier pages, you'll usually discover a tangled-up mess of minutiae, page proliferation based on tiny product variations, dated remnants of deserted projects, microsites stood up for long-dead campaigns, and who knows what else. And digging through corporate website backwaters feels like wading through a marsh. It's far too fecund, and you can't stand the thought of diving in.

Welcome to a large part of my daily life right now. My team is like the ultimate yard crew, trying to turn a massive swamp of murky content into a well-manicured, easy-to-stroll, yet meaningful collection.

The temptation is to bag all the useless stuff. Only thing is, useless is in the eye of the beholder. I might think that a network-based firewall secure gateway overlay is just techno-blather about nothing. But if I'm the person who's been burned by an intrusion, network-based firewall secure gateway overlay might be the most important thing in the world to me.

So what is a corporate website to do?

Intel's search bar
Intel.com's solution, a prominent search bar on the home page and everywhere else, is an ingenious solve--but one that Wikipedia has relied on for years. Chances are I'm not going to surf to, say, ethernet gigabit server adapters, any more than I'd menu my way to the wiki for Os Mutantes. So why feature surf-oriented navigation prominently? Instead, give the user intelligent search that leads right to a series of pages about his beloved ethernet adapters.

GE's organizational mastery
I'm not up on GE business practices. But if their website reflects how they conduct their company, they must be one incredibly organized enterprise. Despite having more business units than some companies have products, their site reminds me of a rich obsessive-compulsive's closet: perfectly tidy, all clothes folded neatly and put in their place. There's not a t-shirt out of place, and certainly no lame tie-dyes laying in the corner to mess up the neat freak vibe.

Oracle's embrace of chaos
Oracle, a company of acquisitions, has a site that seems unapologetically dense and deep. It throws up links by the dozens on almost every page, has tabs inside of tabs inside of tabs, and is seemingly bottomless in layers. But it in a way, it works. In addition to inviting exploration, it plays into the Oracle heavy-duty tech brand.

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P.S.

Early in my career, in the mid-nineties, I worked with a couple technical writers who were pushing "information architecture" services.  It felt so high falutin' back then, but now I can't imagine how a site of any magnitude could be built without it. David Payne, if you're out there, I congratulate you for being decades ahead of the curve.

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