IT Restrictions at Work

A couple of weeks ago Scott Arbeitman wrote about the technology gap between the street and the enterprise. Carl Joseph replied to that with one of the most painful technology-related quotes I’ve heard (painful because of how true it is):
“Every day you get to use new technology and are exposed to new, exciting things…then you go to work.”

I’m not sure who actually said that, but if you work for a large corporation, then you’ll know what this feels like.

How do I Deal with Such Restrictions?

At my workplace, in order to keep up with the rest of the Internet world, I not only bring my own personal laptop to work I also bring with me my own personal wireless broadband Internet connection. And, despite the fact that my laptop is ancient and the broadband connection is painfully slow (relative to my workplace’s connection), I still get a better Internet experience on it than I do on my work computer.

Why? Because even though my laptop has half a gigabyte of RAM, a slow 30GB hard drive, no built-in wireless adapter (yes, it’s that old), and Windows XP, I get to run on it the latest versions of Flash, AIR, Silverlight, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Seesmic Desktop (along with numerous other applications) and I get to access whatever I want to on the Internet.

On my work computer, meanwhile, I am stuck with no AIR or Silverlight, IE6 as my only browser (I do have a version of Firefox on it but that doesn’t run Flash so it might as well not exist), and restrictions on which websites I can access. What makes this harder to live with is that my computer’s hardware is pretty good (it’s a docked laptop with a dual monitor setup) and my Internet connection speed is excellent.

It’s Not All Bad

I have to admit, though, that I am being somewhat unfair to my workplace. Aside from making us run IE6 and blocking parts of the web (including sites like Slideshare because it’s “personal storage”), they do let us access webmail, all the social networking sites (indeed, according to our IT department, Facebook is one of the five most popular sites at work), and most online media sites (like Flickr and YouTube). Compared to other large organizations – particularly government departments – in Australia, that’s pretty awesome.

In fact, they’ve gone a step further and have provided us (the Web Team) with a special media desktop (for converting and editing video) and a special Internet laptop (with all the latest software and applications installed on it). Bits of the Internet are still blocked on these PCs because you’re still going through their proxies, but that’s not such big a deal.

So What’s an Employee to Do?

One way for tech-savvy employees to get around these restrictions is to do what I’m doing: circumvent the IT department entirely by creating a parallel setup for yourself. With recent technology improvements like cheap netbooks, powerful smart phones, and readily available mobile broadband, this is easy and relatively inexpensive to do. I suspect a lot of Gen-Y will take this route.

The other option – the much harder one – is to get your IT department to get rid of these restrictions and, dare I say, modernize itself. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to do. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo makes a good case for it, though, in his recent article, ‘Unchain the Office Computers!’:
…workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers…can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination. So why not lock down workplace computers?

Here's why: The restrictions infantilize workers—they foster resentment, reduce morale, lock people into inefficient routines, and, worst of all, they kill our incentives to work productively. In the information age, most companies' success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.

The Role of the IT Department

One of the most important parts of Manjoo’s argument, however, is this:
What's worse, because they aren't tasked with understanding how people in different parts of a company do their jobs, IT managers often can't appreciate how profoundly certain tools can improve how we work.

This is often the root cause of the problem because most IT departments are divided into roughly three parts:

  • IT Operations: the people who keep the systems running

  • The Project Management Office (PMO): the people who oversee updates, upgrades, and all the organization’s IT projects

  • IT Planning: the people who plan for the future

What is often missing is the fourth part:

  • In-house IT Consulting: the people who liaise directly with different parts of the business and use the latest technologies to improve the way those people work

Without that fourth part, IT departments have a hard time keeping up with what people in the organization believe are the most effective and efficient ways of doing their work. They also don’t keep up with the latest technological solutions for various business problems.

Modernizing the IT Department

So, if employees want to take the route of modernizing the way the IT department looks at new tools and technologies, they need to start by modernizing the IT department itself. And, to do that, they have to look at IT as two different groups:

  • IT as a service delivery department: the people who provide us with our computers and networks

  • IT as a partner in business: the people who proactively help us do our job better

And if they’re lucky enough to get a CIO who thinks that way as well, things should start to change.

