The first website I ever visited was a music database. After waiting 15 minutes (no exaggeration) for the page to load, I would pick my favourite band and gorge on all the info. It was exciting to have so many current details gathered in one place. There were photos, too, but they added another 30 minutes to the wait time. In those early days, many websites served as digital encyclopedias.
Around 1999, I pitched a magazine story about “weblogs.” New software had made it possible to publish writing in reverse chronological order (newest entries first) — and you didn’t need to know HTML to share your journal with the world. My editor declined the story. I think he had visions of lock-and-key cat diaries and rambling teen angst. Fair enough, but we all know how that turned out.
I’ve been working on two new content strategy projects this week, which has led me back to the basics: What is a website? In 2013, what is it for? Why do we have them? Here’s what I’ve concluded.
Today, websites (and their related apps) have 7 main purposes:
1 – Commerce. Buy, browse, exchange, claim discounts, ship and receive.
2 – Legitimacy. Portfolios, galleries, resumes and digital references confirm experience and gather work in one place.
3 – Editorial. Newsletter, magazines, blogs, journals and other hybrids.
4 – Service. Find a library book, book an airline flight, manage your bank account.
5 – Info aggregation. Weather forecasts, stock prices, travel research. Movie trailers and health tips.
6 – Communication & connection. Places to talk, meet, date, rant, chat, rate services and products, or express ideas.
7 – Advertising, marketing, cataloguing. Learn a company or a creator’s story. Check their prices. Watch a video. Research products or services.
Everyone who uses the web intuitively understands these functions. Many sites also blend several purposes. An artist, for example, might have an online portfolio (legitimacy) with a web store to sell her illustrations (e-commerce). She also shares behind-the-scenes photos and sends a monthly digital newsletter (marketing). An airline site includes commerce, service, information and marketing in a single hub.
I’m sharing this list not only to state the obvious, but to give you a clear lens through which to view your website. When clients say they need site copy, my next question is always, “what is your website for?” You have to clarify exactly what you want to accomplish online in order to be successful — and those decisions directly influence the design, writing, programming and functionality. It sounds simple, but very few people do it well.
I also want to encourage you to cut the digital shackles. If your site is purely editorial, make it an immersive and truly engaging experience. If it’s designed for commerce, make it ridiculously easy for people to buy what they want. Cut the excess. Break the rules. Express yourself and screw convention. And be grateful that 15-minute page loads are now a distant memory.
Have I missed any functions? Please let me know.
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We’ve been completing a little office renovation around here, and I’ve realized how impatient I am with tasks like painting, gluing, and sanding. The tape measure is not my friend. I am imprecise and irritable.
I’ve done at least 10 full edits on each book – yet every time I start back at the cover page, I’m happy to read the same words over and over again. I enjoy hunting for errors and ideas that need clarification. I love smoothing out clumsy spots that disrupt the flow – and I actually relish the fresh eyes that come with each read-through. The work can be (mentally) tiring, but it’s never a chore.
When I consider the day-to-day activities of my friends who are photographers, architects, web and graphic designers, I can’t imagine filling their shoes. Sure, it’s easy to daydream about location scouting or sketching a brilliant design before breakfast, but I know there’s also serious minutiae involved that would send me into meltdown. Every industry, even the most iconically creative ones, have dull tasks that require focus and slogging. No way around it.
But when you find yourself deep in obsessive territory, not caring that an hour passed while you re-worked a single paragraph, that’s the real creative destination. That’s where you’re supposed to be. Loving the tedious moments (at least most of them) is also essential to completing projects that challenge your mind and stretch your skills. I guess it’s also how we rack up those 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell measured so eloquently.
So embrace your unique obsessions. Track them and use them to nudge you ever closer to success. The real achievement, however, is the daily sense of contentment that will sit quietly on the sidelines, watching you do the work.
I’ve long admired Vancouver’s In the House Festival. Born in 2003, this creative performance series transforms private homes and living spaces into temporary theatre venues. The eclectic, intimate shows often fuse music, dance, storytelling, film, theatre, spoken word, acrobatics and burlesque to create unique cultural experiences for hosts, audiences and artists alike.
Yesterday afternoon, I got a sneak peek at their third-annual haunted theatre installation. Just in time for Halloween, the House of Faerie Bad Things is a mash-up of puppetry, opera, aerial circus, belly dance, film and music. The one-hour tour takes you through 14 different faerie environments in a labyrinth-like space. Eight shows run nightly from Oct. 29-31st with an after-party for all ticket holders following the last tour.
“It’s a very different kind of scare than ‘here’s a dude with a chainsaw,'” explains In the House artistic director and show co-producer Myriam Steinberg, who suggests the eerie tour is best suited for visitors ages 12 and up. All the scenes pull their dark, often gruesome and macabre content from old faerie tales. But, “there are a few moments that are hauntingly beautiful,” adds Steinberg.
