What follows is a concise summary of the lessons that Willy Chaplin has learned about the World Wide Web in his five years of creating Web sites for the Dream Machine and others.
The Net is completely voluntary. No other single aspect is more important. This is also the single most vexing difference between the Net and all previous media. That means, no matter WHAT YOU DO, competition assures VERY fickle viewer "loyalty." Thus, you MUST endeavor to sell, or better, give away something special...information or service.
The Net is deflationary on ALL price structures (not just on goods, as is currently most noted in the press). That means that all returns on investment are shrinking and will continue to diminish for some time. It also means that there is a mighty tendency to "give away" free goods and services (usually as a loss leader). But remember, information is still the most precious commodity on the Net...
Attention spans on the Net are short and getting shorter all the time. High speed access will only accelerate this trend. Thus, all pitches must be blunt, direct and to the point. Don't ramble, don't over-explain or load up the viewer with too much information. A prime example of sites that violate this dictum are the major portals and the sites of "branded" companies from the "real" world.
The principle virtue of the Net is asynchronicity. Email is the place where this aspect is most noticeable, but it applies to Web activity as well. Unlike radio, TV, movies, etc. you can get what you want on the Web WHENEVER you please. Keep this in mind when you are tempted to take down a Web page that is no longer "current." How many people haven't gotten around to seeing it yet?
It is critically important to shorten development cycles. Fortunately, this is quite easy to do on the Web. We long ago learned that is far more important to be timely than precise. After all, ALL ERRORS are CORRECTABLE. And FAST! Being able to constantly revise "history"...one aspect of the Net which greatly troubles the more anal of media types...changes the rules of engagement for information presentation.
The Net is international. All development must take this into account. Furthermore, the rest of the world, far more information starved than we, hungers for input. The Dream Machine site has received visitors from 150 different countries since it was first posted on the Web five years ago. YOU may not think it is important for you to appeal to all those "foreigners"...but, YOUR VISITORS surely think it is.
The Net is the most truly interactive medium ever devised. It is critically important to provide ALL users with a way to interact with you and your services. Furthermore, the more interactivity you can build into your Net and Web processes, the less telephone traffic you will have to deal with. Newbies always prefer direct person-to-person contact...at first...then they "get it" and move on up into the asynchronous interactive world of cyberspace. Thus, bulletin boards ("discussion forums")...if you can find a reason to implement one, are golden.
Because of the fickleness of customer loyalty, you MUST keep in touch with them, constantly reminding them you are there. Newsletters or subscription information "pushes" seem to be the best way to do this...currently...but you can be assured that more and more methods will emerge as people discover how important this really is. Timely updates and additions are also crucial.
The Net is...A NETWORK. As simple as this truism seems to be, most people haven't really understood the profound implications of this. For one thing, it means that ANY SITE with ANY external links, is a portal to the Web. That is, from the standpoint of functionality, there ARE NO SITES...just a single massively interconnected web of HTML pages.
Copyrights are nearly meaningless on the Web. The truth is, once something is on the (public) Web, it belongs to the world, a fact not yet recognized by the makers of laws, but the truth nonetheless. Linking to another's pages and images is both functionally equivalent to copying them, but at the same time is merely equivalent to publishing their addresses, as in a phone book. Thus, any effort to "protect" material on the Web is doomed to failure.
While not readily apparent, cooperation on the Web works MUCH better than competition. For example, striving to keep your customers from viewing the competition's wares is counterproductive. It isolates YOU as much as your competitor! Better to use your competitor's wares to highlight just how superior yours are, for in truth, if they are NOT, you will lose viewers to the competition sooner or later anyway. Always remember the "virtuous circle."
What the Web does best is form communities. Unlike in the "Real world," these communities are constrained neither by location nor social standards. Any group that shares a common interest...of ANY type...is free to form a community on the Web. The implications of this to traditional content providers is significant and surprising, as the creators of The Blair Witch Project have demonstrated.
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If you have comments or suggestions for Willy, you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org