The key to web success is to stop thinking about organizational information and start thinking of customer tasks.
It all started many years ago. I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. A colleague was sick in Beaumont hospital in north Dublin. My friend Tom and I decided to pay her a visit. As we entered the reception area, I saw that sign. It was big and blue and seemed to be smiling at me, inviting me; feline and so attractive. The sign was in all capitals. It just said one word: INFORMATION.
What a sensuous word. I had worked in the Web for years and had had the pleasure of being surrounded by so much information. People need information. People love information. They yearn for it, dream about it, fantasize about it. We live, of course, in the information society, and people all over the world are just looking for information.
I was enthralled by that simple, blue sign. I walked towards it without thinking. It was calling out to me. And then Tom called out to me.
“Gerry, I know what room Ann is in. There’s no need to ask.”
But I was blind, deaf and dumb. I waited in line, oblivious to Tom’s voice. My turn came. I smiled at the receptionist. She smiled back. It was the moment of truth.
“Can I have some information please,” I said to her.
“Sorry?” she replied, her eyes somewhat quizzical. “Are you visiting a patient?”
“Yes,” I replied enthusiastically.
“Ah, so you need to know what room they’re in. Can you give me their name?”
“My friend Tom knows what room Ann is in,” I replied. I looked back to see where Tom was and I noticed that he was trying to hide behind a pillar. I turned back to the receptionist. “I’m just looking for information. Any information will do. When, for example, was this hospital built? Stuff like that. This reception desk, what type of wood is it made from? Anything at all. Just give me information.”
The receptionist stared at me for what seemed like a long time. Then she smiled. “I know exactly what you need, sir. If you just wait there …” She got up and went into an adjoining room. I waited.
About five minutes later two pleasant gentlemen in white coats arrived.
“Hello, Gerry”, one said to me.
“I believe you’re just looking for information.”
“Come with us, Gerry, and we’ll give you all the information you can take.”
I was so excited. Until they put me in a very tight-fitting, badly-designed jacket. And then locked me in a white room with very soft walls. And then started giving me injections.
It took time. Lots of counseling. I had many relapses. The doctors told me that I had spent too much time with too many web teams who didn’t live in the real world. These web teams built websites full of information without any real understanding of what their customers actually wanted. These web teams thought people came looking for information, when in fact people had specific tasks that they wanted to solve. Information was only a means to an end. It was not the end.
I’m better now.