Web Strategy Jobs in Australia

In order to get what can loosely be called a 'web strategy job' in Australia I did quite a bit of research and analysis on how different companies hire for that position and I thought it might be useful to share what I've learnt. This serves two purposes:

  • Others who are looking for jobs in the same area might find my analysis useful.

  • Those who know more about this area than I do can improve my understanding of it.

Here's hoping this blog post accomplishes a bit of both.

What Do You Mean by 'Web Strategy Job'?

So what exactly does a 'web strategist' do? Well, it depends on the industry and company that job is in. In general, though, a web strategist is someone who takes care of everything a company does online. This includes:

  • managing the company's online presence (website, intranet, social media presence, etc.)

  • figuring out what the company should be doing in the online space over the next few years; i.e. creating a web strategy and making sure it is aligned with the company's business, marketing, and communications strategies

  • implementing that strategy

This job can be in different departments and at different levels of seniority within a particular company. To explain this further I have come up with the How Companies Build Their Online Presence table (below). The columns on this table represent company size and the rows divide companies into those that consider their online presence to be strategic and those that don't (yes, this is an artificial, binary division while, in reality, there is a range here). [1]

The text in the cells describes the solutions that these companies implement in order to build and maintain their online presence (yes, I am generalizing here). The jobs that I spent the last few months looking for are the manager-level web strategist/online manager positions described or implied in the green coloured cells.

How Companies Build Their Online Presence

Interestingly, over the last year, I have worked in companies in all three of those green-coloured areas:

  • Shell is a very large company that uses its online presence strategically (both internally and externally)

  • Melbourne Business School is a medium-sized company that uses of its online presence strategically (and increasingly so)

  • Linfox is a large company that doesn't use its website strategically but makes very good use of its intranet

Melbourne Water sits in the strategic row and is a large company.

Where the Web Strategist Fits in All This

As mentioned earlier, the web strategist jobs in those green-shaded boxes exist at different levels within different companies. That is why, over the last few months, I applied for jobs that spanned a range of tasks, skills, and seniority levels. In some small companies, for example, the primary driver of the web strategy is the specialist consultant hired on a 3-6 month contract. In some larger ones, the strategy is driven by a small group of people who are, in turn, led by the web/online manager.

There are pros and cons to being in each of those positions. For example, a short-term specialist-level consultant may not have the time, influence, or opportunity to have a major impact on a company's overall web strategy. That said, this consultant sits outside the internal politics of that company and can be more blunt and direct about what that company needs to do without having to worry too much about what people think of him. A full-time online manager in a large company, meanwhile, many find corporate inertia working against her for the first six months but, once things get moving, will benefit from it. And because this manager knows the inner working of the company, she may get things done more quickly and more effectively.

The sweet spot for me was to get a middle management position in a good-sized company that made good, strategic use of its online space. There is huge potential (and lots of fun to be had) in this role because companies in this position are often quick to move and are willing to make a real impact online. Fortunately for me, this is exactly where Melbourne Water sits.

What About the State of the Job Market?

Of course, all this analysis is useless if it doesn't help you get a job - particularly if no one is hiring for the position you really want to get. Because of that, I was also looking for less-than-perfect jobs or jobs on the periphery of where I wanted to be. The idea was that I would work towards the role I really wanted.

Speaking more generally: One good thing about this type of job is that every organization needs a website regardless of how the economy is doing (and Australia's isn't doing that badly). As a result, web strategists, website managers, and specialist online consultants are still getting hired. And though there are very few perfect jobs out there (and many companies are hiring less senior people to do the same job that more senior people were doing last year) I did come across a whole bunch that were great places to start. Read my previous blog post for more on that.

Further Research

So that is a summary of what I have learnt about web strategist jobs in Australia over the last couple of years. I encourage you to do your own research on this topic. To do that, I recommend the following three things:

  • Subscribe to online job feeds from Seek, MyCareer, CareerOne, and SixFigures. This will teach you a great deal about the state of the job market and will help you adopt the lingo that hiring managers and recruitment firms use to match candidates to open positions.

