Interviews With Early Web Developers · Mark Connell 2

What this is about:

Mark Connell is president, chief technologist and internet strategist for, a world-renowned force of web vision and leading edge application development located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Finalists in the elite division of the 1998 Masters of the Web competition, Mark's project Shadowboxer has dabbled in intelligent preference filtering technologies, natural language information queries, mega site databases, and online community building. Mark's project, WebbieWorld, is a concept traffic funnel that serves as much more than a search engine. It provides phrase searching, database compilation of search and hit referral results, and allows the public to get involved by monitoring the WebbieWorld People's Pick of the Week for best, or most popular sites on the web.

Jeff ClarkThis is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.

Honest Reward for Achievement

Travelling In 3D [Internet Brothers] As a recognized leader in web award programs and site reviews, what do you believe attracts the best sites to your competitions? What makes a good web award program?

[Mark Connell] People spend a great deal of time developing their sites. It is nice to get recognition for that effort and awards are one way they get that recognition. But the higher the status of the award, the more it means to the winners. Winning awards with high status can also mean a large increase in traffic, and having lots of people interacting with your site is a great reward as well.

The first thing I define when designing a site of any kind is the purpose of the site. Different awards programs have different purposes, so what's good for one site might not be good for another. Having said that, building an awards program that gives an award to everyone is like shooting yourself in the foot. Once the integrity of the award is blown, the value of the award is minimal.

When I check out new sites, I sometimes see the awards the site has won. If I see the same award over and over on sites that aren't very good, I tend to lose respect for the award. Other people see this as well. If your goal is to just get your award graphic on a bunch of sites, then I guess this is ok.

I've moved away from the mentality of having people display the award graphic on their sites. We make it available to people, and if they want to use it, they can. I don't even tell sites that they have been chosen as a Webbie Pick. If they are interested, they will probably come back and look. If not, they might notice the traffic boost coming from WebbieWorld.

I'm concentrating my energy on checking out sites and getting them active quickly. This makes the site more interesting which builds value better than worrying about whether a winner is going to display the graphic. The folks that are actively promoting their sites are interested in increasing traffic and WebbieWorld helps them out greatly. My efforts are dedicated to them.

When I was a kid, I was in the scouts. We were tasked with learning some difficult passages to qualify for a badge. I worked hard and learned the passages. When the big day arrived, I was the only one who could recite the passages, but they ended up giving everyone a badge anyway. Because everyone got one, I felt my effort was wasted and the badge meant nothing. What I learned from that is that it is much nicer to gain something that is hard to achieve.

“Define your target audience, create valuable content for that audience, and build the best site you can around it, but build what is in your heart.” — Mark Connell

[IB] How can beginning web developers make their sites ready for reviewers?

[MC] I think they will do best if they put the awards out of their mind and consider their potential audience. Make the concept and the content strong first, and acknowledge who the target audience is. Too many sites try to be everything to everyone... and usually end up being weak as a result.

Reviewers want to select sites that are valuable to their visitors. Your site might not be the type of site they want to highlight, even if your site is great. This is especially true if your target audience is very small or not the same as their target audience.

So, my advice would be to define your target audience, create valuable content for that audience, and build the best site you can around it. Make sure the site is complete (no broken graphics or links), and get feedback and suggestions from people you respect, but build what is in your heart.

You can't rely on other folks for everything and building what is in your mind makes your skills stronger. Let your imagination take you to places that other people say you shouldn't go. Don't let them stop you from creating something special... and people will always tell you it won't work. Have confidence in yourself and keep moving forward. If this effort results in awards, great. Either way, reevaluate your efforts, check out other innovative developers, and make improvements for the next effort. If you do this often enough, awards will follow.

Technologies of Interest

[IB] What technologies and inspirations immediately turn you on as soon as you open a web site? And conversely, what tells you a site is not even worth a second look?

WebbieWorld People's Pick [MC] I like to see something different, new, valuable, surprising, and interesting. It can be a new way to use older technology or interesting cutting edge technology. What is cool to me changes all the time because the scale is always moving up.

I like to see innovative design, great content, ease of navigation (or sometimes an innovative use of navigation...). Usually I like to see some elements of everything. A great design with no content or great content that is hard to access and poorly designed are equally lacking. I like to be able to tell the site's purpose with a single look. If the site is heavy on the design side, I'm willing to drill down to find out what the site is about.

[IB] Stepping away from our discussion of awards for a moment, how do you see future technologies like voice recognition and holographic projection affecting the way we perceive and build for the web in the future?

[MC] I was involved in building 3D worlds back in 1995-96, and we had some success with VRML. But there was a great deal of squabbling, and I believe the spec went in the wrong direction. I personally believe that this led to the crash and burn of VRML and handicapped 3D efforts on the web. The only clear 3D winner on the web is the gaming world, and the capabilities there are stunning. I think that 3D will eventually be more of a force on the web, but probably not like everyone thought... you know, like Snowcrash.

Faster than a speeding Ethernet, voice recognition is a given, but I don't think it will be widespread for some time. I think the web will continue to evolve at light speed and will merge with existing television and radio markets. I can see a day when a web site has the budget of a blockbuster movie and will make more money and have more viewers. Everyday people will start living internet lives, not just us geeks.

Most of my friends and associates are either in computer programming or develop for the web. I'm always amazed when I see normal folks struggling to work a mouse or navigate a web site. People are getting more jacked in, but it is taking time to filter down to everyone.

Proceed to part 3 of Internet Brothers interview with Mark Connell.

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