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Who Are You? (I Really Want to Know!)

Who Are You? (I Really Want to Know!)

Borrowing a stanza from The Who’s hit song seemed like a good way to bring attention to a critical topic often ignored by engineers. When finding information on a company that has an interesting product, what do we do? Of course, we look at its Web page to learn more. If that Web page is well designed and informative, doesn’t bury us as it tries to gather data on visitors, and provides information of interest rapidly, we may proceed to either get information to purchase and/or design in a product, contact a service provider (not ISP, but services such as board manufacture, custom design, testing, etc.), add a bookmark to get there quickly again if need be, or perform any other appropriate action.

If that Web page is poorly designed, not up to date (e.g., I go there because of a new product announcement and the product is nowhere to be found on the manufacturer’s site), or not informative, it leaves a lasting impression that at best puts the company "on probation."

How does this apply to engineers? Well, here are five examples:

As a consumer of this information, we can readily "vote with our feet." If two companies have similar products and one requires you to sign away your firstborn to be provided with datasheets, while the other company readily posts each part’s datasheet for easy and ready access on their Web site, which company wins out? Or you may go to the first company’s Web site and cannot find the information you need, and instead must "contact" said company for a datasheet just to see if it might have a product to fit your application—but it will likely take a few days to respond. Meanwhile, the second company’s site has a readily available datasheet. Which will you choose? To see a ready comparison in this vein, check out:

As members of organizations that advertise themselves, we need to be part of an active voice to let those generating our Web pages know if the pages will turn away potential customers/clients due to confusion, bad navigation, or unclear content. A front page that says "I can do it all" is no longer enough for a Web site. Some features of Web pages that draw in customers/clients include:

• Clear explanation of capabilities
• Navigation that’s easily recognized as such, and gets visitors to where THEY want to go on the Web site
• Tools to rapidly choose and compare services
• Examples of clients served (where possible/appropriate/authorized)
• Web-site tools that enable sensitivity testing, simulations, or "instant quotes"
• Web-chat service to actually show clients we care about them

To see a ready comparison, check out:

A big turn-off to visitors (to me anyway) concerns Web sites that have advertisements that drift around, or pop up, and cover up information to be read or viewed. This often includes a "Would you like to chat?" pop-up that must be beaten back just to go on reading information. Similarly, blinking or moving stuff can be distracting when looking for key information on a Web page.

One other increasingly problematic "feature" of most Web sites concerns the use of third-party services to provide capabilities. Examples include the ubiquitous Quantserv and Google services. One level of such services is not too horrible. However, the trend today seems to have a service with a sub-service, with a sub-sub-service, and so on. The more layers it goes down, the more likely it becomes for an unknown tool to insert itself to gather data, and possibly insert untoward "features."

I use "No Script" in my browser because some of the sites I need to visit for work reasons have extreme external service sales pitches. They waste bandwidth and time, and I am not comfortable with Google gathering all visit information for everyone in my company that visits any vendor’s page. I understand that the use of remote content by these services simplifies the page developer’s life and increases productivity. However, the time has come to handle external services with internal servers to deliver complete Web pages to visitors without sending the browser to a dozen Web sites, just to complete viewing one page. Layered services for page support becomes most frustrating when a problem arises with any of the external services that prevents page load from completing, especially if page load is coded to display the desired page content after the external services finish loading.

A big show stopper is the unrequested call from a sales or marketing person, who says "I saw you were browsing our Web page and downloaded XX data sheet; can I assist you?" Especially if I’m on a tight schedule, and I was checking to see if a Web page showed a product similar to what I needed for a project. Even worse is the call from the sales rep: "XX (a distributor) recently sold you YY (represented product). What project was it for?"

I understand that sales reps have now got a scheme where they can make commissions from distributor sales in their region, but I don’t want distributors or sales reps sharing client information and bills of materials for products under development. For the distributors, this has meant splitting key critical components among multiple distributors to limit the effects of such "sharing." I have also called one distributor in particular and "read the representative the riot act" about passing detailed purchase data on to external sales/marketing personnel.

One disclaimer for this article: I am not advocating nor advertising any of the companies included in my links for this article. Rather, I used them to show how good Web-site design—especially ready access to information—can keep time-challenged engineers coming back.

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