Do we have one site too many?


In the past month if you’ve interacted with via twitter, email, facebook etc you’ve probably been asked by me “How many sites do you visit a week”.

I only ask is that I’ve got this theory or ill feeling that we at Microsoft are making far too many websites than we need to, but at this point it’s just a theory (i have no evidence or data to substantiate this theory either)

I’ve created some artist mockups of where I’d love to one day position Microsoft and the way in which we interact with the community  and potential customers. It’s an ongoing project, one that I’m doing to provoke some new thinking inside the company, but first I at times need to pitch what I think the initial problem is. Have a look and tell me if you agree or disagree?

Slide 1 – What do all these sites have in common?

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Slide 2 – They can be quite frustrating to discover and use?

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Slide 3 – They require unnecessary persistence.

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Slide 4 – They echo the same data at times ..at a rate that makes your head spin.

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Slide 5 – They require you to think in multiple personalities.

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Slide 6 – They all try and be different, but the end user is usually the same.

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That’s the theory anyway. What do you think?

Comments (8)

  1. I think you are onto something.

    Recently I was looking for the asp.net mvc forum. I searched everywhere on the msdn forums, only to find that http://www.asp.net has its own forums.

  2. vikasgoyal77 says:

    You have identified the right problem in right way.

    Keep going. so many domains .. so many forums ,,, .

    vikas

  3. Joe says:

    Yes, no argument here.  I think this is already happening with Ch9/on10 etc.. to be honest.

    A single site with tailored content for the user is much better than multiple sites with different assumed personalities.

  4. I kind of agree. I think there are too many sites that are trying to be too many things. Because of this, they are overly generalized.  I think the direction that Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… are going will align them to be starting points into peoples lives. I think other sites are going to be able to provide value by digging into a specific portion of an individual’s life.

    I might be wrong. But this is the thought I used while creating http://www.divotdog.com (it’s a beta, it’s early, and yes, there are bugs). Basically, this site allows individuals to dig into one specific portion of a person’s life: golf.

  5. Rick Barraza says:

    Scott, completely agree. I think what happens in a large company (with Darwinian conflict in cross sections of focus domains) like MSFT here is exactly what happens with traditional dev’s coding UI: The interface is how THEY think about it, not how the TARGET AUDIENCE thinks about it. Especially true is your statement "They all try and be different, but the end user is usually the same." This is both a predictable and unfortunate problem when students, professionals or companies start organically growing from low brand to high brand awareness but haven’t factored in scale or unity. Apple does NOT have this problem (because they solved it years ago) and Adobe is at least design first sensitive enough to try and juggle it well. But its at the core of good User Experience, and this is still an area where (you, me, we all) are desperately trying to beef up MSFT, but its a painful fight at times. This is clear proof. Communication is about the audience, not the speaker.

    Keep up the good fight, its exactly what MSFT needs to do to get to the next step.

  6. Agreed here too.  As an occasional user of some of these sites, I perhaps don’t use them as much as i might.  A search for something Silverlight or Blend related (problem, error, resource…) may bring up 3 or 4 of these different sites, and i find myself clicking through tabs to find the answer.

    I can see that they seem to have slightly different targets (though not particularly obvious what each may be), but all seem relevant to me.

    User centred design is where it’s at.  

  7. Technical professionals have MSDN & TechNet.  Is there a main portal for creative professionals?  (art, movie, photo, webdesign, etc)

  8. Patty Zevallos says:

    Why your web site will probably fail

    And how to stop that from happening

    Littering the landscape of the internet are large decomposing carcasses of web sites that failed. No one visits them. They don’t function. They just lie there in the dwindling twilight.

    What happened to them? How did sites started with enthusiasm end up like this? What mistakes did well-meaning but naive people make?

