4: Purpose: The Offer
Every piece of communication has two basic sides: A sender and a receiver. Both have an influence on the finished result, they share their responsibility for the common cause. A provider of information thus has to take into account not only his own preferences and capabilities, but those of the audience as well. Apart from poetry and true art, where this could be motivated by aesthetic considerations, it is no use being cryptic and obscure, or proving able to write in a rare or extinct language when the audience for such an activity would be rather small, even if the scriptor's capabilities may seem to be reflected in such an act, but that only seems to be so; or using dozens of technical gimmics, however advanced, to make the site more hip. I would rather deem such a behavior selfish somehow, or narcissistic. To just make a show out of one's faculties isn't in any way a decent approach, it is just screaming out loud: "What a piece of work am I". That's not art, it is prostitution and arrogance.
Any writer, artist, composer, reporter, designer etc. is dependent upon his or her audience, not only out of monetary reasons but per definition. Why should I write something and publish it? Why should I write something at all? Maybe a personal diary can be written for oneself, but I'd rather doubt that. It is rather probable that even the production of such a personal journal has in mind a future reader, and be it the kids or grandkids. The reader may be concrete in some cases, like in letters, so that you'd know your receiver. But in the case of larger publications, the reader rather becomes an abstract institution, not easily graspable but a mystery to most, even to the one writing this article. But a text itself is something supposed to be read. Otherwise, the sole production of it would make no sense. Words are said to be heard, written to be read. If you write for a newspaper, you can be sure it won't be read just by yourself. Same with a book. Same also with a web site. A text cannot distance itself from neither its writer nor its reader (or, producer and perceiver). A web site is a document available to an audience. Thus the text will demand for certain properties if it is supposed to be understood and perceived properly.
There isn't really something like a personal web site. Once you put it onto the web, once you make it public, it belongs to this public as well as to yourself - and since you write for an audience, you should not be so surprised about something like that. Your text, your site, and both its form and content carry a certain proposition and create a certain expectation. Of course no one expects Grandma Alice to produce a masterpiece of contemporary art when she puts together a site about her cat, Petsy. Of course no one expects little Joe, of eight years, to write Shakespeare on his site or to design it decently instead of childishly, i.e., in a way a child would (and should!) do it. In such cases, expectation and reality meet, so there's no problem with that. And if expectations are exceeded by reality, the better. The problem only arises when expectations are not met.
If an art student has a web site looking like produced by a complete retard, that's a problem. If a law firm makes heavy overuse of animations and strange fonts, that's a problem. If a designer's site looks like mayhem, that's a problem. If a researcher's site isn't well structured and its content flawed, that's a problem. If a commercial site looks like a random selection of buttons and gimmicks, that's a problem. A web site is your business card. It is your reference. It can be your resume. It is the best and easiest way for you to shine. Or to deter a possible audience or clientele. You don't do it for yourself but for the audience. All of you having a web site will know how it feels to get traffic. It's like a drug, it is the pay-off for all the days and nights and weeks and months and years of work. And it can directly translate into sales or advertising profits. The word "content" thus has become one of the catchy phrases of today's web society. "Form", however, is usually ignored. And when content suddenly means out-smarting each other with a deadly overuse of unnecessary gimmicks and stuff, even the last reason for visiting a web site will disappear because risen complexity doesn't mean risen user-friendliness. It is easy to do an overkill with such toys as streaming video, web cams, Java and ActiveX. But if the foundation of all of that is missing or fatally flawed, your contribution to the web will become an annoyance rather than a worthwhile place.
One aspect of your web site is the offer you make to your audience. The audience is your legitimization, it is your reason for creating your web site. Your offer is closely linked to your agenda, your hopes and needs, it is the manifestation of your artistic or academic or business interests. The offer you make is your own, it has to be your own, it has to be original in that it has to be obvious as coming from you. Your idea has to be visible and strikingly obvious. You may not lay bare your innermost hidden thoughts, but that's not what this is about anyway. You control what you show about yourself or about your business. But what you show has to be consistent in itself, understandable and structured and designed the way it would work best. The audience is not your enemy. Feedback - negative or positive - is your best friend. Target your offer to your audience, and try to look at your site from a stranger's perspective. For the second aspect of your site will be the user.
PJK June 5th, 2000