Never mind Facebook, connect me with your content!

I was quite interested reading the latest rant from David Mitchell as he managed to hit upon a pet hate of mine when it comes to the internet. In his article, Mitchell discusses “Visit England” and their “101 things to do before you go abroad” list. In these times of economic woe Visit England should be on to a winning streak and this list strikes me as a fun way to think of alternatives to an expensive holiday abroad. I like. In fact, I like so much I went to visit the list. Except that I couldn’t. OK couldn’t is taking it a bit too far, but the fact remains that I haven’t read the list as to access the content on the web site you must first “connect with Facebook”.

Now first of all, hard as it is to believe, not everyone is on Facebook, but the website designers have decided that almost everyone is and that they’re happy to lose the small percent who aren’t. Maybe that’s fair enough, maybe it’s not, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. There is some access to the information on the site for those who do not have Facebook (or don’t want to connect their Facebook to their site), but it’s very limited; to add information to the site or to see the full list with details of each location (e.g. address, opening hours, what there is to do there)… yep, Facebook.

My real issue is with this type of setup is that it seems like it’s designed solely fit around the “performance indicators” decided on by owners of the website. You might think that you’re a person using a free website giving out useful information, you’re not, you’re a statistic and a free advert – because everyone who “connects” on Facebook then finds that Facebook starts advertising the site to their friends and that you will receive updates from the company behind the site. By “liking” something you are essentially endorsing it, which seems a bit much before you’ve even been allowed to see what it is that you’re liking! You start to get the distinct feeling that somewhere, someone’s bonus depends not on ensuring the maximum number of people can actually access information on days out in England (hey, that’s tricky to measure after all, why make things hard for yourself?), but rather just on hitting a certain number of Facebook “connects”.

There’s nothing wrong with using Facebook as an advertising tool, in fact many companies do it very well (we like to think we’re not that bad at it ourselves), but it’s there to support your web presence, not take it over.

Another issue I have with this website is that if I “connect” with Visit England on Facebook, they can access information about me. Now I’m quite careful with my web presence so theoretically they can’t get anything too invasive, but why should they know when my birthday is, where I live, that I’m married? Is it reasonable for them to expect me to give them access to this level of information just for a few ideas about where to spend my holiday? Especially as they are a website designed primarily to advertise something, should I really have to tell them everything about me just to allow myself to be advertised to?

In general, having to sign up to a website in order to access information puts off potential clients and I can’t help but feel that Visit England have shot themselves in the foot with this one. Designing websites keeping your internal company performance indicators in mind to the extent that you have forgotten why the website exists is never going to do anyone any favours. In fact we at Refined Practice are currently in the process of helping one of our clients to make their resources more accessible by reducing the amount of pages on the site which you need to be signed in to view.

Always remember that a well designed website is the best advert you can possibly have, with the potential to reach millions of people,  it’s your way to show the world who you are, what you do and why they should work with you. Make people work to see that advert and you will reduce the impact.