A Pan of Iconocast’s Flash

The eureka moment finally came.

Ever since my editorial counterpart, the redoubtable Michael Tchong, unveiled the new Flash version of Iconocast last week, something’s been bugging me. I knew it reminded me of… something. If only I could remember what. Damn.

I should mention that we at ClickZ regard Iconocast as a competitive publication. I know (and like and respect) Michael. So, is it appropriate for me to vent my not-absolutely-unbiased feelings about the revamped Iconocast in this forum? Does Macy’s talk about Bloomingdale’s? I fretted about this a bit and then decided, what the hell? No one else has weighed in publicly on the relaunch. It might as well be us.

So, now that we’ve got all the cards on the table, here goes: It’s loaded with bells and whistles, but as a business-to-business (B2B) publication Iconocast’s redesigned site is a dud.

Back to that eureka moment. In the week or so since the redesign appeared, I’ve been talking to people in the industry about Iconocast’s new look. I keep hearing the same thing about the design. “It looks so… I don’t know, five years ago,” was a typical comment.

I thought so, too. But that’s kind of an airy statement, isn’t it? It doesn’t bode well for the site’s new tag line, “We’re about the next idea.” But what does “five years ago” really mean? Then the penny dropped. Delving deep into my mental cache file, I pointed my browser to the Razorfish Subnetwork. Voil&agrave. There they were. Those hexagons. That layout. Rsub, as it’s affectionately known, launched in early 1997 — nearly five years ago.

That Iconocast’s “next idea” was something Razorfish thought up five years ago (now fleshed out with Flash) is one thing. What makes things worse is that when I landed on rsub today, I was presented with two options — “old skool” and “new skool.” Select old skool, and you see those hexagons. Choose new skool, and you get the “next idea” — the redesigned Subnetwork (no skimping on the Flash).

I don’t know if the design issue would stand up in a court of law &agrave la “He’s So Fine”/”My Sweet Lord,” but it certainly appears derivative. Even setting aside the resemblance, the new Iconocast is hard to navigate, difficult to read (those teensy fonts), and woefully short on content — what little of the latter there is doesn’t support the value proposition.

Even the editorial style runs contrary to the mission statement. Three of the (only) four stories in the debut issue lead with statements such as, “…Moskowitz told The Orange County Register in March 1995“; “…observed Digital Impact Chairman William Park… in August“; and “But in October, America Online reported…” (emphasis added). The just-out second issue repeatedly references the venerable-but-defunct Industry Standard. As an editor and as a marketer, I question the wisdom of professing to embody the “next idea” by using the (distant) past tense in the first sentence of all but one of the articles of the premier issue.

Worse still, those articles disappoint. Where’s the news, the hard data, the charts and graphs, and the Jacobyte — items that made Iconocast the must-read it now claims to be? It’s not a must-read anymore. It’s a lightweight (and it appears others have expressed this sentiment, too — a chart appeared in the second issue).

The Flash interface does make the site interactive. It definitely pushes the ads in front of the users. But to what end? Will they come back for the style if they don’t get substance? Epigrams keep coming to mind. It’s “the medium is the message” versus “content is king.”

After all, all the style in the world won’t get you anywhere if your users have to spend their precious time stumbling through your site — especially if they finally arrive at the content only to find it wasn’t worth the trip. There’s a reason that navigation paradigms have grown more similar, rather than more disparate, as the Web has developed. It’s because simple navigation works.

The thinking behind the new Iconocast is great. For that Michael deserves congratulations. We should all be working on ways to incorporate rich media and other new technologies into our sites — and our ads — to enrich the experience.

In this case, though, the thinking doesn’t go far enough — especially for a marketer. Tools must be selected wisely and with purpose. To throw in yet another epigram, we should keep in mind that “form follows function.” Like ClickZ, Iconocast is a B2B publication for busy marketing folks. Our sites and newsletters are primarily information sources. They should be fun, but they shouldn’t be playgrounds.

That’s what really seems so “five years ago” about the redesign. It’s a lot of Flash around an unsound model. Give the readers what they came for: content. If they don’t come back, neither will the marketers. A publication for marketers ought to know that.

(Michael, don’t kill me. Think of the click-throughs this generated!)

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