  • Talk to people who are in the industry and find out more from them. This is particularly useful if you are targeting a narrower segment in the market (e.g. web strategy jobs in the education sector). Also read their blogs, interact with them online, and get in touch with them through LinkedIn or your own networks (then meet up with them for a coffee or something).

  • Talk to recruitment agents who recruit in this area. I mentioned three firms and three recruitment agents in my previous post but there are many others - you just need to find the ones that work best with you.

And when you learn stuff, blog about it so all of us can learn from your experiences.

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[1] The words 'strategy' and 'strategic' are used very loosely in everyday speech while, in actual fact, they mean something very specific. Let me clarify that here: when you say something is 'strategic' you necessarily mean that it is relative to your competitors. Take your website's 'Contact Us' page. If, along with your office address, you were to give your office's Melways Map reference, this would not be considered 'strategic' because this is common practice. If, instead, you embedded a Google map that showed your office's location exactly (assuming, of course, that your customers found this useful and that it helped your business) this would be a 'strategic' move since few companies tend to do that and this gives you an advantage over your competitors. Note, however, that if you had decided to include that Google map without considering your competition, it would simply have been a 'plan'. A 'strategy', on the other hand, is action taken specifically with your competition in mind (i.e. in order to gain an advantage over them).

Internet Usage at Work Follow-Up

The Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) study that I talked about a couple of weeks ago has since been featured on Episode #49 of the University of Melbourne’s Visions Video Podcasts.

Also, you can read excerpts from the the study on the Deloosh Market Research blog:


This study finds evidence showing that employees who use the Internet for non-work related tasks during work hours are more productive than employees who do not. We speculated that Internet leisure browsing is an unobtrusive interruption which suspends metal fatigue, resulting in higher net concentration during a workday than when Internet leisure browsing is unavailable.

Making Checklists can be a Life Saver

Smashing Magazine just published an excellent article by Lee Munroe that lists ‘15 Essential Checks Before Publishing Your Website’.

Pre-launch checklists are crucial because they sometimes save you from making the silliest of mistakes. I myself maintain two such checklists when working on website projects:

The first is a general pre-launch checklist like the one Munroe is talking about. I customize that to include all the specific features and functionality of the site that I am working on. Indeed it starts to look a little like Dan Zambonini’s ‘Ultimate Website Launch Checklist’ that Munroe refers to at the end of his post.

The second is a gaps and deviations checklist. This is a list that gets created while I’m working on the site and it covers gaps or deviations that I noticed while working on the site but wasn’t able to address at the time.

A gap could, for example, be something I wanted to add to the site before the launch but wasn’t able to do before, say, showing the latest iteration to the client. Instead of trusting myself to remember this gap later on, I log it into the checklist. This could be something like: “Add image between paragraph 2 and 3 on About Us > Company History page”.

Deviations, meanwhile, include crucial and non-crucial items. Crucial items are those that will cause problems once the site has been launched. These include things like “Remove hardcoded URL to video file on home page” or “Remember to tell ISP about new domain redirect for web server”. I clear all of these items off the list before going through any other checklist. Non-crucial items are those that we can launch with but the editor, designer, or generally obsessive-compulsive person in me would like to fix before we do. A non-crucial deviation item could be something like: “Re-crop image on Contact Us > Branch Locations page to remove tree branch on right side”.

My gaps and deviations checklist is usually quite short and often I find that I’ve already fixed a lot of the things that are listed in it. But still, it’s a useful one to have; particularly if you’re as obsessive about everything being perfect at launch time as I am!

Upcoming Conference: Journalism in the 21st Century

The University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communications is hosting a global conference called ‘Journalism in the 21st Century: Between Globalization and National Identity’:

Journalism in the 21st century is being rapidly transformed, not only through the globalization of media and new media technologies, but also through the growing ubiquity of the Internet. These 'transforming' agents are reshaping newsgathering processes, and redefining the role of national news media in the context of a new transnational news space.

