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Digital Devil: Web Designer Netiquette
by Richard W. Hughes

 

 

By now the only ones who have not heard about the web are the sea slugs at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. We all know that the web is the way of the future. Many of us in the gem and jewelry industry are beginning to create web sites. But so many more have yet to spring webbed feet. This column is for both those who know about the web, as well as them that have yet to understand its power.

Calling Elvis

Some might be unaware, but the web is the finest wide-casting advertising medium ever developed. This is a god-send for companies who do little or no advertising.

bells

Every company has a message, something to say. The web is the perfect place to say it. One of the web's greatest attributes is as a telephone book, an electronic business card. Since businesses change locations about as often as Liz Taylor changes husbands, it is easy to lose touch. Enter the web. Are you a miner, gem dealer, jewelry manufacturer who does little or no trade advertising? Or maybe you're a custom jeweler or a pawnshop owner. No matter what your place in the trade, you can benefit from the web.

Fact is, Wilbur Stankleton's Pearls, Curios and Quickie Lube in Billaboonie, Mississippi can put up an electronic billboard equal in size to that of Bill Gates. Ain't that sumthin'? If your company has a phone, you should have a web site. It's that simple. Kee-rist! Even Elvis has a site. And he's dead!

Trade secrets

Okay, so maybe you want a more sophisticated site. Again, the web can accommodate you. Secret to the web is to make things interesting. Most sites are snoozeville, yawners. In terms of bore quotient, their only rival is televised golf. Okay… I take that back. Their only equal is watching the instant replays of golf on television. Like you missed something the first time around…

Ch-ch-changes

Where were we? Once your site is up, how do you keep people coming back for more? The solution? Change it. To ensure fresh visitors, you must constantly change your site.

How do people know when your site has changed? It's called a mailing list. Offer people a page where they can sign up to receive electronic updates. We are not talking spam here, just a short note to inform those who ask for it that there is something new on your site or in your store. You'd be surprised.

Rubydick's web netiquette

This brings up design questions. Sometimes it seems that the web designers have no manners whatsoever. In order to put us back on the straight and narrow, I have penned the following short guide to web designers' netiquette. If you are a web site designer, commit this to memory. If you are a web site owner, have this column tattooed on your designer's wrist.

Time bandits

There is no crime like the time crime. We users simply do not have the luxury of thumb-twiddling while your gee-whiz vision of tomorrow today loads. Unfortunately, this fundamental truth is lost on most designers, who believe that the visitors' act of entering your URL on their computer entitles you to an uninterrupted chunk of their life equal to that spent reading War and Peace. I don't think so.

whistle

The big sleep

Generally speaking, the tight-collar corporate world has few equals in terms of its ability to bore, and the web is no exception – modern technology means only that this tedium comes to us via cathode-ray tube rather than paper.

Do not place your company's annual message from the CEO on your site's opening page. Chances are he is a long-winded old fart used to pontificating on how when he was young, a single paper clip was more valuable than the Cullinan diamond. While that might go down fine with employee-captives receiving monetary compensation for the privilege of being subjected to such torture, it bores the bejesus out of everyone else. Repeat after me, ten times: "Visitors are not the CEO's mother."

Techie heaven = visitor hell

A major designer faux pas is the tendency to use the latest high-tech doo-hickie, even though 90% of the public does not have the computing horsepower to view it. So here's a few tips.

Please avoid Shockwave, Zonk, Flash, Splat or whatever else is current in the webmeister's box of time-out tricks. Yes, these tools do allow you to morph the CEO's head into your company's logo as the reggae version of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" blasts in 64-bit stereo, and such marvels are great – once. But forcing visitors to endure such nonsense every time they visit is a torture that, if not already on the agenda, will certainly be at the next Amnesty International conference on cruel and inhumane punishments.

Do not use Java. Java is sloooowww. This plodding porker of programming poop has done more to retard the earth's rotation than anything since… well… since the invention of the computer itself. If I had my way, the code and its creators would be placed into a capsule and shot into deep space. Yes, there may come a time when our cable modems and zillion megahertz computers are so wicked fast that we can download the full-screen version of The Last Emperor in three seconds. But a fast-loading Java will still be one version away. By the way, did I mention that Java is slow?

