Why websites don't matter any more
In the couse of some site-redesign work today, someone said ‘I want this to be up there with the best sites you can think of’. Which got me thinking; what are the best sites I can think of?
A few years ago, that would have been pretty easy to answer. I used to spend a lot of time browsing the net, going around sites and reading the information they contained.
Now, however, I find that I just don’t do that any more. My usage of the web falls into three categories:
- Web apps – the google suite (calendar, personalised home page, mail, etc), plus things like del.icio.us and flickr. Not really ‘sites’ in the sense that the questioner was asking.
- RSS feeds – I have a pretty big blogroll, and I read a lot of web content this way, via Google reader and/or Bloglines. Here, the underlying design of the site, the presentation, and the other content on the site, is more or less irrelevant. What matters is just the content of the specific article I’m reading. I might follow one or two links from within my reader, but rarely further than one level out.
- Search hits – I tend to avoid at all costs having to navigate a site. Don’t make me learn your ontology! If I want to find something out, I’ll google it. There are a couple of refinements; if I know that a site’s own search will return me better results, I’ll use that. So I use Warwick’s web search (for protected content), Flickr’s image search, Wikipedia search, Oracle’s OTN, and Amazon’s search. Once I’ve got a hit for a search, I might follow a couple of links, but that’s about it; any more than that and I’m back to google with a refined search.
And that’s about it. For me, the experience of actually ‘browsing’ the web, of speculatively navigating around a site looking for some bit of content seems to be more or less over.
Which means that for me, the question of ‘what’s the best site’ isn’t really very meaningful. Your site is the best if it contains the content that I’m looking for, and if google or my feed reader can find it.
What it looks like, or how it’s structured, isn’t really interesting to me any more (though if you’ve got a nice clear font on a pale background, that would help).
I wonder if I’m typical or not. If I am, my questioner was asking the wrong question; instead of worrying about how to make the site look amazing, he should have been worrying about how to fill it with amazing content that his users would want, and be able to google for. But maybe there are still people who just bounce around from link to link, hoping to find something that catches their eye?