John Duhring:

The blunt truth is that most Web sites are a waste of time.

They have to be viewed as technology experiments. 99% of all Web sites today use some HTML, some clickable graphics, email feedback and that's it. On top of that, most sites don't change much. These have been called "vanity Web pages," and whether they were produced by an energetic Webmaster in his free time on spare equipment or by a group spending $50,000 or more, they aren't worth a second visit.

On the other hand there now exist a few, certainly under 1000, Web sites that can be called "commercial grade." Their producers have spent literally millions of dollars custom building them from scratch. These sites include Time-Warner's Pathfinder,, Yahooand other Internet search services, CMP's TechWeb, and Britannica Online.

Among other things, these sites generate repeat usage. Some level of trust has been established with users that their time will be well spent. Behind that, of course, is a lot of hard work and systems development focused on making the user experience worthwhile.

Technically, the best Internet sites offer up-to-date content, tools that allow frequent users to "personalize" their experience, and "high availability"-- meaning the services are consistently available and the process of downloading pages is quick.

Building content is just the beginning of building value on the Web. Encyclopedia Britannica their service as a gateway to knowledge, not a static repository. When using the Encyclopedia, a single user will only see a very small portion of the entire work, and each person reading a certain page might have entirely different needs for the information. Knowledge comes from traversing the service, not just reading a given article. They work hard to provide a structure on every page that offers a gentle suggestion that "if you like this page, then you might want to see these other places you can go from here." Each use of their service becomes a personal journey, making the service a personal resource that grows more valuable as it becomes more familiar.

Personalization also works for advertising. CMPlets advertisers sponsor keywords. Imagine searching for articles about "internet publishing" from their database of archived stories, and receiving buttons that link to 3Com, Intel, Corel and other sponsors along the top of the page containing the stories you retrieve. If you change your search to "publishing," only Corel's link appears, but not the others.

In my view, EVERY Web page should have a search option that lets users take control over their experience of the service at any time. This isn't just more convenient and customizable, and it's not just a better way of targeting ads for sponsors -- it's a whole new kind of relationship between producers and their audience, based on information exchange.

My personal pet peeve with Web sites is when I can't get to a site, or it's slow or too busy to handle my page request. This is purely a matter of bandwidth, and most sites don't get enough.

Brainstorms Tomorrow Mind to Mind