"Yeah, We're Online"


It's remarkable to me that, at this late date, a meaningful number of publishers continue to jeopardize their futures with a less-than-total commitment to developing Web-based product offerings.Too often, I hear from publishers, "yeah, we're on the Web," delivered with vocal inflection that makes it clear the Web is viewed as some annoying new obligation, instead of the future of their businesses.

Of course, when you view something as an annoying obligation, you do what's required of you as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Not surprisingly, this attitude reflects in the finished product. More than once, I've been told by programmers that they have been handed databases with no more in the way of instructions than "make it searchable on the Web."

Recently, I was presented with a user name and password by a publisher who wanted me to review his site. I went to the site, clicked "login," and was presented with a lengthy new user sign-up form. Not seeing any other options, I filled out the form, included the supplied user name and password. The system immediately rejected them, telling me they were "already in use." After much experimentation, I determined that while the site requires passwords, validates them and tracks them, there was no way to use them more than once. Returning users had to re-register from scratch and think up new user names and passwords every time!

Another site I reviewed gave new meaning to the term "keyword searching." I dutifully typed my keyword into the search box, and the system took me immediately to a document that was over 100 pages long, and left me there to, well ... search for my keyword ... as no highlighting was supplied.

In another remarkably crude search application, I entered a search term and got back 14,000 results. I was impressed until I realized the the site was returning unfiltered Google search results. Yes, this publisher was effectively offering paid access to someone else's free product.

This isn't a failure of programmers. It is a failure of management that left programmers to develop in a vacuum and let buggy products go live. To their credit, these publishers were aghast when I alerted them to these problems, and moved quickly to correct them. But what was most troubling to me was that in none of these cases had the users of these Web sites voiced any complaints. Why? Probably because they weren't in fact using them. And that's my point. If publishers don't take their own sites seriously enough to access them at least occasionally, they should not be surprised when their customers don't either. The act of simply "being on the Web" is not an achievement. In fact, a poorly-executed Web site is seriously detrimental to your business.

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