Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Your Web Content is Always One Second Old

(This post is not directly about yesterday's tragedy at Virginia Tech, but it does relate to it, so I do want to take a moment to express my sympathy for the victims and their families, friends, and community.)

It doesn't matter when you posted it; to a visitor, your web content might as well have gone live five seconds ago. And that means that when something happens in the world, your web site needs to reflect that.

Case in point: Yesterday, Americans were shocked by the horrific mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech.

But, as Mother Jones magazine points out, you would not have known this if you visited the web site of the National Rifle Association, the primary lobbying group against gun control laws in the US. After the shootings yesterday - and even as I write this, more than 24 hours later - the site features an article touting their lobbying activities (dated April 13). Auto-playing videos ask you to donate money. There's nothing to indicate that a gun-related tragedy happened yesterday, nor even a link to the brief written statement on the topic that the group released.

This is just utter ineptitude on the part of the organization and its public affairs staff. When a tragedy like yesterday's takes place, the nation starts talking about gun control, and the NRA is always part of that discussion. It doesn't matter whether you think that the NRA is a bunch of crazed gun nuts, or heroic defenders of our Constitutional rights; it's obvious that yesterday's events would bring attention to them.

They didn't have to do much - perhaps just put something expressing sympathy at the top of the page with a link to their statement, or replace the home page with a splash page for a day or so. This is not difficult or expensive.

It doesn't matter that the material that is there now is a few days old and predates the shooting. The moment that the shootings happened, that material became the NRA's response - or lack of one.

(Mother Jones reads a political motive into it, but I think that's a stretch. Cluelessness seems more probable.)

An example of an organization doing a much better job is Virginia Tech itself, as Josh Hallett describes. During the midst of the crisis, they put an update on the university home page. Today they have a memorial page up with information about events and resources for the campus and for the media.

When something happens outside of your organization that will bring attention to you, the content of your web site is the first thing most observers will see. You cannot leave old content up and hope that everybody understands that you're very busy these days and didn't have time to change it. Every moment of every day, your web content is brand new in the eyes of site visitors. Make sure it doesn't embarrass you!

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