PowerPoints are the curse of the intranet, and PDFs the curse of the Web. PDFs reflect print thinking. On the Web, we need web thinking.The next time I download a PDF and the first thing I see is a big picture of someone sitting on a bicycle, smiling; or someone in a suit, smiling; or someone working on an engine, smiling; or puppies in summer grass, yelping, I'm going to be annoyed.
I'm going to be very annoyed because this is the Web. I rarely want a brochure. I'm in a hurry and I want to complete a task. My life will in no way improve if I print out a brochure full of meaningless pictures and unhelpful happy-talk.
Every time I see a website full of PDFs I have this overwhelming desire to hit the Back button, because these websites scream, "We don't care about your time. We took this print stuff and put it on our site because it saves time for us."
The Web is not print. What may work exceptionally well in print may fail miserably on the Web. Print marketing material is designed to get attention. It is written with the intention that the customer will read it in some external environment. Therefore, it often contains contextual and background information on the organization.
If someone comes to your website it means that you have already got their attention. Your print brochure, or whatever other form of marketing you used, has worked. The worst thing you can do now is keep using tactics for getting the attention of someone whose attention you already have.
The high level contextual and background information that is usually found in brochures is of little or no use on a website. People are at your website because they want to know more. They want facts, meaty stuff.
We need to think about the purpose of content. What is its job? What is it meant to achieve? What do our customers need to do and how will this content help them do it? Too many organizations create content without asking themselves these questions.
Time is everything today. If I have to print out pages before I can complete a task, that's a major inconvenience and a waste of time. Unless you have solid data that says your customers want to print, then don't force them to print.
I am constantly finding Intranets that are littered with PowerPoints. A PowerPoint is a presenter's aid, not a finished product. Publishing a PowerPoint is like asking someone to watch a film without sound. It's no wonder knowledge management has such a bad name.
Banning the use of PowerPoints and PDFs will dramatically improve the ability of your customers to complete tasks quickly and simply. This may cost you time but it will win you business.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.