TUCoPS :: Truly Miscellaneous :: wipeweb.txt

Wipeout on the Web - Basics of Communication still apply when building a Web page

Basics of Communications Still Apply When Building a Web Page

A speech by Joseph J. Diorio
Effective Business Communciations

Delivered at a meeting of the International Association of Business Communicators
Philadelphia Chapter
October 25, 1995

	Good morning, and thanks for inviting me to speak.
	I've been working out of an office in my home for four years now, and I haven't commuted to Center City since 1989.
	Having driven the highway into town this morning, I'm surprised to see anyone smiling.
	Besides, while getting ready I heard that "Good Morning America" was going to carry a story about the World Wide Web.  We could have all had coffee in bed!
	I'm delighted you chose me over Charlie and Joan.  I'm also glad to have the opportunity to talk to you about cyberspace, because I firmly believe communicating in the wired world will call for us to leverage our traditional strengths ...
Knowing how to communicate to our key audiences ...
Packaging a message in clear and concise terms, and
Developing and implementing value-added feedback devices.
	You will use new technologies, but you'll continue work with the skills that have made you the value-adds that you are to your clients and companies.
	Obviously, there's considerable interest in this subject.  Every Monday the New York Times devotes the lions' share of its business section to news about information technologies.
	One reporter on the Times even has the opportunity of covering a beat he calls "cyberspace."
	Everybody, it seems, either wants to surf the net or figure out how to do it.
	I don't think this is a new trend ... it's just a rehashed version of an age-old theme.
	Let me read a short quote:
	"By the mid-50's 'computer' was becoming a magic word as popular as vitamins.  Top executives rightly believed that the companies of the future were going to be computer run.  Board chairmen would say 'We've got to get a computer!' Everybody wanted one, even though precisely how to use the machines was still a mystery.  It became the conventional wisdom that management ran a bigger risk by waiting to computerize than by taking the plunge."
	That passage was written by Thomas J. Watson, Jr.  He and his father before him built IBM into the biggest computer business in the world.
	They were right then about computers ... but you could say the same thing about cyberspace today.
	Everybody wants to jump on board ... even though they may not be sure what they'll do once they've landed.
	That having been said, let me quickly point out that I'm in no way saying there is junk on the 'net.  There isn't .  In fact, the opposite is true.  There is a remarkable amount of material on the Internet.
	A quick history lesson.
	The Internet originated in 1969.  It was a U.S. Department of Defense experiment as a way to keep our scientists in touch with each other after the Soviets bombed everybody else out of existence.
	Of course, nobody bombed us out of existence, so the Internet grew.  And grew. And grew.  From the first four computers that were set up, there are now roughly seven million internet host sites -- everything from a sophisticated Cray computer to an old, mid-range system at 34th and Spruce used by the University of Pennsylvania.
	By the turn of the century, there may be about 120 million internet host sites.
	That will take in those Cray's, the old mid-range at Penn, and a powerful desktop PC on somebody's kitchen table in Voorhees.

	Why so many?  Well, like Mt. Everest, because the opportunity is there.  You see, the Internet was built to survive a nuclear attack.  Therefore it allows many routes among the computers so that a message could arrive to its destination using any possible route, not a single fixed path.
	If a computer went down, others could move around it and continue to talk with one another.
	In other words, when I send copy via the Internet from my office in Chesterbrook three miles up the road to SCT in Malvern, that copy could conceivably arrive by way of some former Soviet Naval port.

	So now we have millions of host computers containing an unimagineable amount of information -- everything from the latest research into gene therapy to David Letterman's Top 10 lists
	Yet to get at that information we have to use indicypherable computer commands that resemble something scribbled on the side of a SEPTA train station.
	That's where the use of the World Wide Web and hypertext home pages comes into play.
	Essentially, these are simply "front doors" to the rich resources within the Internet.

	Consider the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center's home page, OncoLink.  It is a gateway to cancer information of use to doctors, researchers, and patients.  From the OncoLink home page you can look up the latest research, minutes of the last meeting of the National Cancer Institute, or view the "10 Commandments of Cancer Survival," a moving piece written by a cancer patient.
	You can also move from OncoLink to cancer information resources provided by Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, or you can read the latest broadcast story about cancer on CNN's home page.
	You can see an X-Ray of a cancer patient's brain, or listen to a lecture on chemotherapy that was delivered at the University of Southern California.
	OncoLink is just one home page.  Like the state of affairs with computers 40 years ago, everybody's getting on the Internet with Home Pages -- there are at least 40,000 home pages out there, according to reliable estimates.
	Yeah, Letterman's Top 10's, Start Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and at least 172 different home pages containing information of and about Philadelphia.

