“Honey, Your Favorite Web Site’s On…”

[July 9. 2010]

Why would anyone visit your site?

Having found your URL on a search engine, with StumbleUpon or PopURLs, by IM, SMS, Skype or face to face, in a “doomed” print medium or somewhere tucked away in social space, why would anyone give it more than a blink?

It can only be because of content. The very first thing that catches someone’s eye has to rivet their attention. Like the people you love to hang out with, its very presence must enliven, cheer, entertain or move you.

And like your favorite people, a Web site needs to be fresh.

Look at it this way. How many times have you started a conversation with someone you Digg with one simple question:

“What’s new?”

Now you might see this as just another example of ritualized speech. But there’s more to this particular routine phrase. More than a placeholder, it expresses one of the core values of any long-term or intimate relationship—the delivery of fresh, inviting and invigorating stimulus.

Artificial intelligence.
And while I believe this same criterion applies equally to communications in all media, I see it as especially critical in digital space. That’s because, in digital space we have the first practical application of rudimentary artificial intelligence on a wide scale.

It speaks to us with colorful images and moving words, it shares its experience openly, without holding back. It makes us laugh, cry, get indignant or feel triumphant—and more and more we’re wearing it close to our hearts.

However you frame it, the composite effect of digital space is of a living, sentient organism, a rare, tangible example of real synergy. As such, the unstated expectation your users bring to your site is that they will be greeted by a vibrant, engaging and deliciously unpredictable personality. In other words, exactly the kind of person you want to be with as often as possible.

A character you care about.
If you’re with me so far, you can easily see how the vast majority of online properties utterly fail in this respect. And while much of this has everything to do with abysmal design and technical protocols—including browsers and display modules built to conflicting standards—the real reason people click away is incompetently produced and infrequently refreshed content.

Perhaps when the www was new, it was exciting enough to get a Web site up and running. After all, those early sites had hypertext links and everything. But at its current stage of evolution—and the current evolution of audience expectations—a Web presence anyone’s going to spend time on cannot afford to be static.

Like the dawgs you hang with, a Web presence lives or dies on the strength of its editorial calendar of emotional and psychological deliverables. “What’s up, what’s shakin’, what’s poppin’, what’s next, what’ve you heard, did you hear this, did you see that…” are all part of the banter your Web site needs, to engage your audience in a real give and take.

Creativity and talent: It’s not just for pitch meetings anymore.
But none of this can happen by accident—and you certainly can’t get there by importing canned design templates or subscribing to a clipping service. You have to invest as much creativity and talent as goes into the merest TV sitcom or D-List talk show.

There, daily or weekly, if we return at all its for what’s fresh. “What’s the wacky delivery guy, who used to be a wacky bus driver, gonna do now?”—we have to know and —“What will Tyra shock me with this time?

Crow all you want about the superiority of new media, but in this respect, those last century throwbacks have got it all over us in this crucial respect. They know the only way to keep people coming back is to lead with a distinct character and keep working the changes over and over again until the underlying concept achieves its full potential.

Can you say that about your Web presence?


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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