The conference will thus provide a broad platform for the discussion of these emergent issues, issues that are having an effect upon journalistic practice not only in Australia, but in the international context shaped by globalization and the 'network' society.

The conference’s plenary speakers include some big names:

  • Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK
  • Philip Seib, USC Annenberg, California
  • Sarmila Bose, Oxford University
  • Michael Delli Carpini, Annenberg School, Philadelphia
  • Malek Triki, Al Jazeera, London
  • Christoph Lanz, Deutsche Welle, Berlin
  • Christoph Wimmer, SBS, Sydney

Overall, it sounds really exciting and I’m hoping I’ll be able to attend. Further details on the conference (e.g. how to register) will be posted to the website soon. Right now all we know are the conference’s dates (16-17 July), registration cost ($150), and venue (the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus).

Internet Usage at Work is a Good Thing

Finally, there’s a study that shows empirically what most of us have known all along: personal Internet usage at work actually boosts employee productivity.

The study was conducted by Dr. Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne and you can read about it here:

According to Coker’s research:

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.”

It’s About More Than Just Productivity

But it’s not just about productivity, as Specht points out, it’s also about trusting and respecting your employees.

I personally dislike companies that prohibit what Coker calls Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) with the justification that when you’re at work, you should be doing nothing but work. That’s just silly because it’s a completely unrealistic notion of what work is. Work is a subset of life, not the other way round. So you can’t exactly ignore the rest of your life – or, indeed, the rest of the world – while you’re at work.

[There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. It’s okay to apply principles of Taylorism to, say, when you’re working in the kitchen at McDonalds. It’s just that you shouldn’t extend those principles to when your employees are not doing those specific kinds of tasks.]

The problem with a lot of companies is that, while they understand this basic principle (i.e. that there is life outside of work, even between the hours of 9am and 5pm), they aren’t tech-savvy enough to see that this also applies to using the Internet. Companies will, for example, do things like allow flexible working hours so you can do your banking during your lunch hour or go as far as to provide coffee machines and televisions in their kitchens and lounges so you can take a really good break during the work day. And yet, these same companies will block the use of webmail services, social networking sites, and online video sites which, to people like me, are pretty much the virtual equivalent of the kitchen and lounge (and sometimes the preferred equivalent).

So What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem, as has been pointed out in the past, is the generational disconnect between the Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Gen-Y. That is, there exist numerous members of older generations who don’t understand that, for some members of the younger generation, a good work break could be eight minutes of e-mailing and checking on your social networks, four minutes of going through photos of your newborn niece, and three minutes of watching the latest viral video that’s making the rounds. And this disconnect is understandable. However it is then the job of middle managers to convince senior managers that this kind of personal Internet usage is actually okay.

Another part of the problem are the reports written by generally Internet-clueless analysts on how much companies are “losing” by letting employees access social media or online video sites during work hours. What tends to happen is this calculation:

  • Think of an average employee who earns 50k a year; that’s $25 an hour.
  • If this person spends, on average, 30 minutes a day on Facebook and Gmail. That translates to $12.50 per day “lost”.
  • So, for the 250 days a year that this person works, the company is “losing” $3,125.
  • If this company had 400 employees, the company would be losing 1.25 million dollars per year on employees accessing webmail and social networking sites.

Company executives look at this calculation and exclaim: “What?! We’re paying our employees $1.25m to access Facebook and Gmail! Block both those sites!”

The problem, of course, is that while the calculation is essentially correct, the reasoning behind it is flawed. The reasoning being that you are paying your average employee exactly 41.6c per minute to work for you and that every minute this employee does something other than work your money is being wasted. Now if this person was working on an assembly line, your loss-per-minute-not-worked calculation would be valid. But for every other employee, it’s not.

Why is it not valid? Because your employee is human – who has human wants and needs – and it is unreasonable to treat this person like a work-producing automaton upon whom you can do this kind of dehumanising calculation.

To Conclude

My point, then, is that studies like Coker’s are really useful because they empirically demonstrate that you can’t blindly apply principles of scientific management (i.e. Taylorism) across an entire organization.

