Potholes, Roadkill and Destinations along the Information Superhighway

The Internet has been called the Information Superhighway. Like a highway, it can be used to get from placed to place or just to aimlessly wander. Sometimes we go fast, sometimes we dawdle and sometimes we stop, either by choice or for reason beyond our control. The point is that we all go there because of something we want, something we need or as a way to pass some time.

During this past week, I have been involved in reading some very interesting postings and articles about what makes up a great web site or what factors may cause a site to fail to capture our hearts or attention. These discussions focused for the most part on design, flow, successful copywriting or site architecture and mechanics.

It occurred to me through this process that there is another perspective for talking to web content and why it may or may not succeed, and that is in thinking of the character of a specific site. Thinking along these terms, thinking of these sites as entities, leads to the conclusion that all postings can be likened to either potholes, roadkill or successful destinations.

On a real highway, potholes can be either minor annoyances (you know the kind that just wake you from enjoying a really good song or reverie, but do no real harm) or serious encounters.  On the web, the fledgling potholes are sites that don’t load properly, or have broken links or don’t live up their search engine potential. In other words, these sites are temporary inconveniences, but life goes on, and maybe you can even get back into the flow. Major potholes, like spyware or virus riddled sites can quickly bring your journey to an end.

We often pass by roadkill without a passing thought. We may momentarily feel badly, but it usually passes, and in areas where this type of sight is common, we become inured. In the analogy I am drawing here, this is akin to the many, many sites that exist and receive almost no attention. Some of this is lack of demand (although the fact that there are currently 400,000 plus google hits for the phrase “funny eggplant” makes this hard to believe). Most is lack of nurture or attention on the part of the site owners.

The fact is that most of us on the road eventually want to get somewhere, to find our destination. On the web, sites that make it to destination usually have a clear focus that is easy to determine what their essence is all about AND are easy to use for the purpose they seek to serve. While there are many types of destinations (and I encourage you add to my list), I think there are a few overwhelming profiles of successful destination sites that can be compared to real life destinations:

The fast food site: You know the type; these are the sites that, when we visit, we want to get in and out of quickly.  They serve a useful purpose, but we choose not to linger.  In my opinion, a site like Wikipedia serves this purpose. So do many retailer sites: When I go onto L.L. Bean (http://www.llbean.com/ ), I know what I want, I make the purchase, and then leave. I am satisfied, I’ll likely be back, but I don’t feel the need to stay.

The local coffeehouse or bar: Here’s where you go when you want to linger a bit, maybe engage your fellow beings in a lively discourse. Chat rooms, online courses, and very comfortable web sites serve this purpose.

Boutiques: Small, meticulously posted sites that you can trust and count on to have that very digital item you were seeking. Similar to walking into Sedona Boutique – http://sedonaboutique.com/ -when you want that very special decor accessory. If I want to investigate nano materials as related to food processing, you can bet I want a very specialized, trustworthy web site.

Drugstores: When I need health information, I want to visit my pharmacist (if I don’t feel the need to go to a doctor…). Some destination web addresses are like this. They may not be fun, but they are indispensible. One site in particular that fits this bill for me is the US Census site: http://www.census.gov/  For certain types of information, there is no better place on earth.

Once in a Lifetime Adventures:  You may have always wanted to spend some quality time in Sydney, AU, but for most people, this is not something you will likely to do more than once. Sites can be like this, although you may actually visit more than once. But while I may only go there a handful of time, there are also millions of people that will also. So while I may never go back to Simonini Builders – http://www.simonini.com/ – after I buy a home, many other people will also go there.

I may take this topic into more depth as we move forward, but for now I am done. After all, I hope to hear from you also. So, how does one become a destination? Ah, that gets back to the discussion of this week that I referred to earlier, and is the topic of another post (or likely the current posts of the blogs posted on the site of my page…)

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