So why faeries? What’s so frightening about Tinkerbell, Ariel and her winged sisters — and what’s the connection to Halloween?
“It’s all linked to the same culture,” says artistic director and co-producer Chris Murdoch, whose studies in comparative mythology revealed that nearly all pre-Christian societies had faerie-related celebrations around harvest time, during the period we now mark as Halloween. People believed that the veil separating the earthly world from the supernatural grows thin as winter draws near. The stories and fables passed down from early civilizations provide a cautionary tale for the season. “I really enjoy faerie mythology and the tongue-in-cheek, dark humour in it,” says Murdoch.
I have to confess I’m usually a Halloween killjoy. Save for the occasional set of Mickey Mouse ears or the year I played a vampire victim, I usually let the day slip by without celebration. The House of Faerie Bad Things offers a new way to explore the dark holiday without resorting to the usual clichés. You’ll get an excellent dose of local theatre culture — and hopefully a good scare, too.
To buy tickets (they’re going fast) or for more details, visit the In the House Festival website.
Some notable links as we head into the weekend:
I was thrilled to see Delancey get some love in last week’s New York Times. A longtime Orangette reader, I licked my chops in anticipation as Molly Wizenberg and Brandon Pettit built their 40-seat Seattle pizzeria. The slice of Fennel Salami I devoured there last summer did not disappoint. It’s time for a return visit.
There’s a new online magazine on the block. Kinfolk has a dreamy, DIY feel with a Brooklyn-meets-Portland-by-the-lake aesthetic. Extra credit for the mini films scattered throughout the pages.
Here’s a snippet of the magazine’s manifesto:
Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us. We have come together to create Kinfolk as our collaborative way of advocating the natural approach to entertaining that we love.
I wish them all the best.
Have you seen this sweet-yet-sad video of a Mariachi trio serenading a Beluga whale ? You must. After all, it’s Friday afternoon.
I’ve written before about my love for Monocle magazine. My only complaint? It’s seriously dense. There’s so much good stuff jammed into every issue that it’s tough to finish one in under a month. All the more reason to get a quick hit from the Monocle website.
The video is as visually sumptuous as you’d expect from a Monocle briefing, but I’m pleased that the reporters transcend the cool factor to explore how the cafés reflect their respective neighbourhoods. Each proprietor takes a unique approach to serving those addictive beans and the four standouts (in Melbourne, Miami, Amsterdam and again, Vancouver) target very different customers. Clearly, thin-slice segmenting works.
Whatever you create, think about your ultimate customers / clients / buyers / fans / tribe members — the people who immediately “get” what you’re doing.
Make them happy first.
Whew. I just wrapped several big, highly technical projects. It’s satisfying to emerge from a dark tunnel and I’m happy with the finished products, but I’m also feeling a little burnt out. Drained. Empty. In fact, my head is a test pattern.
So, I started thinking about what builds (and re-builds) creativity. In her classic book, The Artist’s Way (What? You haven’t read it?), Julia Cameron describes creativity as a deep well that needs constant filling. In order to enjoy that blaze of inspiration, you must actively seek new fuel for the fire.
Straightforward, right? But it’s not always easy to do. Our culture prizes action, results and measurable gains. We’re supposed to stay constantly in motion, striving earnestly toward a series of lofty goals. I love juicy projects and daunting to-do lists. I’m happy when I’m in hot pursuit of something big. But, I also know creativity requires regular pruning to stay healthy.
And here’s where I had a moment of (admittedly primitive) insight. It’s not wasteful or indulgent to spend time seeking inspiration. Getting immersed in music, magazines, books, galleries, dark bars, forest trails, complicated recipes and long conversations is, in fact, part of my job. It’s essential. Editors, clients and readers will be bored silly if I’m dried out. I owe it to myself and to others to keep that well filled.
I’d love to hear how you get and stay creatively engaged. Please spill your best secrets!
Rockstar Diaries is one of my daily blog reads. Writer / dancer / photographer / red lipstick afficionado Naomi Davis has such an unbridled zest for life that you always want to know what she’s thinking and what vintage frock she’s wearing.
Her site recently saved my carol-addled ears with a great online holiday album called, Hey, It’s Christmas.
And while we’re on the topic, what are your picks for best and worst Christmas songs? Here are mine:
Worst: Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney. Oh, Paul. My ears are bleeding tinsel.
** p.s. Morrissey clearly doesn’t share my love for the 1984 charity single:
“I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of Great Britain. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.” 
Tonight I’m going to see Arcade Fire – Montreal’s indie darlings who now fill stadiums around the globe. That means, of course, that music geeks are beginning to call them “sellouts.”
