Who was fit to be ranked among the best in 2003
What is the best website? Impossible question. It depends what it is best for. But throughout the year I come across sites that are superb at what they do – that are most fit for purpose. Here are some from 2003, with a few turkeys thrown in for Christm
|Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs||Jihad Unspun|
|Smith and Nephew||Electronic Intifada|
|Meadowhall||Bank of Japan|
What is the most powerful website: the one that gets its message across most effectively?
I turn to the Middle East, where the web has become a critical propaganda weapon (Americans need convincing, and Americans use the web). Until recently I would have nominated an old favourite, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not only is it superbly organised, it uses the web’s strengths to the full: particularly, it is updated with great speed after any incident and it carries explanations more lengthy than any other medium would allow. Click for example on the home page link “Which came first: terrorism or ‘occupation’?”, and you will find extraordinary detail on pre-1967 attacks.
The other side has until recently been outclassed. Now it is fighting back, albeit with sites that are based outside the region. The Electronic Intifada and Electronic Iraq are linked news, feature and diary sites that are particularly strong in areas the mainstream media ignore: the British occupation in southern Iraq, for instance.
Chilling and cool
But the most powerful (or terrifying) operation is Jihad Unspun, a beautifully-designed site that mingles extreme views with Western sophistication. So, a catchy headline – “Like news with no advertising?” – leads to a piece headed “Unity for the blessed obligation of Jihad”. There is a huge amount of material on Osama Bin Laden. Like the Israeli site, it makes full use of the web to spread itself, to give whatever length a subject needs.
I jump from the chilling to the cool. Can a computer screen ever convey real luxury – the sort of spine-tingling ooh-er feel you can get from a beautifully-produced paper magazine or brochure? Not often, certainly, but have a look at the site for Sublime Ailleurs, a hotel near Marrakech. This is gorgeous: not much information, but enough, and dripping with Moroccan indulgence. Choose from three soundtracks, specially composed. When a page is loading a gloved hand hangs a notice: “One moment, please.. we are preparing your [page]”. Naff? Maybe, but it did nothing to reduce my urge to get on the road to Marrakech.
Sales and localisation
From the sublime to the mundane. Two weeks ago I wrote about online book retailers. So who is the best web retailer of all? From a site effectiveness point of view, may I suggest Web-blinds? This UK company makes blinds to order, and it has got its ‘sales journeys’ beautifully sorted. Say you want a blind. Go to the site. Click on the Room Creator link, and choose a virtual room (bedroom, bathroom etc). Click on the different elements, from lamp to carpet, to reproduce your own colour scheme. Choose what sort of blind you want, then the colour: see how it looks in “your” room, and adjust. Add your measurements, check the price, click, and you have bought yourself a blind. It is the detail that makes the difference; it works.
What is the best corporate site? These are the most difficult of all to get right, but I like those that are used to make a business work more fluently. Within its formidable array of local sites (from Croatian to Korean), Otis offers calculators to help architects and building managers work out how many lifts and escalators they need, to create drawings, to schedule service visits, and much more. The work it has shifted to the web is extraordinary.
I also admire Smith and Nephew, another impressively localised site that is used to provide hard information for surgeons, as well as realistic education for patients. Watch the interactive shoulder replacement operation – in the US orthopaedic section – and be afraid.
Don’t try this at home
Turkey time, Let’s start with the Bank of Japan. A central bank needs to give the impression that it is trustworthy and professional. To call this site unsophisticated is to let it off lightly: the “virtual tour” consists of a series of snapshots, and that is one of the best bits.
Selfridges has always been dreadful, and still is. It has been left in the hands of designers who like using Flash animation software, but have no idea how to make it work for a retailer. Maybe a large retailer cannot use the web well, because unless it sells online there is no good use? Nonsense. Look at the shopping centre Meadowhall, which uses its site to help shoppers make best use of their time there. The Shopping Planner lets you work out your best route round the centre, and print it out. Imaginative, and useful.
But I give my wooden spoon to a northern English chain of Indian restaurants. Shere Khan is the worst case I know of techno-madness: Flash-powered everything, and quite unusable. Take two aspirins before you visit. Or maybe three.
I looked at my first website just over 10 years ago. It was the budget page of the Hungarian prime minister’s office (I don’t recall why). Ever since then I have watched as people poured money and time into the medium, and sometimes thought they had it cracked. They had not – all they had proved was that this is a medium so rich and complex that it can never be ‘sorted’. The next 10 years should be just as interesting.
First published on 17 December, 2003