We've been discussing information architecture (IA) and the state of the Web. Are most sites lousy, as the IA textbooks say? Or are most sites pretty good? Let's take an anecdotal but, I think, typical look at how good commercial Web sites are these days -- even little, out-of-the-way merchants.
Last night, I was rereading part of Kitchen Confidential, in which Anthony Bourdain was talking about the importance of chef knives and the new preference, among professionals, for lightweight Japanese knives. How much did these cost? I tried asking at my local kitchen store last year, but they were clueless.
So I popped up Google, entered the brand name, and went to the first retailer on the list, a place called ChefKnivesToGo. I found a knife that sounded like the one Bourdain's sous chef likes; Bourdain's favorite was a little too expensive for a midnight impulse buy. I bought it. There's email in my inbox this morning; the knife is on its way.
Now, this site isn't remarkably beautiful or efficient, but it's pretty good. In fact, it even offered help show how I ought to use that new Japanese whetstone my college roommate got me to buy this summer, which is nice because the stone comes with instructions in Japanese. There are some visible mistakes, some dubious design decisions, and tying your brand so prominently to cerulean blue might be a mistake. But none of this matters much -- not compared to having the knife Bourdain's sous chef likes.
The proprietors of this site, it turns out, are Mark and Susan Richmond, a Wisconsin couple who used to run a futon store in Madison. After they cashed out of the store, Sue went to culinary school. They started selling knives last August. They keep stock in their home.
Could I design a better site? Probably. I've been thinking about this since 1982, they've been thinking since August. But I'm not certain my site would make more money. Are you?
Was the site usable? Probably. We'll know in a couple of days, if the knife arrives. Sure, they could have saved me a minute or two. Give or take a stoplight or an elevator wait, it's no big deal. (Might be a big deal to a big store, amortized over a million transactions, but we're talking about user experience here, not retail efficiency)
This is unscientific: I might have been lucky and run into an unusually good site. But I don't think that's the explanation....