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Empower people to solve their problems online

The best example of empowering people online and the failures of that is the State of Indiana’s response to COVID-19. The fact the State saw fit to fling this off IN.gov is pretty damning as government websites go.

First there’s a fluffy public service campaign around “IN This Together”. The website is at https://www.inthistogethercampaign.com.

It looks fine enough, and the “content” is whatever. I’m enraged at the stereotypical triteness they approached this with: corn, racing, and a lot of Indianapolis. It’s obvious the people who designed this live deep in the Indianapolis bubble. When people complain about diversity delivering results, this is Exhibit A.

Anyone who grew up outside of Fountain Square could tell you the corn thing is annoying, there are 91 other counties most of whom have beautiful central squares and courthouses. And no one outside of central Indiana has a clue what Monument Circle is. Despite being a State-owned landmark, it’s basically Indianapolis’ and no one outside about a dozen counties ever sees it. To say nothing of the cultural institutions of restaurants, stores, amusement parks, covered bridges, and festivals that make up Indiana.

I digress. It’s so Indianapolis-centric that with exception of IU and Purdue, all the major sponsors are all in Indy and the whole point of this website seems to be sharing a message on Twitter or whatever. That’s the call to action: share share share. I assure you no real human in the history of the world has ever purposefully hit a “share” button on a website and meant it.

That website doesn’t empower people to do anything. It says nothing no one already knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the page views on this site spiked on launch day and after about 8 seconds of scrolling people left and never came back.

It’s a website that exists so someone can say they have a website. Really under no circumstance do people do this with any other body of work. No one films a movie, writes a book, or lays out a magazine for sake of saying they have one.

The other new website is https://bewellindiana.com. This was launched yesterday and it’s clear whoever did this one spent some more time on it. It’s better, but not great. The design is fine (though won’t hold up in a couple of years because of the Humaaans vector graphics. That’s probably fine here, though.)

The “content” is also fine. I detest the use of the word “resources” as much as I do “content”, but it’s fine. When you see a section called “resources”, you blew it. Because that’s just code for “a directory to other places”. Otherwise if it was home-grown research, it’d be a library. And we already have “a directory to other places” — search engines. “Resource pages” have to stop trying to supplant the obvious first step people will always take in finding an answer: a search engine.

But what makes this website good and not great is everything boils down to: “Here are some phone numbers to call.”

This is an obvious limitation of time, money, and staff. I get that. I couldn’t have done anything better with this if someone handed me the contract either.

But what I harp on people is: “You have to help people where they are.” And in this case, that’s online. Making phone calls is a medium switch and it breaks the flow. There are also other highly obvious problems:

  • Someone looking at this at night because they work second shift can’t call.
  • Someone who is genuinely just a night owl, or struggling at night, can’t call.
  • Someone who has speech impairments can’t or doesn’t want to call.
  • Someone who is deaf will highly prefer not to call.
  • Someone who can’t hear well will highly prefer not to call.

These are a lot of people.

Ways to help them better might include:

  • Email or texting. Even during non-business hours, people could call or text when they’re in the moment and know they’ll get a response in the morning.
  • Chat services embedded into the website.
  • Social media “monitors” to search for Hoosiers posting threatening or depression-related problems publicly on Facebook or Twitter?

Again, that takes time, money, and staff. I totally get it. But this is what separates good from great for such a site.

For businesses and nonprofits that so often have only the money or talent to be able to produce a website that is merely informational, this is a huge challenge.

Additionally, many businesses may wonder how anything else is possible. If you’re running a pizza shop, as one example, this includes not putting your menu online as a PDF and telling people to call to order. Instead, it’s being able to customize my pizza order down to those half-and-half concoctions, pay for it online, and get a delivery estimate.

For a hair salon it’s the ability to find an appointment time available to you and me based on what I want. If it’s a haircut I need 20 minutes. If I want a cut and color, I need 90 minutes. I should be able to find that in your schedule, select my service, and either pay in advance or a deposit to secure my booking all at once.

The pushback I get on this is usually: “Well, we prefer people to call.” Sometimes it’s so you can suss out the person’s intentions, up-sell them, or just because that’s what you like.

This isn’t about what you like. And you can up-sell and suss intentions online with deposits, promotions, email campaigns later, and more.

The difference between a good and great website is measured in how much you empower people to do everything in the medium they’re in, giving options, and helping people solve their problems on-demand. That’s the promise of the Internet and one many fail to deliver on.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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