Article: What direction do you see the net going in?

by William Suboski

This last year, ecommerce has been all the rage. Going back a year or so,
Java applets were hot. That is, the public perception of websites was that
"good" websites had ecommerce, or Java applets on them.

If we go back before the applets, say three years ago, streaming video,
vivo, was the "hot" topic. There is not a lot of talk of streaming video
anymore. It has been incorporated into the universe of web design, and has
cooled considerably as a "hot" topic.

This is mostly because people have realized that streaming video has huge
bandwidth. That even 30 minutes of quality programming is quite expensive to
produce, and that we already a very effective streaming video technology
filled with desultory content.

There seems to be a laypersons metric of website quality, but this metric is
froth on the sea, and changes with time. The issues involved in truly
measuring website quality are subtler and more longterm. A website's
quality or effectiveness cannot be assessed by simply pointing to the
presence or absence of a particular feature.

This past year, the media have focussed heavily on ecommerce, as a buzzword,
but this buzzword is almost never defined.

If we take ecommerce as the current laypersons metric, hmmm, well, what is
it? Do we mean the capacity to process purchases online, secure server and
closed sales? This is great, but only part of the picture, many businesses
want and need to create interest without needing to close a sale online.

If we take a wider definition of ecommerce, we might come up with something
like: websites designed for easy use, whose primary purpose is commercial.
Such websites frequently also allow online purchasing, but their first and
foremost function is to provide product information. Some sales will close
online, but many will not.

For example, several years ago, I used the Web to find a hotel near where
our family reunion would be held. I saw that they had an indoor pool, and so
I knew to take swim shorts in February. No money was transferred across the
net, but all arrangements were made in advance of our arrival. I never did
actually use the pool, but my options were more open.

I consider this to be a perfect example of ecommerce.

As web designers, we need to recognize that many ecommerce systems can be
interfaced as needed to other tech, and that ecommerce as narrowly defined
will only ever apply, with maximum saturation, to a segment of the market.

The high tech companies contribute to these bad metrics. Both in sales and
in hiring, companies talk in terms of ASP, CGI, VBScript. To the average
business person, these terms are not helpful. Quite the opposite. They
create a "cognitive barrier". Jargon is useful within a specialized group,
but actually impairs communication between groups.

By talking jargon to nontechnical people, we actually make what we as web
designers and IT architects do, harder for them to understand.

We can use a narrow definition of ecommerce, and we therefore have a
situation in which ecommerce modules can typically be rented for 50 a month
and plugged into existing websites.

Or we can take a wider definition, one which includes customer service,
product support, complaints and returnshandling, and, of course, online
sales as indicated. This is not a 50 solution, not something that can be
cooked up in a day or a week.

Instead, design of an effective ecommerce solution requires care, expertise,
and the experience of the client. The flow and arhitecture of the site, the
content and emphasis, must be designed with

The industry as a whole is best served if we try to be less technically and
more "user" oriented. That is, to talk not in terms of CGI, Java or
JavaScript or ASP, but rather in terms of catalogues, shopping baskets, and
currency converters. If we submerge the technology and instead focus on the
functionality, then indeed terms such as ecommerce become far more meaningful.

But more than this, each website can then be geared to individual needs,
without the expectation that a "good" website must have ecommerce, or
streaming video, or feature A, or B, or C.

About the Author

William Suboski

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