Web 2.0 was recently defined by Kevin Messing, creative director at Fry Inc., as being the "second-generation Internet technologies that drive a better user experience online." Stephanie Diamond, founder of Digital Media Works Inc., said, "Some find the principles of Web 2.0 life altering, others say it's pure hype. But whichever camp you are in, you can't ignore the fact that business is changing - especially online."

In his presentation at a recent conference in Chicago, Messing said, "Web 2.0 is a new approach to creating and distributing content online, characterized by open communication and decentralized sources of content." Here are his practical do's and don'ts for starting to use this next-generation set of Web design tools:

1. Break out of the page-by-page Website structure. Provide a naturally intuitive experience similar to that of desktop applications. Sites such as Gap.com and buildyourown.circuitcity.com (Circuit City's home theater configurator) use this site structure.

2. Give the details. Provide your customers with robust product descriptions that are available at the product detail level rather than just at the end of the checkout process or in an order confirmation e-mail. Blue Nile does an "amazing job" by providing detailed drawings in a pop-up window that explain how the clasp of a bracelet works or how a diamond is set, the panelists pointed out. Also, prominently place information about guarantees and privacy policies.

3. Engage the community. Allow site visitors to share information such as tags, ratings, reviews, etc. For examples of sites that use tags, check out etsy.com and flickr.com.

4. Re-evaluate e-commerce metaphors, i.e., shopping carts, etc. For example, "deliver on the shopping cart metaphor by placing a bar along the top or side of the page that expands when the shopper wants to see what she's placed inside," Messing said. He cautioned retailers not to take customers to a separate shopping cart page to prevent them from getting lost. Retailers can also enable pop-up windows to provide shoppers with more information on a featured product so they don't have to click through to a new page.

5. Decentralize Web content, providing the freedom to share, re-mix and re-use content (i.e., via really simple syndication and XML). Messing noted that Apple.com and epicurious.com use this technology.

1. Don't assume customers want to spend a lot of time on your site. For example, try to avoid forced things like password hints, forced login to checkout (which both the Wal-Mart and Target sites do, they noted), forced e-mail address at checkout to collect e-mail addresses for the company e-mail list (i.e., Gap.com).

2. Don't give your customers inaccurate information. In fact, include information about actual shipping costs, shipping duration, and merchandise availability.

3. Don't write cryptic error messages. For example, use the phrase, "Please enter your password," instead of, "This string is shorter than the minimum allowed length."

4. Don't forget to link your logo to the domain homepage. For example, on its overstock pages, the Lands' End logo doesn't take shoppers back to the main Landsend.com homepage, which Messing said makes for an awkward experience.

5. Don't overbuild your site. Think about what your customers really want, and if you want to extend or build on that experience, test it and provide scaffolding to help bridge customers to your new feature or technology.

Article courtesy of the Melissa Data NEWS (www.melissadata.com).

Publication date: 07/24/2006