I was apparently the first “Guest Columnist” on the interesting web-site-quality-really-needs-improvement site, “Fork in the Head” (“Because flawed web sites deserve a fork in the head”), which offers lessons in improvement called, yep, “Fork University”. I (let’s hope) supplied some words of wisdom about appealing to a wide audience.
The site, ForkInTheHead.com, is now defunct. Thanks to the miracle of good hard disk storage, I can still present what I wrote for them:
Making Your Audience Feel Comfortable
It’s all in knowing the culture.
©1998 by Randy Cassingham
Have you ever noticed that some sites or email lists feel more homey, more relaxed, more comfortable, or even just more professional than others? Sometimes you just like one site over another, but you’re not really sure why. Don’t you want your site or list to be one of those comfortable ones that people keep coming back to? Pay attention to the net’s culture and you’ll be well on your way.
The Internet is often referred to as a “community”, and it is. One of the aspects that makes a group a “community” is a sharing of interests, of identity, of goals — in short, the same things that make up a culture.
What else adds to the net’s culture? One of the dictionary definitions of culture is, “A style of social and artistic expression peculiar to a society” (American Heritage). There are many styles and expressions that are unique to the Internet community. That makes the culture of the Internet unique. If you ignore this culture, which has developed over the three decades that the ’net has been in existence, you make people uncomfortable and want to leave your site and go somewhere else — not the thing to do if you’re trying to create a community of viewers of your online offering. (And if you didn’t know the net was more than three or four years old, you have some studying to do!)
Would you move to Japan and open a retail shop without knowing anything about that country’s culture or language and expect to succeed? Every day, new people hear that “there’s a fortune to be made on the Internet,” but without any regard to “how things are done,” they jump online and expect people to come flocking to their virtual doors. You know these people: They send spam to all of your email addresses touting garbage you have no interest in. Or when you visit their web sites, they clog up your browser with all sorts of flashing images, but no clear way to navigate. THEY TYPE IN ALL CAPS, MAKING THEIR TEXT HARD TO READ AND LOOK LIKE “SHOUTING”. They send dozens of cookies to your browser, or use Java or frames, without any clear reason.
These things often make people uncomfortable. An online offering that ignores these, and other, well-established rules of the online culture are bound to fail, just as surely as the foreigner trying to open a store in Japan without knowing that country’s culture. There’s no law that says you can’t break the rules, but the Internet’s distinct culture makes it taboo. Breaking people’s taboos is no way to make them comfortable and want to come back to your site, or stay on your mailing list.
Take your time to observe and learn the net’s culture, and your online customers will want to stick around for a while.
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The site is long gone, even though they were right: web site quality really needed, and many cases still needs, vast improvement!