June 1, 2000-- Newsletter #82

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
June 1, 2000--Newsletter #82
Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com

Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

Victoria just can't keep a secret. If the numbers are true, the latest Victoria's Secret online fashion show was the most-viewed Internet event in history. I wrote a couple of jokes on this subject but decided not to run them.

Have you seen all the Metallica hate sites out there since they fought against Napster? Whew! People are cheesed. In response to Metallica supplying the names of over 300,000 screen users they claim violated copyright, Napster removed all of those accounts. Now rap artist Dr. Dre. is asking for the same thing. The problem is that there are an estimated 935,000 mp3's of Dr. Dre's music out there floating around. Gosh. Pandora's box has been opened and it won't close easily.

I'm always writing about what the U.S. government is doing for the Net community. Well, here's some great news from the European Union regarding regulations on electronic communications. They wish to fully ban unwanted email. In short, kill the spam. Good for them. Once they find a way to do it, show us. I'd love to get a few less stock tips this week.

There is a new computer virus out there. It doesn't have a set name. It usually sends itself in the form of a forward, so "FW:" will be in the subject line. The file inside will have the extension .vbs. Don't touch it. Delete it. Honestly, I have just gotten to the point where I open no attachments--period. Even if I know who they are from, I don't do it. People who email me know I won't open the attachment. They paste it into the body of the email. It's just getting silly, folks.

Now on to today's topic...



I'll bet the vast majority of you have never been to these two sites: Boo.com and DEN.net. Both of these over-written, super-programmed sites expired last week for a multitude of reasons, which I'll get into in a moment.

DEN.net was a Hollywood-based site that delivered Net-based entertainment, while Boo.com was London-based and sold only the most hip fashions to the coolest of people ... who never came.

At last count, Boo.com had spent over $120 million and was turned down for another $30 million loan; that sealed the I.P.O. R.I.P.

DEN ignored industry reports that the "convergence" between television and the Web simply wouldn't happen. They went forward, clogged modems, and died of a cyber-heart attack.

One of the things I try to get across on the HTML Goodies Web site is that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something. The browser wars, although close to being over (thanks to Navigator 6.0), are still going on. Proprietary commands that only run in one browser or the other still pop up and ruin a nice day of surfing. Pages that are constructed for display more than for content take forever to load and leave the user feeling let down when he or she realizes the long download wait was simply for an over-blown animation that reads "Welcome, Click to Enter" in letters that rocked back and forth.

The demise of these two sites had far less to do with what they sold and far more to do with what they were: monoliths so over-programmed that any ease of use or surfing enjoyment were crushed.

Here's an example. To see DEN's home page, you had to first download a plug-in that would run the animation. If you didn't have the plug-in, you received--get this--a blank page.

Boo.com couldn't decide what it was: a store, a magazine (Boom) or an online guide (Miss Boo). When customers attempted to "shop", an animated salesperson assisted. It's a great idea in theory, but AOL users would have to wait a full minute just for the images to say hello. All of a sudden the hip blue shirt wasn't so hip anymore. Besides, they have blue shirts at Eddiebauer.com. AskJeeves.com has a great, animated guy. He just doesn't jump around and waste bandwidth.

I've read multiple articles on the demise of these two sites, and there is total agreement that the sites did not die because of market share, product, or economic forces. They basically shot themselves in the foot by trying to create a site that would be so jam-packed that you couldn't take your eyes off it...even when it was taking forever to load.

I know I've said this to hundreds of students and written it in probably too many of my tutorials, but I can only go "Ooooooo!" once when I see a great effect. Past that, it's download time I'd rather spend doing things on your site.

Those of you who have a site, and I know almost all of you do, ask yourselves this question: What is my killer app?

"Killer app" is fancy computer terminology for "great application". The telephone's killer app is that it allows you to talk to other people. A stove's killer app is that it cooks your food. Google's killer app is that it catalogs and searches Web pages for you. A personal Web site has a killer app ... you!

What is the one thing your site does? If you say your site does multiple things, maybe you should think about creating more than one site to cover each killer app. Yahoo.com does multiple things, but each of those is done through a separate web site, not all from the main site. All Yahoo.com does is search. That's a killer app. If your personal Web site tells all about you and has a fan page for the Cleveland Browns... maybe you need to break that into two sites. One killer app per site is enough. Make links for sure, but one site should do one thing.

Amazon sells. eBay auctions. CNN tells the news.

So ask yourself, what is your site's killer app? Once you narrow that down, look at your site and be very honest about what you see.

Are there elements on your Web site that do not aid in the completion of your killer app?

The roll-overs on the links are aiding the killer app by aiding the user. They help with navigation, but do you really need the DHTML bird image flying all around the screen? Say that in the upper left hand corner of your page dedicated to Star Trek, you have a JavaScript that posts the date and a running clock. Is that required? Maybe--if it gave the date in star-date. That would add to the killer app.

What about that scrolling text down in the status bar? The one that reads "Thanks for coming to the page" one letter at a time. The one that obstructs the URL of the link when the user puts a pointer on a hypertext link. Is that contributing to the killer app?

Now, please understand me. I am not telling you to tear your site down to the bare bones. It is all of these fancy little coding deals that add fire to Web sites. Maybe the flying DHTML bird doesn't go on your site so well, but on that Star Trek page, it would look pretty cool as the Starship Enterprise.

I hate that people lost money and I hate that people lost jobs at Boo and DEN, but their demise should act as a wake-up call to those who design Web sites that over- production can hurt your chances of success.

Remember that you program for your visitors more than you program for yourself. What will help them? What will aid them in seeing and enjoying your site's killer app? People will sit through a long download time if the results will be helpful to them. Anything past that makes too many people roll their eyes.

Take a hint from Boo and DEN, for those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


That's that. Can you tell I'm writing a design book? Ugh!

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Have you ever said "Roger Wilco"? Do you know what "wilco" means? It's a shortened version of "will comply".

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