Web Content Horror Stories For Halloween

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 09:20 PM with 0 comments

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Come gather children and adults, huddle by the flickering fire, sip on hot apple cider, all while I, in the shadowy light of the fire, tell stories this Halloween season – true stories, horror stories of Web site content!

The Scream

Many, many years ago I worked for a tech consulting firm that was undergoing rebranding. This exciting process was to include a new look to the Web site. As we were in the business of building Web sites, we were going to build out the ability to maintain the site as well. Note this was years before the term content management system, or CMS, was ever in vogue.

The project was assigned to myself and another senior guy I will call Rocky. There was a little bit of competitiveness between us, partly due to our own cockiness and confidence in our abilities, not to mention he was a Packers fan and I was a Patriots fan, but I digress. In some regards I think that's why both of us were put on the project. We would be building the technology, integrating the new branding and graphic design from the marketing firm and designing sample content, as the president of the company would be writing all of the content, as this is what he told us.

Despite our attitudes, Rocky and I worked very well together. We built out the front-end, back-end, database and sample “lorem ipsum” content. And we did it all on time.

Here's where the story gets scary... the president asked to meet with us at a predefined time in the project plan to review our progress. To his surprise – which quickly and surprising to us we saw on his face – we showed him a, for the most part, complete Web site. All it would need is a few small adjustments... and a lot of content.

Though we were in a brightly-lit office, the room got suddenly dark and eerie. The typically congenial voice of the president got heavy and creepy. Then, timed with a hypothetical clap of thunder, the screaming began.

As time and attempts to forget about this have clouded specifics, in general our frightening leader said, “how dare you finish on time when I didn't even start to write the content!” What? We were numb to the proverbial “second one” he was ripping into us, and it seemed like hours afterwards we were still stunned. Then, after he left, we laughed, hysterically, for what also seemed like hours.

The Original Blank Page

It was a work day like any other, multitasking away in and on my Web consulting business. A friendly chime sounded as my often co-collaborator and an amazing graphic designer n her own right – we'll cal her Sierra – called as we were partnering on a Web site proposal. It was mostly written, reviewing back and forth by email, and we were meeting to make a final walkthrough together before submitting it to the prospective client.

As we went through the proposal line-by-line, word-by-word, it was almost as if a light springy piano tune was playing in the background by none other than Liberace himself. As we got through the end of the document, where we listed references and example Web sites, we both paused as we were reviewing the list. Even though we were on the phone, over 1,500 miles apart, it was as if we were in the same room, pointing to the same spot in the document.

Just as Sierra began to say what I was thinking, it was as if Liberace was vaporized to dust and the Phantom of the Opera took over at the bench and with the flick of some switch, the piano became a pipe organ, and the Phantom played the most sinister music known. Then Sierra spoke, "THIS Web site... when was the last time you looked at it?” The silence over the phone was broken by more organ music, which was timed with each of us typing the Web site's URL into our Web browsers.

As we navigated beyond the home page the music got louder and more daunting, as we looked at empty page after empty page, with nothing on them at all – not one word of content! The shrieking in our voices was beyond our control. This Web site had been live for almost a year with several completely blank pages, to which we could not believe. My gut reaction took over, as I logged into the CMS for the site and placed some basic “coming soon” messages. There was no way we could use this great looking Web site with blank sub-pages as an example of the great work we did. Where the placeholder text was not the ideal situation, it was really all we could do, and in the end turned out to be sufficient as we won the proposal.

Only a Few of Many Stories

Over the years I have encountered Web content horror stories, almost from the time I started creating Web sites. I share these stories not to criticize people or to make fun of them, rather to serve as a cautionary tale of the importance of content development for Web sites. It is not something to do casually – or not at all – and is vital to the success of your site.

Boo!


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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