I had the privilege last fall of teaching a workshop on "Why Web Sites Fail and What To Do About It" at Nonprofit Day, an annual conference of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management http://www.compasspoint.org/.
Eighty representatives of nonprofit organizations from the San Francisco Bay Area participated in a discussion of some of the more common ways that nonprofit Internet strategies go wrong.
In my capacity as author of the Nonprofit Site Analyzer Reports ( http://www.gilbert.org/siteanalyzer/), I've had the opportunity to look at thousands of nonprofit web sites. Several important patterns have emerged for me. These are reflected in the five syndromes to which I devoted most of my workshop: the Upside Down web site, the Dead web site, the Disconnected web site, the Cool web site, and the Stingy web site.
Here are brief summaries of each syndrome:
What each of these syndromes has in common is a single simple problem: The tendency to focus on a web site as a product, rather than as a means of communication. Non-profits often focus on simply having a web site, when instead they should be developing web sites and email and every other communication medium in the context of their communication goals and systems.
I described the concept of Whole Systems Internet Design to the workshop participants as one way to get around these problems. This approach is simple, but deep. It means looking at web sites and email as parts of a system. It means looking at what has been called the "Information Ecology" of an organization, mapping out who uses and produces each flow of communication and then determining how Internet technology can improve that flow.
Although I always recommend such a thorough approach to planning an Internet strategy, I realize that some organizations just aren't there yet. So I want to give people something to do with their sites without committing immediately to a full exploration of their information ecology. Enter the Quick and Dirty Site Analysis Worksheet . You can complete it in less than an hour.
For those organizations who are ready to delve more deeply into a systems approach to Internet strategy, I offer some Recommended Reading . The books and web sites listed there will provide months of study and some very in depth tools. You may also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your questions.
This short checklist is focused on questions that can be answered about a site in a few minutes time. It is also restricted to the "front end" of a site.
Quick User Test:
Front Page Checklist:
Web Sites :
- AlertBox column on web site usability: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/
- The Flow Experience: http://www2000.ogsm.vanderbilt.edu/papers/flow.construct/measuring_flow_construct.html
- User Interface Engineering: http://world.std.com/~uieweb/
- Yale Web Style Guide: http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/manual/contents.html
- Web Developer's Virtual Library: http://wdvl.internet.com/
- Cognitive Systems Engineering, by Rasmussen, Pejtersen and Goodstein
- Database Backed Web Sites, by Greenspun
- The Fifth Discipline, by Senge
- The Team Handbook, by Scholtes, et al
- Work-flow Strategies, by Kobielus
These books are provided in association with Amazon.com.
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