Ditch the plug-ins. Who really wants to be forced to download some arcane code from plug-ins.com and then spend 10 minutes of pixel-gazing just so they can watch a grainy postage stamp-sized image of you crawling out of a Sri Lankan gem pit? By all means, include content on your site. Information and photos about your latest buying trip to Sri Lanka is a great way to establish your credibility. Just don't make visitors enter into a Homer-like odyssey to view it.

The old in-and-out

Key to creation of a good web site is the entrance and exit. Let people get in and out quickly. If you can do this with a bit of panache, all the better. Thus a few tips on getting in and getting out are in order.

First, skip the sign-in sheet. Forcing visitors to type in a screen name and password every time is as user-friendly as an access code on your toilet. Which is where this idea belongs. Remember: user-friendly does not mean user strip-search. My password file is so large now that if a hacker ever captured it he would have to apply the Heimlich maneuver to revive his choking computer. So try to do without the sign-in sheets. If you must use them, use them only in areas where they are absolutely necessary.

Let people leave your site with the minimum of hassle. Again, the fact that you believe Jim Morrison to be God does not mean visitors should be subjected to the full 11-minute version of "The End" every time they exit. No matter how you feel about your parents.

Stray links

There are few frustrations greater than clicking on a button that promises to take you to the area of a site in which you are most interested and instead arriving at the dreaded "under construction" page. This is the electronic equivalent to coitus interruptus, or as I like to think of it, the Lorena Bobbitt option. Designers, please steer clear. If that area of the site is not up and running, don't mention it at all. Or mention it as a coming attraction.

Addressing an itch

I'm gonna say this one time and one time only: Get your mailing address on your site! I don't know how many times I've wanted to send a company a fax or letter and gone to said company's web site only to drop into an electronic black hole where there is more clicking than a bunch of crickets at a Vegas titty show. Finally to arrive at a screen where the only contact is by e-mail. Hellloooo?

There may exist a time and place in some distant galaxy where we all exist in a virtual world and communicate via mind memes, but for the time being, I occupy physical space on this planet and I'm pretty sure you do, too. So whether you do business out of the World Trade Center in Manhattan or a burned-out Ford Pinto parked on a vacant lot in the South Bronx, get the address, phone and fax on the site. Stick it under a heading of "Contact Us," "Here We Are," or "Hey Sucka," but make sure the address is there, accessible from your home page. There! I've vented!

 

Right sites

There are so many wearisome, poorly thought out sites, including many in the jewelry business, that I will not bother to describe them. Instead, I will give a few examples of sites that rise above the banal.

Sapphire Gallery

This jewelry and mineral store in the small Montana town of Philipsburg is a hidden treasure and their web site displays similar elegance. Nothing fancy here, just simple good taste. Plus, note their address at the bottom of every page.

Amazon

This is a large-scale commercial site done right. Literally thousands of books, CDs and videos accessible with the minimum of clicks. Need to send someone a gift? No problem. Need a message included with the gift? Again, no problem. Need it gift-wrapped? Once again, no problem. Someday someone is going to do a jewelry site like this and when they do, we'd all better watch out.

E-Bay

An idea that has taken off in a major way is E-Bay's online auctions. Got something to sell? Want to buy something? E-Bay is the place for both. This site matches up buyers and sellers with a novel concept of timed auctions and includes a surprising amount of loose stones and jewelry. It is one of the most successful sites, featuring a great interface.

Ruby-Sapphire.com

Yes indeedy, this is the author's site. Here you will find much of my writing, for the first time in all its uncensored glory. Amazon nonewithstanding, I truly believe this to be the finest site on the net. See if you don't agree.

 

Author's Afterword.  Published in GemKey Magazine (1999, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 64, 96), this was installment #3 of my Digital Devil column. The published version was heavily edited – this is the uncut original.

 

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Page updated 27 April, 2008

 

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