If You Don’t Have Anything Good to Say…

I was sitting at the computer wondering how to start this month’s article — really, wondering who to pick on — when my email binger alerted me to new mail, including my regular morning delivery of Individual.com.

Individual.com is a welcome delivery in my email client every day. It aggregates the content from dozens (maybe more) of news services and magazines across the country, categorizes and cross-categorizes them within increasingly discrete topics, and then presents the results first to my email client and then through personalized web site sections at http://www.individual.com.

As I read, an idea dawned on me. Something so novel, so uncharacteristic of every fiber of my being, that at first I thought I must surely be losing my mind.

Mike, I said to myself, what do you think would happen if you wrote something good about the web for a change? The notion struck me like a faceful of shtml. Something good? I responded, with that sense of reverence and distrust with which I always address myself. You mean… an article about how somebody somewhere is doing things right?

I began to tremble as I considered deeply the notion. I worried about being struck by a thunderbolt or cast into hell (which for a consultant is, to paraphrase Sartre, other consultants) for my blasphemy. I thought, Yeah, something good. Something positive. A view of the web that isn’t all bitching and complaining and criticizing every little mistake everyone makes.

I checked my “Generally Accepted Practices for Consultants” manual and determined that, while positive remarks weren’t explicitly condoned, there was nothing specifically restricting me from making them.

Well then, damn it all I cried, I’ll do it!

A Site That Gets It

What makes Individual.com so good is that every single thing that it does on the site has as its raison d’être facilitating access for the visitor — now that’s what I call a business model.

In other words: it makes things easier for me.

Consider these examples:

  1. It provides continually evolving elements that allow visitors to control the type of information delivered and the manner in which it is delivered.

  2. It is in a constant state of functional growth — every time this site changes it’s not for a facelift but to launch a new set of tools to make using the site simpler, better and more targeted.
  3. It is intelligent: It makes some very smart decisions about what information to present based on what information I’m currently viewing.
  4. It has a near-perfect navigation system to help me through a fairly complex set of content elements; it’s consistent, context-driven, and extremely easy to understand and use, and I never have trouble finding my way back to wherever I came from.
  5. It has a superior notification and delivery system. I can select email delivery or not, HTML or ASCII, headlines or topics only, table of contents or not.
  6. It lets me add and remove topics, and even prioritize which topics appear at the top of the presented list. Two weeks ago it was important that I track supply chain management and travel technologies; this week supply chain has been replaced by software outsourcing. These are the items that now appear at the top of my list.
  7. It provides multiple views into the same information — I can look at topics, at companies, perform searches, specify dates… and more.
  8. And they have a business model where any company, with a little graphic attribution, can put specific topics from the full offering at their sites — a very clean way to provide fresh, high-quality content.

Consider today. When that email binger I talked about went off, I looked and discovered that I had 268 stories available to me, on topics ranging from search engines to Internet ethics, from IT in healthcare to tourism. I then had to add some topics to my list to support a new client, a law firm specializing in healthcare, which means that I had another eight or so topics to track. So I went to their search engine, entered my keywords, and was presented with a very focused list. I selected what I wanted, and then prioritized the results so they appeared as the third topic in the list. The whole thing took five minutes to do, and when I was done I had a newly revised list presenting me an additional 30 stories that day — many of which were useful.

Well, I’m not really trying to sell you on Individual.com (they have, by the way, a free version and a subscription version), but rather to point out a company that really does get it, and having gotten it, gives it to its visitors and subscribers in a smart, and continually smarter, way. Almost everything they do makes sense to me.

And as I write this I sit and wonder which construction firm they used to build their site. I wonder if that company is any better than the careless, unfocused, unsystematic outfits I’ve encountered. If they’ve found a company that understands the importance of process and business. If perhaps they’re using a design firm that really does understand that the Net is business infrastructure, not marketing communications. If maybe, just maybe…

Well, as Lady Anne told Richard III: All men live in hope.

See you next month.

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