	So many home pages are being built because -- like 40 years ago -- everyone's afraid of getting left out.  For example, a friend of mine at Bell Atlantic was disparaging that company's home page, but said that Bell Atlantic would be conspicuous by its absence from the web if it didn't have a home page.	
	But there is a big difference between the situation with the Web today, and the situation with computers 40 years ago.  That is, everybody has an opinion as to what should go on the web.
	Let me share a few of my own.
	We're in a so-called information economy.  And we tend to think of that in terms of gee-whiz technologies like the Internet and World Wide Web.
	But more than technology, this information economy is about media, new ways of getting information to target audiences.
	Notice I said it's new ways of getting information to target audiences.  That's key.  Because as business communicators, it's our job to make sure the message isn't getting lost in the medium.
	Let me explain what I mean by leaving cyberspace as a topic for a moment and meandering around in something more mundane -- direct mail marketing.

	I haven't noticed this too much in my PECO bill, but my Bell Atlantic, JC Penney, Strawbridge & Clothier, and Wannamak ... excuse me, my HECHTs bills are all stuffed with a plethora of inserts offering to sell me insurance, upholstery, wonderbras, you name it.
	This is activity is a good example of what's called educative marketing.  Providing the consumer with detailed information on a particular subject.
	The same trend applies to direct-mail catalogs, in print ads, in television infomercials.  It even applies to the World Wide Web.  You can no longer sell something by attaching terms like "better," "faster," "cheaper," then hoping people will buy it.
	Audiences want more information on a given subject.  And if it's something they're really interested in, then they'll take the time to learn more about it.
	If PECO wants to sell maintenance services to its customers, it can design a home page that includes maps of every township in the Delaware Valley showing the proximity of a customer's home to the nearest repair station, and the present location of mobile repair crews.  Customers surfing this hypothetical web page can -- given that they're using a cellular telephone and a laptop computer with a good battery -- know where they stand in the queue of customers waiting to get their heater fixed, or get their electricity turned back on.

	Similarly, a retailer can let brides-to-be set up their own 'home pages" in an on-line bridal registry, a hospital can offer an on line physician referral service that is complete with detailed biographies of each physician, patient testimonials ... they can even let patients slated for surgery fill out their "paperwork" on line and at home prior to admittance.
	But before anyone gets too excited with ideas, there are certain issues we, as professional communicators, must address.
	They're just issues, not roadblocks.  But ignoring them can make them into roadblocks.
	These include issues about audience, issues about message delivery, and issues regarding those two words we all loathe -- measurement and feedback.
	Audience.  Who's looking at the World Wide Web, anyway?
	One school of thought says this ...
	Here I am ... white, male, college educated, age 30 to 45, with an income above $30,000.
	Seriously, Georgia Tech recently undertook a survey of Web users ... they determined that most are male, although more females are using the net.  Their study showed that Web browsers do just that ... browse.  But that they look at the Web every day.
	I can provide a copy of the press release from Georgia Tech, and the Internet URL for anyone who'd like more detail.

	But does the Georgia Tech survey answer the question?  Not necessarily.
	OncoLink, the service I mentioned earlier, gets 16,000 "hits" a day.
	But that doesn't mean 16,000 people.  It could mean one guy, 16,000 times.
	But I suspect that's more of a problem for the Playboy page.
	Web users are a tough bunch to pin down.  I liken Web use measurement to where cable TV was 25 years ago, when no one can say for sure who was watching, but everyone was subscribing.
	That's changing, slowly, but for now there is a "to do" for business communicators.
	If your client or company has a web page, you need to promote it to potential audiences.
	OncoLink is positioned to science and health writers at newspapers and trade magazines as a resource for them to use when they are researching stories.
	How?  By telephoning editors.  By sending them E-mail messages.  By getting independent Web page rating agencies to rate the page.
	In sum, by doing everything we do as publicists to build awareness of a product or service.

	It's paid off for efforts Penn has undertaken for OncoLink.  So far OncoLink has been rated as among the top 5 percent of all Web pages by the Point Survey, an independent rating agency ... it's been included in roundup stories about health and the internet ... and other home pages are starting to refer to OncoLink as a resource for cancer information.
	Let me offer one other tip.  Don't approach an editor saying "Hi, I have a new home page. Wanna write about it?"
	Here's what an editor at the Associated Press in New York said when I made that offer regarding OncoLink.