    Getting giddy about technology

    You hear the terms thrown about. Social networking. Blogs. Drupal. WordPress. Content Management Systems. I have seen people get tears of joy in their eyes talking about Web 2.0, Flash, and the new interactivity. These same people get worked up into a frenzy on the blogs about a new release of something or other, and how could anyone use the old stuff!

    Calm down, folks. It’s just computer code. It will not feed your kids nor bring on world peace.

    The technology has now turned into a problem. The web started as a simple text and picture thing because of the low bandwidth. Someone needed information. They went and read it, maybe looked at a picture. They got all they needed.

    And what the heck is wrong with that?

    Now people add Javascript menus, Flash animations, active server pages, XML, and much more to something that was so simple and useful. Sometimes these things are needed. But often they are not, or they could be done in a much simpler way. And you know what happens when you add a bunch of cluttered, bug-ridden, unnecessary junk to a web site?

    Nothing. Yes, nothing. No one buys anything. No one reads it. No one cares. Because someone else is doing the same thing, but doing it right. Your viewers hit the "back" key and get the heck out.

    This is not a mystery. Customers state in survey after survey that they hate over-complicated, cluttered, buggy sites and prefer sites that are simple and easy to use. So why do designers and developers keep adding unnecessary junk?

    Because they are not enlightened, like you just became. How do you avoid this kind of dead web site? Focus on what the viewers want. Not what you want. Not on what the boss wants. And nothing else. Then do it with the simplest technology that will work. HTML (the language of the web), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets add consistent formatting and more), and an email form is ALL YOU NEED for a straight informational site. If you are selling something online, you need to add a shopping cart. There are times when viewers might benefit from an animation, or pages customized to their choices, or the like, but do it in the simplest possible way. And heaven help us, don’t have a Flash intro.

    The advantages of a K.I.S.S. web site are huge. Much better customer response. Much lower design and development costs. Much less troubleshooting and incompatibility problems among browsers and operating systems. Much easier to update, adhere to usability standards, and make the web site secure, if needed. Much simpler to make 508 compliant (accessible to the disabled).

    Just plain smarter.

    There never was a reason for the web site to begin with

    Too often I have heard people say "I have a web site. Now what do I do with it?" They have this backwards. You don’t make a web site, then figure out what to do with it. You have a reason for the web site, then make it. A company needs to use the web site and other elements of the internet as part of a marketing plan. Government agencies and nonprofits also need to achieve specific goals with an organized, detailed plan. The web is only a tool. Something ELSE is what you really want to do.

    The wrong people are working on it, with vague job titles

    Web design and development is such a new field that people who had been pretty competent managers in the past really don’t know what to do with it. You can tell this from the employment ads. One of many problems is that the job titles get all blurred. A job will require a few programming languages, excellent graphic design skills, AND writing skills. This type of job description will turn a web site into a carcass pretty fast. Programming, graphic art, and writing are different and separate professions, requiring radically different training. Although there may be some multitalented people who can handle more than one skill, they are very rare. If you use a programmer for graphic design, you are going to end up with a really bad design. If you use a graphic designer for writing, you are going to end up with really bad writing. And no customers.

    In addition, we have the "on-the-cheap" people who want to get a college intern to do programming, design with Dreamweaver, deal with Drupal content management, set up blogs, edit Photoshop files, write great promotional text, and fix the transmissions in the other employees’ cars for eight bucks per hour. These people say they don’t have the money to pay a professional to do the job for real. Well, wouldn’t they notice this really big financial hole in their business plan and avoid starting the business until they were ready? Or perhaps there was no business plan and they don’t have a clue what they are doing. I have known many companies that have hired high school and college students on the cheap. None of them are in existence now.