And because these studies come from a business department of a large and well-respected university – and they use terms that businesses understand (specifically, ‘productivity’) – they will probably do some good.

If nothing else, reports like this tend to make their way into business magazines and give executives something to think about. This particular study may not get companies to unblock access to webmail services and social media sites, but it’s a start.

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P.S. What’s almost funny are the companies that are so completely disconnected for what’s going on online that they don’t even know what Facebook is and therefore don’t have a policy on whether they should block it or not!

The MBS Deans’ Blog

Melbourne Business School continues to impress me with the way it is building its online presence because, last month, they started an internal Deans’ Blog.

The blog has three contributing authors:

  1. John Seybolt, Dean & Director
  2. Jennifer George, Associate Dean of Academic Programs
  3. Richard Speed, Associate Dean for Faculty Resources

And is hosted on the MBS intranet (so it’s not available to the public). The Deans write about things that MBS students, alumni, staff, and faculty are interested in, such as school-related news and events; commentary on current events; and discussions on things like school resources, exchange programs, alumni chapters, new faculty members, and so on.

Some of the posts are information dissemination type posts while others are more discussion oriented. Presumably, there is a communications strategy in place that will guide the blog’s growth over the next few months and, most likely, the intention is to continue publishing both kinds of posts: the kind that provide management-level information to the whole school (but don’t generate much of a discussion) and the kind that seed discussion among the blog’s readers (including the “what do you think?” type of posts that you see on many blogs).

All in all, this is an exciting new addition to MBS’ online presence. Hopefully, once this blog becomes a regular feature its authors will start itching to write an external blog as well – maybe even one like the long-running Dean Bruner’s Blog at the Darden School of Business – but that’ll probably take time. Writing an external blog is hard work and you really have to commit to the idea before getting into it. Which is why an internal blog such as this one is a great way to start.

Here’s hoping the blog grows really well and that both the authors and readers enjoy participating in it (I know I will).

Core Economics Becomes a Multi-Author Blog

Speaking of MBS blogs, Joshua Gans’ Core Economics blog has also gone multi-author with four of its nine authors hailing from Melbourne Business School. So, if you want to see what MBS professors are blogging about, take a look at that. They write on a lot of interesting topics and they have a really good readership as well.

Of course, no discussion of MBS professors who publish their work online would be complete without mentioning Paul Kerin who writes a regular business column for The Australian.

Back-in-Melbourne Catch-Up Post

I’m back in Melbourne after spending a few weeks vacationing in Pakistan. It’s hard to believe but I hadn’t been home in over two and a half years! I didn’t get much time on the Internet while I was there so here’s a quick catch-up post in which I’m linking to some of the stuff I would have otherwise discussed on this blog.

First up we have Connie Benson who has updated her three excellent posts on online community managers:

Next are two posts from Scott Berkun, with the second one lending itself nicely to a discussion you might have with a community manager who claims to be an “expert” but doesn’t actually have much experience in building or managing online communities:

Then we have Dmitry Fadeyev who wrote an excellent post for Smashing Magazine on:

Next, Toby Ward talks briefly about the latest intranet trends as reported by Jane McConnell in the Global Intranet Trends Report for 2009:

Ward also wrote a humorous blog post called ‘25 Random Things About my Intranet’ which, if you want, you can balance-out by his high-level overview article on ‘Intranet Strategy: Planning a Successful Intranet’.

And finally, both Laurel Papworth and Stephen Collins reacted to a Courier Mail article on Facebook and other social media sites being banned at work:

Regular blogging will commence shortly.

Privacy on Facebook

How do you use Facebook?

Do you, like me, use it as a supplementary publishing platform in addition to your blog, website, online photo gallery, Twitter stream, and so on – even though this online presence of yours is technically within a gated community? If so, then you’re probably already careful about what you upload there. And by that I mean you only upload stuff that you would be happy to share with everyone you know including friends, family, acquaintances, classmates, colleagues, employers, future employers, users of Google Search, and so on. If this is the case, then your privacy settings on Facebook are probably fine they way they are, even if they are all at their default values.

