Deconstructing 2 wheeled websites (First posted March- 7-2007 at 08:31 pm)
Deconstructing 2 wheeled websites (First posted March- 7-2007 at 08:31 pm)

This is a rant that has been in the making for a while.

Why is that so many bicycle related companies that have a good customer base have such crappy or outdated websites? I understand web design and development is not their business but c'mon people the web is your catalog/PR and in some cases a big revenue source.

Here are just some jewels of lazy websites with decent people/companies behind them:

Rivendell Shopping Cart: It seems the website is not updated with the most current information. To get the latest offerings one needs to have access to a so 1980's Printed Catalog. Please, the web is the perfect vehicle to let people know what's new, have additional photos and content and even let them know how many of each item you have left in stock, in real time! You guys are guilty of hyping all but the actual buying experience.

Kogswell Cycles: Not to familiar with this site but have heard many complains about the lack of updated info. So most stuff said for Rivendell applies here.

Habanero Cycles: This is a two-three man operation. Mark Hickey provides some of the best customer service I've experienced for a small frame producer (yes I know the frames are made in China maybe by a large manufacturer but the Habanero is a small operation). The website is very, very, very hard to navigate and not pleasing to the eye. I even offered him to redesign it but he politely declined. As many websites done by owners of small companies this one comes alive courtesy of Word/Excel macros. The HTML generated by Office is pure evil. This site has most information you want just not easy to find.

Specialized: Here they managed to screw almost everything. Painfully slow to load. Done in JSP (good when used correctly) with tons of Javascript, just to say they do AJAX, and I think some Flash. As with any technology there are limits to the usefulness of AJAX, just think of a bike and all its components made completely of carbon fiber (nice chain!) or all alloy (nice grips/grip tape!) not the best use of the material/technology. We have many tools, lets use just what is needed. Awful color scheme that makes reading the navigation very hard, tiny fonts. Bad UI (User Interface) and design in general

Sheldon Brown: "The" site to get good information and find hard to find stuff. Love Sheldon but the site has not changed its face ever since 1997 or so. Same disorganized look, unappealing and depending of the size of the monitor you use, very hard to read. Long lines are not the preferred way to read on a monitor. Websites not need to be ultra slick and pretty just nice to look at, more if it is a website where you can spend hours at end...

Surly: a lot of unnecessary popups and bad Flash that does not play across browsers. If you ask me Flash is bad bad, and should be used with caution. I like the unconventional navigation but it needs a better implementation so I can find the stuff when I click on them links.

And Finally all my fellow bloggers out there with light text on dark background, please change your ways. You guys have awesome content that I enjoy reading. It is just to hard to spend any significant time on your sites as eyes get tired.

My suggestions

  • All of you people need to read: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web it is all about making things easy to see, find and use. Also search the web for "Web Usability"
  • Get your hands into one of the many CMSs (Content Management Systems) out there. But please don't pick Nuke or PostNuke and its cousins. There are a new crop of great CMSs that are easy to use and not bloated with unnecessary stuff.
  • Please use modern Shopping carts and take advantage of the features that make your customers life easier. When I am happy I am more likely to add that $50 widget to the shopping cart.
  • Why not move your content to a Blog? They don't require much technical know-how and offer an almost foolproof way to post information.
  • For helping you select a CMS, Shopping cart or Blog PLEASE visit Open Source CMS you can test drive a lot of them and they are rated by users. Take the ratings with a grain of salt but by all means select one of those tools, any of them. Among the stuff at Open Source CMS I personaly like MODx, the Zen Cart and Nucleus CMS. Your customers will thank you. And yes after you launch your brand spanking new website you will need to update it frequently and regularly, so learn how to do it or find a freelancer/web guy who will do it for you.
  • Here the result from a redesign I did a while ago: I am a member of the San Francisco Randonneurs ever since I saw their website I hated it. About 1 1/5 years ago I decided to redesign the website, here is my San Francisco Randonneurs alternate site. It pretty much contains the same information as the Official website  just organized in a better way. I added my touches here and there to make the site more appealing to old and new members. This site was shown to the RBA (Regional brevet Adminstrators) and many Randonneuring sites have embarked in a redesign of their outdated websites. The plan is to make my current Alternate site, the official one. It probably will hapend at the end of the 2007 brevet season.
  • Bet you have access to some sort of traffic stats for you current website, use them to develop a better navigation. Also decide what resolution you will be designing for, 800x600? maybe larger? Make yourself a favor, download the Firefox bowser and install the wonderful "Web Developer" add-on. Explore the possibilities and in the long run your customers/readers will thank you.

I just picked some classic examples of evil websites. No personal attacks here just things the way I see them from my cyclist/web developer perspective. Do you want to nominate bad cycling related websites? or even better refute my rant? Use the comments form bellow.


(First posted March- 7-2007 at 08:31 pm)

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