Saturday, September 13, 2003

Ebay again

Back to thinking about that piece in Fortune on ebay that I mentioned a week or so ago. I was catching an update on eBay this morning and was stunned to see that they had over 63 million visitors to their sites in August, up from 54 million-odd in March. eBay has been profitable since day one - the only dotcom to have achieved that and one of the few to be profitable now (although, in the UK we also have lastminute.com who seem to be going from strength to strength. Whilst we're talking to people in government about DotP, the engine that drives ukonline (and the OeE site for that matter - which was independently surveyed recently as the fastest site to download in government) and will soon drive yet more sites, one of the frequent questions is "how quickly can I change the site?". By "change", most people mean the kind of thing you can do in frontpage or dreamweaver - delete this, drag that from there to there and republish. Of course, in frontpage the answer to the change question is about 5 minutes. In most content management systems it's quite a bit longer - after all, some people have spent a lot of time figuring out the optimum layout for the site and making sure that the navigation is properly laid out, that there are no deadends and that the site makes intuitive sense - often using extensive user testing to make sure of that. So the idea that you might want to drag and drop a whole section of a site and corrupt all of that prior work doesn't make much sense - unless you have (1) some rigorous control procedures to make sure that noone can drag the home page to the bottom of the architecture/delete the home page altogether or change the text to white on white and (2) some way to measure what happens when you have made such a change. After all, presumably you're making the change because it will be better - visitors will find what they need faster, there will be fewer clicks or people will find a section that they couldn't find at all before. How often do you think there's enough data to know the answer to that second question? Not often would be my guess. But, it comes up every time and the general consensus as a result of discussion is that content management systems are restrictive. They put controls in. Otherwise, it would be a bit like trying to drive through London without any traffic lights. Sure you'd get from where you were to where you wanted to be eventually, but the absence of stop (and check) points increases the risk of accidents with significant unintended consequences. I don't think that eBay's 2 months and 10 months answers are right either, but the idea of putting in 2 weeks of effort to make sure you were doing the right thing before you did it could hardly be a silly idea, surely?

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