    Have a plan that includes a project manager, programmers, designers, and writers as distinct jobs. If your site is small you may be able to use qualified freelancers. Set up a budget and a schedule. Be sure you can pay market rate, and can compete with the hundreds of other companies who desperately need the same people. Hunt down the really great people, based, more than anything, on the work they have produced before (all pros have web portfolios). The project manager needs to have once worked in one of the other fields. During my 31 years in media production, I have only seen managers succeed who had already worked in one of the fields he or she was supervising. How to lure top talent? Pay well and on time. This is number one. Be organized. No one likes to work on a chaotic project, although everyone does, since chaotic projects are more the rule than the exception. Make the project fun and be easy to deal with. Get flexible with scheduling and telecommuting. As long as everything is done on time, what do you care what time of day someone does it? You will lure great talent out of the woods with flexible scheduling. Work on projects that are worthwhile and creative. And then let me know, because I would love to work for you.

    Looking like just another template

    People got excited when templates for web sites came out. "Oh goody, now I don’t need to learn anything or hire a web designer. I will just use a template and stick stuff in it."  Sure, great deal. Go for it, as long as you don’t want to stay in business.

    When a viewer goes to your site, they get an immediate impression of what you are about, based on the look and any large text. You want to be fresh and original and attention-getting (with a clean, simple site).  You want to "set a mood" for what the viewer should expect that is tailored to what you are communicating. You want to use images and color and composition.

    Are you really going to get that out of a template? Or are you going to look like an unprofessional organization with a generic site that considers its viewers such a low priority that you couldn’t be bothered to learn anything or hire a web designer? On top of that you probably have an overcomplicated site (templates tend to be that way) that has viewers running for the hills.

    Consider another approach. If that first impression, customized to your message, uses images and color and composition (plus a bit of text), then guess what? It is art. It needs to be designed as art, using illustration, photography, and composition skills. If you don’t have these skills, find someone who does. I know many web sites are not designed this way. It is one reason they die.

    Writing is low priority

    Writing is the most ignored part of a web site. A company might get excited about the programming and design, and then just slop some text in there.

    Viewers do not visit a site to see how the programming works. They really don’t go to look at the cool design. They go to read the text. It is the most important part of the site.

    The text needs to be concise, well-organized, and focused only on the site’s goal. It needs to be interesting and maybe entertaining. It should not sound like a government document (government documents shouldn’t sound like government documents). No passive verbs. No overlong sentences. No "impact" used as a verb. I am writing right now in a casual, direct-to-the-public style that doesn’t even demand complete sentences. It is more like ad copywriting. This is not the right style for everything. The style depends on the targeted audience.

    The text also should not be in one long document, even with a table of contents. This is THE WEB, not print. Break it down. Make it work as web pages. But do not have multiple layers of links. Viewers hate that. Organize it from the viewer’s point of view, not yours.

    Really stupid forms

    Many forms on the web spit out error codes, demand information obnoxiously after being filled out that they never asked for to begin with, and are cluttered and confusing. This does not lure customers. It drives them totally insane. There is no quicker route to becoming a dead web site. You need to design the form as a simple, logical thing, and use a programmer who is experienced at this, if you are not. You also need to test the form with different browsers, on different computers, and on both Mac and PC (along with the rest of the web site).

    English-only sites

    Almost everything in the United States is now English-Spanish, except web sites. Whether you like it or don’t like it, a very large and growing segment of the population prefers Spanish. And all those customers/viewers do not go to your site. You are also missing out on many other immigrant groups, and on possible viewers in other countries, by being English-only. If you possibly can, it makes sense to have the site written, not just translated, into other languages, with the content altered to fit the culture.

    So . . . get excited! You can make a web site work. You just need to do it carefully and think it through. You need to do much more than what is outlined here to get people to come to your finished site. They won’t come just because it is there. You also need a marketing plan. But the web site is the place to start. And yours will stand out. Because most of the other ones are only carcasses.

    Patty Zevallos

    media producer — web, video, print

    writing, directing, design, illustration, layout

    located in the Washington, D.C. / Northern Virginia area

    Visit http://www.pbzproductions.com to see her Green Living site, which uses only HTML and CSS, and her resume / portfolio site, which adds a Flash animation but it is subtle. See if you can find it.