Content That Works on the Web (1,084 words)
by Michelle Cameron
Have you tried to buy something lately on the Web? Sometimes it works—you find what you need right away, you can immediately order it, and there is sufficient feedback to let you know that your transaction went through correctly. Frequently, however, it doesn't work—the questions you would ask about the merchandise go unanswered, or worse yet, you can't even find what you want.
Maybe you are looking for specific information about a corporation. If you're lucky, it's where you would expect it to be, it is presented in a way that is easily understood, and you can take what you need and go on with your work. More often, the content recreates a company's marketing collateral, and doesn't answer the really meaningful questions you might have. Or the information might be there, but buried so deep that it is all but impossible to find.
The latter scenarios can be remedied by proper content analysis and a design approach that addresses users' concerns. Content analysis involves sifting through and prioritizing source material. When the Web was young, content analysis mainly meant organizing paper-based documents for online presentation—like taking paper catalog pages and simply putting them up on the Web. But as Web systems grow more sophisticated, so do the applications they are designed to support.
Today's intelligent Web applications incorporate a wide range of functions. Extranets, for example, can deliver real-time price quotes to purchasing departments, helping them make informed decisions on the spot. Commercial Web sites can suggest new CDs to consumers, let them sample the music online before they buy, then tie the front-end ordering process to back-end fulfillment, letting a service representative track the entire transaction.
The dynamic content of Web applications now includes higher levels of information, from live news feeds delivered via streaming video to company training modules in Java applets. This shift from data to knowledge should have a profound impact on businesses everywhere.