Trading Information and Good Web Site Design


Dave Pawloski and I were chatting about agent technology and he asked if I'd ever heard of a company called Agentis. I was interested enough to go to their Web site, but I still don't know very much about what they do. Here's why:

  • First, their Web site is almost useless to anyone trying to figure out what they do and how their technology is different. As a free lance writer, I spend a lot of time on company Web sites and in this Agentis is in good company. Like most corporate Web sites, its full of marketing speak and takes 3 clicks to get to anything that looks remotely like an explanation.
  • The more frustrating part, however was that anytime I got close to anything that looked like real information, they wanted me to put in my email address to continue. These guys are real bozos. They may know a lot about software agents, but they're Web savvy is abysmal.

I believe strongly that customers make rational decisions about parting with their private information and that they'll gladly give up personal data in exchange for something that they value or want. Web sites are all about these kinds of information transactions and good ones are designed with that in mind. In fact, I like to think of the privacy policy as a term sheet describing the terms of the information transactions occurring on the site.

The problem with the Agentis site is that they're asking me for something (my email address) in order to get something that I feel should be free. I'm sure Agentis salespeople would find the idea of asking a customer to pay for product information ludicrous, but that's just what they're doing when they ask for my email address so that I can read what are essentially sales and marketing materials.

A smart company gives out the sales and marketing materials freely. Asking for an email address goes against this. The problem is that Agentis wants to get my email address so they can follow up. That's OK, but they've got to offer me something of value in order to get that. One example: I'll give them my email address when I'm downloading a demo version of the software (although others might not). At that point I'm a more qualified customer anyway, which serves their purposes better. Experiences like this one just tell me we've still got a long way to go before companies get smart about using the Web to connect with customers.