On determining purpose and need

I was reading the latest blog post from Gerry McGovern this morning. Gerry highlights the fact that Craigslist is an immensely popular website, even more popular than bookselling behemoth Amazon, but the site is incredibly ugly.  Craigslist, in case you don’t already know, is a webite for localised classified ads and discussion forums. Craigslist is successful not because it looks good; it works because it serves a particular purpose that satisfies a particular need that people find easy to use and which gets results.

I don’t want to get into the merits of website content and aesthetics right now but I do want to reinforce the absolutely essential task of determining purpose and need. What is the purpose of this activity and what need will it fulfil?  In my field of knowledge management, establishing purpose and need are vital to any effective strategy or activity.  Purpose and need should be key determinants not only for websites, but also for intranets, document  libraries, discussion lists, and communities of practice.

Craigslist (and Googlefor that matter) succeed with pretty basic and boring interfaces because they do what the customer wants them to do in a simple and consistent manner.  There is consistency in terms of use and in what outcomes can be expected.  There is no mystery – no lack of clarity nor uncertainty about what people using Craigslist and Google are actually there to do.

Half the battle of getting people involved in a knowledge management or content management endeavour is to ensure that these activities serve a particular purpose to meet a definite user or client need.  Having something somewhere for the sake of it, or on the off-chance, is not good enough. Clarity of purpose and establishing activities and facilitating solutions based on need are far more effective ways to use time and resources.  And if there is a need that is served by a particular service or activity, you will find there will be no shortage of use.  Craigslist is indeed the proof.

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