If, however, you use Facebook as more of a private website – i.e. one maintained more strictly within a gated community of your choosing (e.g. something that only friends or family can access) sort of like – then you might want to read Nick O’Neill’s recent article on ‘10 Privacy Setting Every Facebook User Should Know’.

Facebook gives you a great deal of control over who gets to see which parts of your online profile including your wall, newsfeeds, photos, applications, friends lists, and so on. It also lets you control who gets updated when someone else tags you in a photo or video that they have uploaded. If you didn’t already know all of this, then that article is certainly worth a read.

[Via Laurel Papworth]

BBC News Starting New Show Containing User-Submitted Content

The BBC has just announced plans to launch a new weekly show, called Your World News, that will feature the best of user-submitted news content (mainly photos and videos):

Thousands of videos, pictures and emails are sent in to the BBC every week and we are now choosing the best ones to make it onto a new show called Your World News.

So what do you have to do to make it on the programme? Quite simply, get out there and send us what's happening in your world.

I hope that, like CNN’s iReport, they also make this content available on the web once the show has been broadcast.

This new initiative sounds really exciting and here’s hoping it’s a big success.

MBS's Online Presence

Speaking of Melbourne Business School, I've been very impressed with the way MBS has been building its online presence over the last few months. For example, I was immensely pleased when I found they'd uploaded audio clips of the talks given at the Dean's Circle launch event that I attended last month.

I've already mentioned on this blog the SouRCe student newsletter that is now available online. Here, then, are two more things you can find on the MBS website:

  • MBS Leadercasts: These are videos of recorded presentations by MBS faculty members on the various topics of expertise that they possess.

  • MBS Today: This is the monthly newsletter that MBS publishes for "alumni, past faculty, and friends in the government, corporate, and community sectors".

Both are good though the MBS Leadercasts -- much like the University of Melbourne's Up Close Podcasts and Visions Video Podcasts and a little like TED talks -- are lots of fun to watch. I highly recommend them. (I was actually going to tell you my favourite three videos but I can't narrow it down to just three!)

Internet Censorship by the Australian Government is not Opt-Out

It appears that Australian Internet users will be unable to opt-out of the Australian Government's Internet content filtering scheme. The scheme was launched last year and will use ISP-level filtering to block access to content deemed "illegal" (nice and vague, huh?) by the Australian Government.

We were promised that we'd be able to opt-out of these filters but, according to an Internode network engineer, you can only opt-out from the "additional material" part of the blacklist and not the main, "illegal material" part.

You can read all about this here:

Pathways for Finding Information

My previous blog post was about the importance of a website's About Us section. And, though I didn't mention it explicitly there, I should say that the whole point of an About Us section is to build trust -- which, as we know, is all-important on the Internet -- because, the more your site visitors know about you and your company, the more they will tend to trust you.

However, the broader point of that blog post was to say that the language used on websites -- in both text and hyperlinks -- plays a major role in getting information across to site visitors. Of course, that isn't the whole story. There are two other elements of a website that are equally important:

  • The site's design -- which is the way in which elements are laid out on the page, the colours and images that are used, and so on.
  • The site's information architecture (IA) -- which is the way the site's content is logically structured.

Information Architecture

I won't talk about site design here, but I do want to address the importance of a good IA. First off, a good IA is one that is "logical", not to someone as knowledgeable about the company as you, but to someone who knows nothing about the company. It's important to remember this otherwise IAs tend to get very convoluted very quickly.

Also, a good IA isn't all that useful if you don't complement it with a good site navigation system. This can be in the form of a left or right navigation bar; a top navigation bar; a nested, multi-level, or drop-down menu system; or a combination of all or any of these. As long as it's easy to use and your hyperlink text is simple and clear, you should be okay.

Three Basic Pathways

Within your IA, however, it is my opinion that you need to provide three basic pathways to help site visitors find the information they're looking for.

