A Tale of Two Websites
8 Aug 2015
Today, I’m going to tell you a story. Don’t worry, it won’t take long, but beware, Gentle Reader: It’s a sad one, or at best bittersweet.
A woman visited a website late one night. She needed information. She needed help. And she needed it yesterday. She should have been out enjoying her life on a Thursday night, but her deadline approached, implacable and unstoppable as the Grim Reaper’s scythe. So she found a website that looked promising. She clicked the link with the desperation of an injured hiker clawing for a rescue rope. She waited for it to load, tears sparkling in her eyes, afraid to hope but more afraid not to.
When the homepage came up, the site itself looked okay. All the buttons did exactly what they were supposed to do. She found surfing inside the site easy, fast and intuitive.
But this site didn’t deliver on its promise.
Despite the bold, above-the-fold headline that proclaimed “HERE Is The Answer You Seek!” writ in letters of flame a foot high in her search engine, the data she needed eluded her, buried within a thicket of “Why our company is the best!” and “Why you need to be using us instead of the other guy.” Words were poorly spelled, run together in unintelligible cold-spaghetti tangles, punctuation was an afterthought, grammar not even hinted at and the rules of good writing abused, misused and treated as nothing more than polite suggestions. She searched high and low, inside and out, clicking and shifting between pages as precious minutes sheared away on the clock. Try as she would, search though she did, she could not suss out this single, elusive bit of data that could fill in the final gap standing between her and the “Eureka!” moment she sought so desperately. Empty jargon, meaningless buzzwords and the latest psychobabble shrouded her quarry, camouflaging it ever more closely the harder she looked.
As seconds became minutes, and minutes piled upon themselves to become almost an hour, she became more and more dispirited, downhearted and certain the Holy Grail she desired did not reside here. Finally, after all her frantic hacking through this thicket of meaninglessness, she gave up. Typing out a short, terse message regarding her disappointment and disgust, she returned to the search engine and chose another site.
Elsewhere, the upper echelons of the company who owned the website chortled and clapped their hands with glee. “Look at our metrics!” they said. “We have users spending almost an hour on our site! We’re doing it right!” The message from the woman received a scant three seconds’ attention at the next Monday meeting, and the Powers That Be elected to take no action. Their reasoning was, “After all, we can’t please everyone!”
Although the next site did not proclaim it had the answer, it nevertheless contained the knowledge she required. It told her a story, in well-written, plainly understandable English. It laid out the data, bare and ready as an eager lover awaiting her touch, and pointed up implications she had not previously considered. It made her laugh, bolstered her spirits and put the debacle of the other site quite out of her mind. The woman wrote a quick comment of gratitude, took the information she needed, and moved on with her day.
She completed the project on deadline, as instructed, and that one bit of information she’d labored so hard to pluck from the Internet’s razor-fanged jaws became the focal point of her project, earning her plaudits, laurels and in due course a corner office. As a result, this site became her go-to source for information on the topic, and she soon became a loyal and profitable client, bringing her entire company with her. The site that had disappointed her so badly was the topic of one brief conversation.
The owners of this website smiled serenely and nodded. “Of course the answer was here,” they said. “Surely she didn’t go THERE for it! But look at this wonderful comment, and look at the huge account she brought us. We’re doing it right!”
The deal made headlines in all the major business publications and resulted in a merger that made everyone involved unto the fourth level of management ridiculously wealthy while ultimately launching the woman into the top desk in a Fortune 10 company.
Elsewhere, the owners of the first site she visited sobbed openly after closing time on their last day in business. As they mournfully packed personal items into boxes and plucked memorabilia and pictures off the walls, they looked around at each other and repeated the same despairing question. “Why?” With no answer they could think of, they drifted wraithlike out the door, one by one, with murmured condolences and commiserations, until the erstwhile owner turned out the lights, armed the security system, shuffled listlessly outside and locked the doors for the last time. Not one of them realized the woman whose feedback they had spurned years before with such utter disregard was the same one who had allied with their competitor and so become the unwitting architect of their company’s demise.
So, on this Saturday, Gentle Reader, I leave you with this question:
Which company, and which website, do you want to have?
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