Anyone who wants a primer on how difficult it is for the lay person to effectively use technology should watch someone with a small business try to figure out an accounting package or design a Web site. After all, what does a carpenter care about accounting or the Web?
A lot of people think that accountants and consultants are the answer, but the reality is that there is only so much work the entrepreneur is willing or able to pay someone else to do. Of course, one of the biggest problems with using technology to, say, get the books in order, is that technology rarely answers the question: "Where do I start?"
For putting together a Web presence, Yahoo Web Hosting (webhosting.yahoo.com) tries to solve that problem with a new tool, Yahoo SiteBuilder 1.0. The tool, which became available last month, is free as part of any of the Yahoo Web hosting offerings. Yahoos Web hosting services start at $11.95 per month.
The software does a good job of getting Web neophytes over the "where do I start?" hurdle by using effective templates, although it cant solve every problem a Web newbie will run into.
Although wizards are supposed to take the place of consultants by asking the smart questions, they rarely do. Instead of wizards, Yahoo SiteBuilder includes a useful help system and a raft of templates that enable users to avoid the blank page phenomenon that so many people cant get beyond.
Templates can only go so far, of course—even the 200 or so that Yahoo includes with the software. But the Yahoo templates are instructive in the way a good Web designer would be when it comes to putting together a cohesive marketing message about products and services.
Wizards can help people make better decisions, and some decision-making tools to help pick the right template would undoubtedly be helpful to some. For example, I would like Yahoo SiteBuilder to include a tool, such as a series of questions, to help determine which templates are best suited for selling products, services or both, for a given industry. A series of questionnaires or tools to help customize or personalize the art elements in some of the templates would be a nice help as well.
SiteBuilder does have a number of other features that nicely fill the void between product and service. Because this is a Yahoo property, simple integration with Yahoos other features and services isnt a surprise, especially as a way of building brand loyalty. Nevertheless, some of the features could be useful to anyone serious about building a Web presence.
For example, the software makes it easy to add presence awareness to the site for those using Yahoo Messenger. Yahoo Map and Yahoo Search are other features that can be easily dropped into a site.
The other process that SiteBuilder tries to nail, with decent results, is the idea of creating a Web presence rather than merely putting a bunch of Web pages together. The help system and templates are designed around putting a site together, previewing it and publishing it.
Although, on the whole, technophiles hate tools that integrate with services, the idea of one-touch publishing to a Web site is quite compelling. Publishing to a Web site can be a daunting task for anyone who doesnt know about FTP. Of course, this is another brand-loyalty feature, but a useful one. It would be refreshing to see ISPs give their customers better publishing support via add-ins for Web authoring software.
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Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.