First, you need deep links on the site home page that point to the most important or most frequently used site content. Often this feature is implemented via a 'quick links' box placed in an eye-catching location (such as in the right column, just under the top navigation bar).

In some cases, the links in this box may be dynamically generated (by the Content Management System) based on actual site usage in which case this is called a 'popular links' box. Sometimes webmasters will include both 'quick links' and 'popular links' boxes on their site's home page.

If you want to help your visitors out even more, you'll include a 'relevant links' box in your sub-pages as well. This list can be set manually (on a page-by-page basis) or may be generated dynamically based on content meta data (e.g. other articles on this topic or by this author).

Second, you should have cross links (i.e. links to other parts of the site) on the 'About Us' section's landing page to help users figure out where to go to next in order to find the information they want. These should link to information about the company itself (i.e. general 'About Us' information) and to pages that talk about what the company does. As a small example, look at my 'About Me' page for this blog and notice all the links within the text.

Third, you need a comprehensive 'Site Map' page to help clear any IA confusions that visitors might have. That is, should visitors be unclear about where in your website a particular piece of information will be found, this page should clear things up for them. And the bigger your site is, the more important this page becomes.

A Godsend and a Cop Out: Site Search

There is one more thing that you need to do to help your site visitors find the information the want: your site needs to have a great search engine. This is both good and bad. It's good because, if you implement it well, it's a really useful tool. It's also bad because it lets webmasters get away with a poorly thought-out IA. That is, even if your IA is crap, people might still be able to run, say, a Google search on your site to quickly get to the information they're looking for.

Regardless, to do site search properly you need two things: well-structured HTML pages -- ones that have good titles, text, and meta data (i.e. keywords, summaries, tags, etc.) -- and access to a good search engine (or you need to implement SEO practices so Google does all the indexing for you instead).

And There's More...

There is, of course, much more you can do to make your website go from good to great. For example, it's important to have an FAQ page, a 'Contact Us' page, a featured news/article/story/page section (often on the home page), a good footer, useful breadcrumbs, good images and graphics, and so on. But I won't be talking about all that here.

The point I wanted to make here is that your site's IA (and the information pathways within it) is as important as the language you use on the site itself. Hmmm...maybe I should review the five telco sites again, but this time focusing on their IAs. Maybe later :)

The Importance of Effective Online Communication

Jakob Nielsen's 29 September Alertbox newsletter talks about the importance of the About Us section on a company's website. In my opinion, this is the first section you should look at when establishing (or, as is often the case for me, re-establishing) a company's online presence.

Nielsen points out that, unfortunately, not everyone gets this section right:
Task success for finding out what the company or organization does actually dropped, from 90% to 81%. In place of a frank summary of the business, marketese and blah-blah text ruled the day on many sites.

And it's not just "blah-blah text" that's bad, often there's no text at all: just a big list of links that leaves you wondering where you should go next.

Some Australian Examples

Since Nielsen's research was US-based, I thought I'd do a quick check of some Australian websites to see how they measured up in this area. Since I wasn't going to do a scientific study like Nielsen's I figured I'd pick an industry and take a subjective (though knowledgeable) look at the the sites of the largest players.

I picked the telecommunications industry and looked at the 'About Us' landing pages of the five big telcos in Australia:

Optus has the worst page of the lot: 'About Optus' has no text, no explanation, and the none of the links in the main content area actually tell you anything about the company or where you could possibly go next to find the information you're looking for.About Us Pages - Optus
Vodafone's 'About Vodafone Australia' page does have some text...but it doesn't tell you anything either. You have to go to 'Company Information' > 'Company Overview' and then decipher the marketese to figure out what it is that Vodafone does (and even then you're not quite sure).About Us Pages - Vodafone
3 has a pretty bad page too: all you can tell from the 'About 3' page is that "It's good to be 3" and that this company seems to be Australia's first 3G network -- though, even then, you have to click on the 'Find out more about 3' link to be sure. At least they have a clearly-worded 'Find out more...' link that tells you where to go next for more information.About Us Pages - 3
Virgin, meanwhile, has gone to the other extreme: its 'Company Info' page is chock full of words which is somewhat intimidating at first sight. Fortunately, the writing on this page is short, crisp, and clear. Strangely, the top three links in the left navigation bar ('Company Info', 'About Us', and 'Our Story') all point to this same page.About Us Pages - Virgin
Telstra has a great page. Its 'About Telstra' page quickly tells you what the company is about, what it does, and what it wants to do. To complement that, the left navigation bar has clearly-worded links which makes it really straightforward to dig deeper for more information. And I love the "No one else can do what Telstra does." tagline :)About Us Pages - Telstra

