How not to help

portal.jpgMy good mood changes when I become frustrated with, or even deeply disappointed in, what people claim as a “portal” resource on their website. Then my professional peeves emerge and I feel the start of a rant coming on. I know when people say libraries/ians will be soon be replaced by the internet they’re just naive so it’s even hard to debate them. But I still cringe when a client happily tells me they’re going to create a portal because I know through experience how much time and effort is required to maintain one.

Try doing a “let’s pretend” exercise with me. You have some research to do, under duress (as is usual when dealing with death issues), and you find this supposedly professional death care web directory (last updated 3/18/07!) boasting, “…we believe to be the most extensive in the industry.” And then (despite their small print disclaimer) click on half the links supplied. Oh, I know you don’t have the time, but trust me. I did. What I found makes me grind my teeth. This is not helpful. It is an advertisement half loaded with rotting, untrustworthy or completely useless links. And why? Because whoever manages this “resource” is too overworked or frankly doesn’t care enough to vet the links with a human eye and brain and make sure their references meet a few critical standards. It gets worse. Other sites then blithely reference this page because they are too busy to do a little due diligence as well, perpetuating this poorly constructed crap around and around the web. And we hear complaints about wikipedia being an untrustworthy source? Jeez, wikipedia is brilliant compared to this travesty.

Before there were such things as “content management systems” or “information architects,”–and that would be about 1993–the web was a wild chaotic and creative mess. And that was okay since none of us knew what we were doing, we just did it for the creative and even social (yes, social before “social networking” too) joy of it. I love the tubes and nets, and what I find on them energizes and surprises me. I know I always will be connected to working with the web in some way. But now that more than ten years have passed those constructing websites have hopefully learned some things. I could list them but there are other places where that is done much better. What I’m talking about is care and concern. A little attention to the details perhaps? Design content so that it is helpful, useable, and useful. If you don’t have time or manpower, well frankly, no content is better than bad content so do us all a favor and just resist the urge. Or go even one better and hire a librarian (or content strategist, or information architect or whatever you want to call these generalists obsessed with organization and information seeking). Then you can boast about your “directories” being the truly useful resources they are meant to be.

</rant stepping off soapbox> Thanks for listening and if you supply a “list of links” ask yourself, are these really helping my visitors or adding to the value of the website in some way? Or am I just using them for padding to make it seem like I truly care about a particular topic. I think I need another cup of coffee.