Web not the proper medium for text

The other day, I received an email from a kindhearted ComputerWorld Canada reader and fellow tech writer who had discovered a spelling mistake on my company’s Web site. This, to me, was the business equivalent of having food on my face or an unzipped fly, so I much appreciated her candor.

All red-faced, I flexed my corporate-blame-shifting muscles and told her that I had nothing to do with the writing of that content and would make sure the appropriate guy got yelled at (“i” before “e,” except after “c,” Mike. Now write it out 50 times).

Truth be told, I’m as much to blame as anyone. I don’t think I had ever even fully read what was on the site, although I did skim through it when it first went up to make sure no one had slipped in references to pizza and beer.

Despite the many meetings and debates regarding logo, colour scheme and layout, we all had a very lax attitude when it came to our Web site’s text.

It was an afterthought, really, thrown together in about five minutes after everything else was in place. But before anyone slaps my wrists and tells me I should know better, let me just say that I think we at least had our priorities in order.

If you believe that the medium is the message, then our Web site says a lot. It serves as an example of our proficiency in Web design, which is one of our major markets. I believe that the appearance of the site is what will leave a lasting impression on potential clients; certainly more so than a life story they likely wouldn’t bother reading anyway.

How many times have you heard someone preach of the necessity of text-based content on a Web site? It’s an idea I’ve been beaten over the head with, but refuse to accept. I challenge anyone to tell me that www.smint.com is an ineffective marketing tool. How much written content could one really spin about breath mints? They’ve taken the right approach – fun, interactive marketing. We may not learn much about their company, but, after a few minutes on the site, we won’t forget the name.

Diversity of presentation format is what makes the Web exciting, and if we have fixed expectations for a company homepage, we risk negating someone’s creative efforts. We don’t really need substantial text on a Web page any more than we need an announcer verbally describing the product and its price during a TV commercial.

There’s nothing wrong with a company having a gimmicky or frivolous Web site. In many cases, that’s exactly what the company should have.

However, a site with a lack of reading material should not patently receive such classification. In general, I foresee a gradual move away from the use of text as a focal point on the Web, mainly because we don’t look at a lot of text on television.

It isn’t exciting or convenient, nor has it proven to be the preferred marketing method when the same medium allows audio/visual communication. Advances in marketing technology call for us to broaden our definition of “content”.

The same kindhearted person who spawned this train of thought also mentioned

the predominant graphic on my company’s site, and commented on what it might signify. That pleased me to no end, and solidified the notion that we are, in fact, getting a message across – spelling errors be damned.

Cooney is a co-founder of Centiun. He can be reached at robert.cooney@centiun.com.