I guess Nielsen has a point, huh? :)

Seriously, though, have the web strategists (or webmasters or online marketing people) at Optus, Vodafone, and 3 not read something as basic as, say, Steve Krug's 'Don't Make Me Think'? I guess not.

Online Resources for New MBS Students

Every few weeks I get e-mailed a couple of questions from someone applying for admission to the Melbourne Business School (MBS) MBA program (or at least someone's who is researching the MBS MBA). I always reply to these e-mails though, depending on my workload at the time, it sometimes takes me a few days to do so.

Less frequently, I get e-mails from people -- usually international students -- who have already been admitted to the program and are now preparing to move to Melbourne. These new MBS students almost always ask me about life at MBS, in Melbourne, and, more generally, in Australia.

I, in turn, recommend the following three resources to them as good places to do preliminary research before asking me more specific questions:

1. University of Melbourne Website

The 'International Students' section of the University of Melbourne's Future Students website is a great place to start your online research. You can learn about everything from how to apply for your student visa all the way down to what your first year here will be like. The 'Preparing for Study' page is particularly useful.

2. UMPA's 360 Degree Guide

Every year, the University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association (UMPA) publishes its excellent 360 Degree Guide: The All-Round Guide for Graduates at the University of Melbourne. This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about university life (though, as you would expect, it focuses more on Melbourne Uni than on MBS) and postgraduate student life in Melbourne. It is an invaluable resource for new postgrads.

The best part about this is that all postgrads are entitled to a free copy of the 360 Degree Guide. If you haven't been mailed one along with your admissions pack, you can pick up the latest edition from the Student Services office at MBS or from the UMPA office itself. Alternatively, you can download it in PDF format from the UMPA website.

3. MBS Student Blogs

Finally, for the most in-depth information about life at MBS (and not just life at Melbourne Uni) you should read the blogs written by current MBS students. I maintain a list of those blogs -- along with a list of MBS alumni, staff, and faculty blogs -- on my 'MBS Bloggers' page.

Unfortunately, MBS hasn't formalized the student blogging process like, say, LBS, Darden, Berkeley, Ivey, Wharton, MIT, Sauder, Rutgers, and Cornell have...but I'm hoping they do so in the near future.

Any Others?

Have I missed any other useful resource? If so, let me know in the comments. Thanks.

Standard Format for Online CVs in Australia

ITWire's Stan Beer reports that a number of Australian technology recruitment companies have signed on to make the iProfile their preferred CV template for candidates applying through them.

This sounds like an interesting idea and will probably make life easier for recruiters. I don't know how it'll work out for candidates, though. If candidates can retain their individuality despite the standard format -- as the 'The CV is Dead - Long Live the iProfile' video seems to indicate -- then it should be okay. If not, it'll commoditize them and that's not good.

Since I haven't actually seen the iProfile template -- you can't unless you sign up and they don't have any samples you can view -- I guess I'll just have to wait and see (or, of course, sign up and take a look).

That said, the good thing about the iProfile standard is that a whole bunch of recruitment companies have signed up to work with it. Without that, it'd be no better than your standard Seek, LinkMe, or SixFigures online profile: good but maybe not as widely available as you'd want it to be. Also, the privacy and viewing controls that this system seems to have are really nice too.

More generally, I like the fact that this announcement evangelises the use of online CVs to the Australian recruitment industry. So while all recruitment agencies won't be using the iProfile, maybe they'll start to pay more attention to things like LinkedIn profiles and other social media attributes of their candidate pool. Here's hoping.