Breaking barriers

I recently had the opportunity of meeting some colleagues in Europe to discuss various business opportunities. One of the barriers that we recognised was language, a disadvantage for me who didn’t speak German. While being a native English speaker does help, (English is the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin), there are a number of subtleties which are lost when people are communicating in languages other than their mother tongues.

Futurists have spoken about devices that will translate your speech as you are talking which will allow you to carry out a conversation in two different languages. While this might be a few years away, AltaVista have included an innovation on their search engine that translates web pages on the fly. While not perfect, it certainly breaks through the language barrier when you come across pages that haven’t been written in your mother tongue.

In addition to translating web pages, you can also enter plain text which, it will translate for you one the fly (see my wishes at bottom of this article). Appropriately named BabelFish the service adds a whole new dimension to browsing the web for both English and non-English speakers alike. Interesting to note is that it places in jeopardy those firms that have set themselves up offering a multi-lingual translation service for web sites.

Another breakthrough, which I came across this week, was the Audible web site. Building on the growing demand for audio books, Audible offer the ability to download audio programs in many different categories from best sellers and fiction to personal development, spirituality business and finance.

The audio programs can either be played back on your computer, if you have a soundcard, or you can purchase an Audible Player for US$199. This Walkman type device holds two hours of audio programs and allows you to listen wherever you are. Coming soon the ability to play RealAudio files on the Audible player.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a fantastic end of year holiday season. Thank you for your support over the past year. I do appreciate all the positive feedback that has been sent to me over the past months. If you celebrate Christmas then all the best and may 1998 be prosperous and successful for all.

All the best from sunny Cape Town
Tous les meilleurs ensoleillé du Cap
Alle besten von sonnigem Kapstadt
Todos los la mejores de ciudad asoleada del cabo

Stifling creativity on the Web

I read a report on Internet World ’97 in New York this week where CMPNet journalist Jeff Pundyk complained about the way the Internet has been packaged and sold. No more propeller head and wacky innovations – just loads of HTML editors and ways of increasing ‘productivity’ while on line.

The emergence of the Internet over the last five years heralded the start of a fast moving and dynamic industry – have we killed that spontaneity and are we bordering on making the Internet insignificant.

Webster Definition
Creative, a. Having the power to create; exerting the act of creation; having the quality of something created rather than imitated.

The way that the World Wide Web has developed would seem to be a creative person’s dream. Graphic designers, who were previously limited to print, are now able to express themselves for the entire world to see. New technologies appearing daily allow for more and more interaction with web users. But is this creativity?

Web designers that base their work on winning awards for being “witty” and “creative” are often doing their clients a disservice. If we compare an ad on television, where many big ad-agencies specialise and make most of their money, to a web site then we see two very different mediums. TV ads don’t need an interface and typically flash on the screen for a few seconds. Generally their aim is to heighten your emotions and then implant a message in your brain. A web site on the other hand needs to draw you in, feed you a constant stream of information while gradually extracting pieces of data from you.

The really creative web site designers hook users using many different methods. Free and interesting information, cheaper prices, more convenience and fun are some of the reasons people are pulled to a web site. Clever web site designers are able to combine these features and keep a whole cross-section of ‘viewers’ happy.

Television advertisers are able to catch some unsuspecting sports addict in the middle of the world cup rugby final. On the web you have to hang out hooks that draw people in from various different angles, hold their attention and get them to either buy from you or provide you with enough information about themselves so that you can sell them at a later stage. The audience is active, critical and involved. Far removed from the unshaven beer drinker watching rugby, the web surfer could be anyone from a multimillionaire businessman to granny next door.

This is one form of web creativity. Another form may be taking an existing business relationship that a company has, and improving it by allowing third parties to deal with your company more effectively. If it easier to deal with your company, then typically your partners and clients will deal with you more often. Federal Express worked this one out and save US$20 million a year by providing their customers with the ability to look up the location of a parcel anywhere in the world and at anytime using their web site. The US$20 million is nothing compared to the increased customer satisfaction.

Creativity on the web is far more than a fancy design. Some of the most innovative companies use simple ideas, which as we all know are the best ideas. Combined with practical and elegant design, they result in great web sites.