A great barometer of how good or bad the products you are making is whether or not you use them.
More to the point, do you use your company’s Web site? If you don’t, it’s probably not your fault — it’s your company’s for making a poor product. You know you have a winning product when you and your colleagues use it and enjoy it.
If you go to your company’s Web site while you aren’t at work that’s a big bonus.
Many of us work for journalism companies where we don’t really use our own Web sites or if we do, we don’t really enjoy the user experience. If I was the head of a newspaper or a top editor, I’d be asking the younger workers how they felt about the company’s Web site and what could be improved. Afterall, isn’t it younger readers who are eluding newspapers?
It’s funny how we can all learn so much from people younger than us.
This past week I was giving a talk to my high school’s Web design classes about how to write for the Web. I spent the day explaining what a lede is, how to write journalistically and how to make their stories better and more Web friendly. I also provided one-on-one help to students.
But I might have learned more from them than they learned from me.
One of the first things I noticed is how kids would sit down at their computers and log onto the Kenston High School Web site and view the latest content. They could have logged on and went to ESPN.com, Amazon.com or a myriad of other sites while they were waiting for instructions that day. But they didn’t.
They wanted to check out the latest news going on in their own high school. They wanted to see each others stories and content. And they of course wanted to see the hundreds of photos that were posted to the site since the last time they were in class.
I spoke on a Monday and in-between Friday’s class and Monday’s several big events happened — homecoming football game, homecoming dance and other sporting events. There were a lot of photos to view, and it was one of the first things students logged on to see.
You would be amazed about how much high school students want to be informed. It’s just that high school students care a lot more about stuff that affects them. They don’t care quite as much about local town hall meetings or pancake breakfasts.
But they do care about dances, friday nights under the lights, sporting events, school safety, new policies and other news that directly affects them.
My visit also helped debunk a stupid thought process that is deeply entrenched within the journalism community — readers are only interested in a few photos per story. Yes, that is true for some stories, but it couldn’t be further from the truth for others.
People love photos, especially photos of events they attended. I saw student after student going through the hundreds of photos posted on the KHS Web site the night of the dance. Every student had the ability to have their picture taken for free to go on the Web site and most take the Web site up on that offer.
The same thing applies to the football game. Hundreds of photos are taken and uploaded after every game. In a typical high school football game 75 students or more might see action. Wouldn’t it be great to get all of their photos onto the Web site, in addition to shots of the crowds, sidelines, etc?
Wouldn’t students, parents, relatives, community members and others be interested in checking out these photos? Of course.
Many journalists are still stuck in their ways of placing a few shots into the print edition (usually to take up space or to make the layout look nicer). Unfortunately, the online edition usually gets the same amount, and the shots selected for print can often be random.
What the Kenston Web builders have created is a site filled with content that people want to view, from students to parents to alumni to community members. They have also wrapped their content into an attractive and easy to use package. It’s everything a good Web site should be — something you want to visit and a place you enjoy visiting.
I can safely say that a lot of people don’t enjoy visiting newspaper Web sites. They go there because they want to be informed, but the user experience is less than ideal. The sites are hard to search, too much information is presented on the homepage and the package is either unattractive or really unattractive.
And then to top it all off, newspaper editors have the nerve to complain when people don’t visit their sites or use their products. That’s the funny thing. If you build a product people want to use, they will use it.
That brings me back to my high school’s Web site. There is no justifiable reason a high school of 1,000 or so gets 10s of thousands of visitors a day to its Web site. But they do.
And frankly, tt’s site is substantially better from than any local newspapers’ Web site in the area. It’s better than almost all newspaper Web sites, but that’s not really saying much. At the end of the day it made me realize that if the people who build the product actually use it and enjoy it, it’s a good product — it’s a product that other people will use and enjoy.
And it also pointed out to me that young people do in fact like to be informed. They just want to be informed about their world. Most local newspapers are for the AARP world, and big newspapers aren’t much better.
At the end of the day if you don’t use your newspaper’s Web site why would you expect anyone else to?
So, do you use your newspaper’s Web site?