29 levels of web compatibility? nah, just one

If you think that weird tall guy, Dr. Neil Something Warren (incidentally, I thought only serial killers went by their full name), with the big tele-preacher hair from the eHarmony ads is creepy … well, you’re right. And it’s not just because he wears the same oversize suit that David Byrne wore in The Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” ( “…and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”). But there’s something more at work with that guy’s moderately disturbing mug. He represents an important concept that relates to Web 2.0. And that is: make sure as you are building your Web 2.0 site that you focus equally on brand identity, functionality, and cool widgets and animations. Don’t let the fancypants features overshadow your image. Form may follow function, but it should never be diminished by it.

Getting back to Mr. CheapWhiteZootSuit, how many other dating websites you can name off right now? For obvious reasons, I am a painfully single web developer and, astoundingly, I can only rattle off four of them (Match, Chemistry, True, and Yahoo Personals). And I used to run a web-based dating site! None of those have any instantly indentifiable brand identity other than Match. Therefore, none of them are particularly memorable. And for Match, it’s only because that have that kickass domain. None of them have a sock puppet or “woo hoo woo hoo hoo hoo” for example.

Let’s say, very VERY hypothetically, that I have used a bunch (or all) of those dating sites — extensively. They are fine sites with lots of cool Web 2.0 gee-gaws. Very easy to use and all that. I even feel cool and hip when I click a few things and pages update without the reloading and –yay!– in 10 seconds I complete what normally takes 30 seconds (my god, what will I do with all the extra time??? go out on a speed-date, maybe). But sometimes I can’t remember which site is which … the sites all fade into the massive fog of using the net day-to-day. Off the top of my head, I really don’t recall the differences in these sites. There is simply a sequence of dating sites that I have used and from which Match was the clear winner (due to the exceptional people, if you’re wondering).

Precisely because of “Dr.” (that title is a self-contained joke) Clark Neil Warren, I actually considered using eHarmony when I first entered the online dating gauntlet. His saccharine image was the first thing that popped into my head when I was typing in sites. I didn’t even go to Google. I went to eHarmony. In retrospect, that is actually rather amazing. Despite the very fact that I found his image negative, I ended up associating Warren Clark Neil with online dating. Now when I ran through their 29 levels of “deep” compatibility, which is like 15 pages long and encompasses a battery of tests that stopped barely short of having me turn my head and cough, I was completely put off. Maybe I am less desperate than the other eHarmony users (probably not), but anything that lengthy online seems ridiculous. Did anybody get a usability panel on this multi-million dollar site? So they do have some major issues but brand identification is not one of them. Dr. Michael Duncan Clark underlines that point solidly.

Where does this winding conceptual path lead? Well, whether you have a gigantic marketing budget or only $500 per month to throw at your website’s image, don’t make the mistake of spending a dime without developing a memorable identity. In many cases, it can be super-cheap or even free and is only limited by one’s creativity. Or, in Dr. Neil Diamond Clark’s case, limited by one’s ego.

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