Thoughts, links, and essays from Peter Merholz
petermescellany   petermemes


Archives before June 13, 2001

RSS Feed

Adaptive Path (my company!)

About peterme

Most of the Time
Oakland, CA

American history around the time of the Revolution, figuring out how to marry top-down task-based information architecture processes with bottom-up document-based ones, finding a good dentist in San Francisco Oakland
Designing the user experience (interaction design, information architecture, user research, etc.), cognitive science, ice cream, films and film theory, girls, commuter bicycling, coffee, travel, theoretical physics for laypeople, single malt scotch, fresh salmon nigiri, hanging out, comics formalism, applied complexity theory, Krispy Kreme donuts.

Click to see where I wander.

Wish list
Show me you love me by
buying me things.

Track updates of this page with Spyonit. Clickee here.

[Editor's note: began as a site of self-published essays, a la Stating The Obvious. This evolved (or devolved) towards link lists and shorter thoughtpieces. These essays are getting a tad old, but have some good ideas.]
Reader Favorites
Interface Design Recommended Reading List
Whose "My" Is It Anyway?
Frames: Information Vs. Application

Interface Design
Web Development
Movie Reviews

What Pendulum? Posted on 04/30/2002.

My essay, "The Pendulum Returns: Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations", has been published on the Adaptive Path site. It's a moderately 'thinky' piece, laying out the philosophical reasons for why a decentralized organization ought to centralize their web processes and strive for consistency in experience.

Feel free to comment on the essay here!

3 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Passel of stuff to read."
Next entry: "One word: Kerning."


Finally... a simple explanation for my reason to go to work every day!

The thing that stuck out at me was that customers don't always see the parent-company of a division, thus finding a website is confusion. If each division has their distinct web identity, and the parent-company creates an umbrella brand across the site, the customers get confused when they go to a different site with a similar treatment. They think the original company has switched focus.

From my experience the toughest part is creating this "unified online presence" when each division has a different target audience. You can't please everyone, so who gets priority?

I'm looking forward to next weeks article to enlighten me!
Posted by AK @ 04/30/2002 07:17 PM PST [link to this comment]

peterme said:
"Since customers simply don't care how your enterprise is structured, you must put a single, meaningful face across departments, a face that ensures the customer can find what they want no matter where in the organization it lays."

I'm not sure I fully agree.

If our objective is to be customer-oriented and ensure "the customer can find what they want no matter where in the organization it lays," is a single unified face the best and only solution?

If we are truly customer-focused, shouldn't we be more concerned about presenting a face that is most meaningful to the customer, rather than the "single" face? I'm not saying that one precludes the other, but I'm not convinced that one necessitates the other, either.

Does a product customer NEED to see a corporate face that also works for an investor, or job-seeker? Does the airplane engine customer NEED to see a corporate face that also works for the luxury car customer of a transportation engineering company? Is this the BEST solution?

I think not.

Perhaps, a better approach is a fluid infrastructure and top layer (interface) that, rather than centralizing or rationalizing processes, provide a light touch on underlying processes, yet are intelligent enough to (1) keep updated on underlying individual components and (2) update their connections in order to provide a meaningful face.

What I'm alluding to is a simple, organized face to what are generally "chaotic" (self-emergent?) components. I am not convinced of the practicality of rationalizing processes in large, diversified organizations. Also, customers may not be as alike as we might think. Perhaps I'm arguing for more "intelligence" and less "planning".

Possible solutions might involve the liberal application of XML, CMS and supersmart search engine technology that allow for variable faces to be shown to different customers.

Maybe we don't have _one_ face. Maybe we have _many_ faces, but you only see the one you like. Maybe we don't have a mothersite that pushes as many options as possible to meet the whole customer continuum. Maybe we just have a simple welcome that says "What are you looking for?" and immediately morphs to show you the options based on your response and some clever guessing.

But maybe I'm arguing Peter's point, just from a different direction. ;-)
Posted by monkey man @ 05/01/2002 10:33 AM PST [link to this comment]

The framework you've laid out is general enough at this point, that it's pretty hard to argue with :-)

You come across as a pretty strong advocate of centralization, which has considerable appeal from a user-centric view; you're absolutely right that many people look at companies as one entity, and assume much more inter-departmental communication than probably takes place.

The worst example of these have traditionally been state government websites, which are usually organized exactly along departmental/bureaucratic lines, each with its welcome message from the head bureaucrat smack in the middle of the home page...

so in general, I'm with you.

The obvious downside to totally centralized processes, though, is speed of execution; the 'centralized department' responsible for the website often doesn't have the pressing business needs of different departments at stake, and you're forcing them to prioritize what they can accomplish; which in a larger organization, can become a political nightmare. As someone who went straight from a startup to a fairly large tech company, this was quite a shock.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing the next parts.

One last thought regarding the Adaptive Path site: I came to the site by clicking on a link (off to Janice Fraser's essay about Setting Priorities; Evan had linked to /publications/essays/, which, the next day, was displaying your article instead. It took me a few minutes of wandering before I found the article I originally intended. Some kind of 'permanent link', or even a redirect from /publications/essays/ to the current article would be useful, so people can always copy the link out of their browser bar and send it along without thinking twice.

Thanks for a great site.

Posted by David Reeves @ 05/01/2002 10:41 PM PST [link to this comment]

Add A New Comment:


E-Mail (optional)

Homepage (optional)

Comments Now with a bigger box for text entry! Whee!

All contents of are © 1998 - 2002 Peter Merholz.