If your Web site is important to your business, it needs to be managed professionally. Unfortunately, sites are often designed and managed by committees. Everyone is in charge, which means nobody has control. This results in content that is uneven in style, tone, and quality and an information architecture that is muddled and inconsistent.
George W. Bush is President of the United States. Steve Ballmer is CEO of Microsoft. Paul E. Steiger is managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Yet, on a great many Web sites — particularly intranets — nobody is in charge.
“In a world full of turf battles, it takes real courage to stand up and say, ‘Our intranet doesn’t need an owner. It belongs to all of us — and to none of us,'” George Anders wrote in the September 2001 issue of Fast Company. I wonder whether Anders would say the same about a car production line: “Our production line doesn’t need an owner. It belongs to all of us — and none of us.”
What is an organization if not organized? Surely, one of the principal benefits of an organization is that it organizes human and physical assets to achieve certain objectives.
Why should the Web site be an exception? We don’t say to office workers: “Go on there, figure out how the office should be run.” We don’t say to sales reps: “Go on there, do your own thing.” Isn’t this why we have managers? To manage. To plan. To organize.
Many Web sites do not have clear management structures. The people who run them may have some responsibility, but they often lack authority. One reason this situation has occurred is, historically, senior management did not understand the Web.
This resulted in companies’ leadership generally ignoring the Web. Consequently, Web sites, particularly intranets, grew organically because of the efforts of evangelists within companies. These evangelists received pretty much zero support and no budget. Yet they often achieved real results.
These evangelists had their own ideas as to how the site should be organized and what content should be on it. I once had a conversation with an employee from a large consultancy. He told me the company operated 1,000 separate intranets, 950 of which were useless.
Some people champion evolution and community when it comes to the Web. Evolution has undisputed benefits, but it can take millions of years to get something right. Business doesn’t usually have that long. Community is a wonderful aspect of society, but community is not business. There are good reasons why GE and Microsoft are not organized along community structures.
When people come to your site, they want to quickly and easily find information. Supporting this need requires complex planning and ongoing management.
As Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path writes:
[If] your Web site simply exposes your messy and silo-ed enterprise, the customer will assume the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. But if the site achieves consistency throughout, it presents a unified front that allows the customer to accomplish what they’ve set out to do there.
The organization that does not put someone in charge of its Web site is shirking its responsibilities and short-changing its Web site users.
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