“I feel like Arcade Fire has reached that point where they’re now Mother-approved. As in, you’ll soon be receiving a call from your mom asking if you’ve heard of this band called ‘The Arcade Fires’, because she read about them in Entertainment Weekly or heard them on NPR’s Morning Edition. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course…”
It’s an age-old story. A band / artist / designer / performer tips into mainstream popularity and is immediately branded dull and irrelevant. But unless they start churning out sub-par material (see U2), popularity doesn’t have to equal creative compromise.
As for Arcade Fire, their third album, The Suburbs, has received heaps of critical acclaim and they’re known for serving up positively electric live shows. They’ve also become savvy viral marketers.
The band doesn’t court mainstream press, but partnered with Google Chrome to release a buzzy, interactive film that quickly made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. They also created eight different covers for The Suburbs and multiple purchase options, including CD, premium digital files, double 12-inch vinyl, and combinations of all three. They’re smart with social media — and they give back, with a focus on rebuilding Haiti through the KANPE Foundation and Partners in Health.
Sellouts? Not in my book, but we’ll see if they deliver the goods tonight.
photo by Sebastian Kim
As I stream The xx on MySpace — for the fifth delicious time today — let’s talk about music and money.
Clearly I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve just been reading about YouTube’s new revenue sharing program. Have you heard about it? Musicians Wanted is a partner plan for independent artists — and the key word is indie. You need to own the global rights to publish and distribute your own video content.
Here’s how it works:
Artists earn monthly revenue from both “relevant” ads overlaid on their original videos and banner ads that run beside the viewer window. They also earn dividends when their YouTube videos are embedded on external websites, such as music blogs (a huge selling point for popular artists), and bands can add tour dates and links-to-purchase for albums and merchandise.
Interested artists have to apply, and they’re evaluated on factors including video popularity, number of channel subscribers, and their involvement in the YouTube community at large. Videos also have to meet quality requirements (i.e. no loopy screen savers paired with an audio track). What’s especially interesting is that YouTube employees will choose which acts are accepted, essentially turning them into digital music scouts.
The first band to join up? OK Go, which left EMI / Capitol earlier this year to start its own label — and since everyone and their grandmother watched the addictive treadmill video for “Here It Goes Again,” they’ve definitely got the audience to make it work.
OK Go also got tongues wagging for using State Farm Insurance money to make its “This Too Shall Pass” video. A toy truck with a tiny State Farm logo on its door gets the action rolling and at the end, the screen reads: “OK Go thanks State Farm for making this video possible.”
Whether they’re savvy or sell-outs is your call — the arrangement has been heavily debated in both business and music circles — but the band has demonstrated that it’s willing to get cozy with mainstream brands in order to keep producing quirky, highly viral videos.
As for the YouTube program, the mere idea is another notch in the vinyl for indie artists. Major label representation is not the promised land of the past, and as more and more musicians choose to control their own careers, viable revenue models will continue to evolve and expand. The program’s other upside is its potential to spotlight innovative visual artists and bands that apply real creativity to their videos. After all, the more people view the vids, the more cash flows into deserving pockets.
Ready for a treat on a dreary fall afternoon? Steer yourself over here and dive into the moody, gloomy, dirty glamour of Anton Corbijn. He’s the legendary Dutch-born photographer and film director who has shot some of the world’s most iconic musical acts, including U2, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Iggy Pop, Bjork, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Nirvana and R.E.M.
Depeche Mode was my first major band crush. Their edgy electro-synth sounds offered the perfect soundtrack for my teenage angst. But even then, I was awestruck by Corbijn’s videos for singles including Strangelove, Never Let Me Down Again, Behind the Wheel, and World in My Eyes. Music videos were just emerging as an art form, and MTV was almost garishly colourful — reflecting the bouncy, mainstream pop of the era. But Corbijn created fantasy worlds that were gritty, grainy and dark. His camera captured beauty edged with ugliness and more than a hint of subversion
The men in Corbijn’s viewfinder are rock outlaws, all distressed leather and louche attitude. The women walk dogs in stilettos and skintight dresses with Eurotrash indifference. They function as props — lounging in lingerie on couches and pouting in doorways, nonchalantly aware that they’re being filmed right into history.
Corbijn’s images were a massive departure from the fresh-scrubbed acts of the ’80s, and he continues to produce some of the most breathtaking photography around. If you haven’t seen his 2007 film, Control, about Ian Curtis and the rise of Joy Division, you need to book the night off right now. I mean now.
More than anything, the man is seriously prolific. Corbijn shot Echo and the Bunnymen in 1984 and still found time to tart up The Killers in 2008. He’s done stacks of books, major gallery exhibits, and I can only imgaine what new projects are rattling around in his creative mind.
Surfing through his website, I’m reminded that a creative life piles up day by day, project by project. When you stay on course, stay true to your influences, and work hard to hone your craft, the results can be extraordinary.