	He said "A story about interesting home pages would be twice as long as 'War and Peace' and three times as boring."
	Again, you have to think creatively when promoting home pages ... just as you have to think creatively when promoting your client's or company's products and services.
	So we're doing the job we've always done when getting to the audience.  Defining it carefully, then narrowcasting the message to appropriate outlets.
	That's especially important, considering thr physical limitations of the Internet.
	I sound like I'm contradicting myself, don't I?  A sort time ago I said there were no limitations on what you can design.
	There aren't.  You can put the bible on a home page ... complete with GIF files of images from the Sistine Chapel.
	There you have everything a great web page should have -- great graphics and deep detailed information.
	So what's the limitation?  Generally, it's sitting on your audiences desk, and it's plugged into the wall outlet.
	The overwhelming majority of personal computers out there are 486-based, low megahertz machines that are just great for spreadsheet work, writing manuscripts, balancing checkbooks, sending and receiving faxes, and running most kids computer games.
	But they're lousy at displaying detailed graphics that are wider or larger than standard VGA or SuperVGA screens ... they don't have enough disk storage to hold all the information you can download.
	The fastest modem you can get runs at 28,800 baud.
	That's 28,800 bits per second.  Sounds like a lot, right?
	It ain't.  Most GIF and JPEG files come over the net at 1.5 megabits per second.
	Of course, the modem on your PC is one limitation.  But the decades-old analog telephone line that modem is connected to is another.
	I said information can travel the internet at T1 speeds -- that 1.5 megabits per second -- or faster.  Great, right?
	All that information, screaming along at warp factor speeds on fiber optic telephone lines, then it comes crashing to a mighty halt when it hits that copper "drop" at your home.
	Great, no.
	Unless you managed to install an ISDN line in your home, your house has the same wiring that was in use when Sheriff Andy Taylor asked Clara to connect him with Barney Fife's house.
	Is the solution getting an ISDN line?  Try calling the phone company and asking for one.  I'd say I'll wait for you, but you'll be gone a while.
	Of course, if your working in a corporation you have the benefit of WANs and LANs, you have the benefit of T1 networks ... but do your audiences?
	Geoffrey Frankel, who will follow me on the program, will talk about some technologies that can help speed up those PC's the customers use.  But your basic job remains the same.
	That is, knowing your audience to determine what should be on your home page ... and leveraging the skills of brevity and clarity to communicate key messages.
	My friend at Bell Atlantic says that company's  home page is heavy in text and light in graphics.  But perhaps Bell Atlantic is trying to reach homeowners whose personal computers and copper telephone lines can't accommodate fancy graphics.  If that's the case, and I think it is, then Bell Atlantic is being pretty smart.
	We need to be pretty smart, too.  Once we understand our audience, we need to counsel our clients regarding what should appear on a home page.
	Small, clean pictures.  Up-to-date information presented in clear and concise terms.
	If editors read press releases while standing over a garbage pail, as the saying goes, then Web browsers read home pages with one finger on the escape key.
	You may have unlimited space to tell your story, but if you start off boring, nobody is going to read it.
	So another communications skill -- brevity and clarity -- is vitally important in web page construction.
	By the way, I came across a very good article by Kitty Hawk Studios - Interactive Media/Marketing, about questions to ask before setting up a Web page.
	Some of them -- How are Internet users going to find out about my Web site? ... Why are people going to come to my site, and why will they return? ... How am I going to keep the content fresh and alive? -- are "musts" to consider when setting up a page.  Again, let me know if you'd like a copy.
	Finally, measurement.  How do you know when someone visits?  What're they looking at?
	Most web sites can measure things like that.  But what do your users think?
	I think the biggest benefit of the Web is that it is an easy way to create two way communications with your audiences.
	Take every opportunity to get feedback. Respond to that feedback.  Post an E-mail address for your chairman on the first page of the home page.  Do everything possible to urge people to talk back.
	Unlike a lot of measurement tactics.  It's affordable, it's easy, and best of all, it works.

	OncoLink gets dozens of E-mails every day ... testimonials which can be used for case histories to promote the page ... leads for new sources of information to post on the page ... and unsolicited manuscripts that can be included in OncoLink's growing libraries.
	This is a fascinating time for communicators.  We should look at Web pages and the Internet not as "technologies," but as new vehicles to communicate -- using skills we're already good at -- with our key audiences.
	Thank you, for your time.	
# # #

TUCoPS is optimized to look best in Firefox® on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2024 AOH