Why too many Websites lack the power to deliver the goods

Awards, awards. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for awards in principle (otherwise, why would I agree to judge them so often?). But in practice the quality of the work does raise serious questions.

It’s high season for awards at the moment: we’ve not long had the New Media Age Effectiveness Awards, and the Yell awards are next up on July 9. What worries me, as someone who was lucky enough to get an inside look at the judging of both awards schemes, is that the quality of the entries is so patchy that both sets of judges ended up deciding not to award a prize at all in some categories.

In the NMA awards it was the financial services sector which failed to impress. I’m currently in “purdah” over the results of the Yell awards, so I can’t reveal the category which so comprehensively underwhelmed the Yell judges – but the decision to withhold an award was unanimous.

Despite the evident quality of some of the sites on show, the overwhelming majority of entries lack the key elements necessary in any new product in any market: vision and inventiveness.

Too many entries still fail to demonstrate an understanding of some of the fundamental principles of new product design and development: they fail to focus on an audience; match the product to the type of audience available on the Web; or deliver a timely and appropriate product or service to that audience.

But more than that, there is still an overwhelming failure to understand that this new medium is not just about Websites. The Web is (when appropriate) a shopfront, a distribution channel, a customer support tool, a market research tool: in other words it can fill many of the slots in the value chain. But the site has to be designed to fulfil these roles.

Too many Website operators are forgetting these fundamental tools of any business, and concentrating on creating a “cool” Website.Which is not to take the credit away from some very worthwhile winners.

I was in New York recently, looking for something to do at the weekend, and trying to find a Website which could provide me with comprehensive information on opera, cinema, and theatre events. I failed to find any site which could match the standard I have come to expect from the excellent This is London Website, which sets the pace currently for local news and information services on the Web.

By next year that pace should have stepped up a notch, and local new sites should be offering ticketing services, and transactional capabilities. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s pace-setters are capable of stepping up that extra gear.

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