Not too long ago, a Web site was just an option. That's not the case anymore. In today's environment, any organization that relies on communications needs to make good use of the Web in order to get the job done right. But sites don't have to be fancy or
rely on plug-ins.
As is the case with any other category, a review of some cable-related sites shows a wide variety of styles and different degrees of success. The best sites are those that know the audience they have to serve and what they want to accomplish. Those that don't seem to have a coherent sense of mission show it.
These Web sites were reviewed using Netscape Communicator 4.76, a Gateway Pentium II computer with 128 megabytes of random-access memory, a 19-inch Sony Corp. of America "Trinitron" monitor and ISDN Internet access.
THE CABLE CENTER www.cablecenter.org
Scheduled for a 2001 public launch, the Cable Center has a story to tell and is using the Web to do it. Visitors can look at architect's renderings of the center, follow a time line that covers 50 years of cable history, watch oral history videos or search the center's archives, among other options.
Visitors with knowledge of cable history are also invited to add their own insights using forms that are verified by the staff before they're posted.
In short, the site [which was made possible by a gift from Paul Allen, Jeffrey Marcus and Marcus Cable] is just about everything it should be-a virtual treasure trove and a cable-industry resource. But it could use a little more thought when it comes to displaying information architecture.
Reviewer's Request:Not to nitpick, but at ISDN speed, it took far too long to load the name of every person pictured in the photo archive from Aaron, Dan to Zuckerman, Ed. An attempt to view information about one of the photos also caused the Web browser to crash. Drilling deeper into the site also crashed the reviewer's computer several times.
CABLE POSITIVE www.cablepositive.org
Raising money is key for Cable Positive, so devoting the top of its front page to accepting online donations was a sensible move for the AIDS-awareness charity. But instead of providing a seamless transaction that keeps the visitor on-site, would-be donors are sent to CharityGift.com.Presumably, a viewer who makes a donation is then sent back. But in the meantime, it's far too easy to get lost. The site would be more effective if giving appeared to be transparent, even if another site's services are used. (Of course, donors would be told they are using a third-party service.)
The rest of CablePositive.com is simple and straightforward. There are no tricks, just lots of well-organized information, including a text-based calendar.
Reviewer's Request:Better navigation and some audio or video clips from the revue
Positively Cable 2000 Presents Sgt. Broadband's Magic Dot-Com Land.
CABLE TELEVISION ADVERTISING BUREAU www.cabletvadbureau.com
There's lots and lots of information here. The CAB's site is possibly one of the most useful around.
It's also one of the flashiest-in a way that works against it. As of mid-November, the CAB front page featured a bright, cartoonish logo at the top; an annoying, blinking "News Flash" at eye level; and two more graphics that clutter the top third of the page. The jazzy left-hand navigation bar uses cartoon icons that are similar in style to the logo.
Any one or two of these elements could mesh, but as a group they're at war. The lead item is a press release from August, while more recent information-like viewership gains due to the election and the first month of the TV season-are further down the page.
Much of the site's data is for public consumption, including press releases, case studies and cable network profiles, but there's a private area for CAB members only. That's the kind of value-added membership service every association should offer. Unfortunately, CAB OnDemand is $10 per participating employee, per month.
Reviewer's request:Make the contact list easier to find and tone down the front page.
CALIFORNIA CABLE TELEVISION ASSOCIATION www.cctassn.org/home.html
The Western Show gives the California Cable Television Association a higher profile than most state cable associations. It needs a Web site to match.
Luckily, the CCTA's site delivers with a compact and easy-loading front page and highly visible icons that link to major initiatives and causes.
Membership recruitment gets a good plug high up on the front page. When you follow the link, however, it leads to a page that promises, "Joining CCTA.It's easy." But not too easy-new members and associates can't sign up online. Instead, they get contact information.
The "public documents" available via the "in the public interest" archive haven't been updated since 1999.
The "members services" area is members-only except for a section on "important" state and federal cable laws. "Members only" areas include a membership directory and contact information for California legislators.
CABLE & TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION FOR MARKETING www.ctam.com
Well-designed in terms of looks and function, the CTAM site hits all the right notes. CTAM may be the most Web-savvy of all cable organizations.
One of the best examples: the free CTAM SmartBrief daily digest of news about cable, broadband, programming and emerging products. Sent via electronic mail to members and non-members, the digest provides a revenue stream and a showcase for CTAM. Sign-up and renewals can be done online.
There's a heavy emphasis on members-only access to areas like the membership directory, publications and research, but anyone can search the job openings. Contact information is at the bottom of every page, an unusually useful step.
Open the site just a little bit more to non-members; for instance, keep the current issue of a publication for members only but allow others to access previous issues.
NATIONAL CABLE TELEVISION ASSOCIATION www.ncta.com
The NCTA just can't resist an opening image that stretches for the Internet equivalent of a mile. It's selling cable as the fastest means for downloading, so its goal must be to frustrate anyone who's not using a high-speed connection.
Upon arrival at the page [
], the visitor sees a grab bag of icons and graphics that scroll for the equivalent of three printed pages. The mix includes long-past events like the July TV critics' tour schedule (the link leads to a Microsoft Word document). There may be a rhyme or a reason behind the order of these elements, but that's not clear even to the skilled observer. Months after the National Show, the navigation bar still touts "Cable 2K;" click on the link, though, and you wind up with information on "Cable 2001."
The "All About NCTA" page touts the convention's importance, but fails to include a link to the event or an e-mail contact. There's no staff list. There's also no list of officers or directors.
On the plus side, someone seems to be aware of problems with the front page, because the first element in view is a search bar. Minus: the search function didn't work. It fails to turn up matches for the word "cable" or the phrase "cable modem."
A search session launched from another page had better results. There are other pluses-the
Cable Programming Guide Book
(unfortunately not updated since July) and access to various cable initiatives-but not enough.
Reviewer's request:This site is far too important to the cable industry to be left as is. Fix it.